The Sound-O-Mat: Music for Séances

Now available digitally on Bandcamp for the first time in over 20 years.

The Music for Séances series was a joint project between Rob V. at The Sound-O-Mat and Clark Whittington at Art*O*Mat from 2001-2004.

It consisted of 13 ambient / downtempo tracks by 13 artists packaged in a cigarette pack-sized box, each containing a small rectangular CDR decorated as a vintage talking board, a 1940's-style "insert" info poster and a tiny planchette. 50 copies of each release were produced and vended by Art*O*Mat and an additional 30 copies were available for sale directly from The Sound-O-Mat.

All copies were sold out by 2010.
Warning: "Long Read" below is a really long read....

The Sound-O-Mat: MFS History

Of all the projects on my tiny label, I'm most proud of this series. I came across Art*O*Mat while surfing the 'net researching various things-O-Mat(ic) history and immediately wanted to be involved. I joined the repotoire of "Artists in Cellophane", purchased the basic materials, and set about doing runs of pieces based on old stamps, currency and finally maps.

I'd always been interested in the Art Deco & Mid-Century influenced design of Talking (Ouija) Boards and had accumulated a collection of them. It dawned on me that the A*O*M boxes were a similar profile to the ones talking boards came in, and I started thinking about doing a series of miniature ones. Around the same time I was researching shaped CD-Rs and came across a company making custom rectangular "business card" sized blanks that were small enough to just barely fit in an A*O*M vending machine box, angled corner to opposite corner.

Thus a really terrible, bad, not so good idea was hatched.

I ran things past Clark at A*O*M and with his go-ahead I put together a package design based on CD-Rs decorated as vintage boards, with an info sheet styled after "insert" movie posters that originated in the 1940's and were common until the early '80s. Those posters were "tall", commonly 14x36in for a 0.389 ratio and used the popular style of text in wildly varying fonts, such as this classic:

The blank CD-Rs were rated for approx. 1.1GB storage and could only store about 3m30s of 44.1k/16b audio. With the help of Jeff Arnold of Goldenhawk Technology, his then-"studio gold standard" CD-R burning software, CDRWIN and an open source driver for a Plextor 4416 burner, I was able to utilize under- and overburn to pack just under 5m of audio on each disc. Many discs were killed during testing and used to make boxed prototypes for Clark to test in his machines. He worked out how best to package everything while still meeting size requirements and had a custom set of boxes cut for me.

Next I found someone on Ebay who was making and selling vintage dollhouse pieces including a tiny Oujia board and planchette (the pointing device used with the boards.) I ordered 1000 of the latter and was ready to go.

Soliciting tracks from friends & artists I'd worked with and admired, I soon had a lineup of 13 tunes ready to go. Spending several nights a week and usually most of a weekend day over the next year and a half, I designed, printed, burned and hand-assembled at least 90 copies of each release, packing up 50 and shipping them to Clark for his vending machines whenever they were finished.

One copy of each run of 50 contained a "golden ticket" with a secret word and a message that if the finder emailed it to the studio, they'd be sent a box with all 13 of the releases and a compilation CD-R of the tracks free of charge. Over the years only one person contacted me but was delighted to receive her prize.

Big thanks still go out to Clark Whittington and all the amazing artists who contributed!