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  THE RELAY PROJECT  
 

Circulation: 2,000
Date of Birth: 2:00 a.m., March 14, 2002
Frequency: Whenever editors Lucy Raven and
Rebecca Gates can find the time
Price: $12.00
Natural Habitat: The CD drive of your laptop

By Julie Cirelli

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The Relay Project is “a magazine you listen to”—a schizophrenic mix of “found sound” clips, documentary and archival recordings, commissioned interviews, and improvised poetry. Sometimes novel, sometimes banal, “content is limited to things that make noise, but is otherwise boundless,” the Relay Project’s website explains.

The first and, so far, the only issue of the Relay Project looks much more like a tall cardboard CD case than a regular magazine. Its bright yellow head peeks out from between the Believer and Tokion in independent bookstores, hole-in-the-wall magazine shops, and other ramshackle haunts and hideouts of the urban intellectual.

Tucked into the 6-by-11-inch die-cut sleeve, the CD of sound clips that makes up the Relay Project includes a scattering of obscure tracks, from the exhausting “12 clergymen speak[ing] the first 30 seconds of Rudolph Giuliani’s July 2000 U.S. Senate campaign withdrawal speech” to a delightful minute-and-a-half of editor Lucy Raven’s grandmother’s recollections of Denmark in 1969.

Raven is a sculptor who spends a lot of time in her studio working. Bored with her typical choices of what to listen to—NPR or the BBC or recorded music—she was on the lookout for new things to play while she worked. Then she met musician Rebecca Gates at two in the morning, backstage at a concert in New York City in 2002. Eleven hours later, Raven said, they began what would eventually become the Relay Project.

But it would be another year of flying between Gates’ home in Chicago and Raven’s in Brooklyn before the two decided what, exactly, makes an audio magazine. They wanted to capture the most delicious aspects of sound—“like being read to, or falling asleep to the BBC wherever you are in the world,” Raven said—without getting too bogged down in overly cerebral sound art. “We wanted to make something our parents would want to listen to.”

There is a track of a wistful young woman cooing into a microphone, describing her bikini and the warmth of her skin as she lies sunbathing in her yard in Tennessee, which was discovered on a reel-to-reel tape by someone rooting around in his recently deceased grandfather’s basement. Another, “Supper with Merce,” is a thirteen-minute conversation about dance, art, and choreography between Merce Cunningham and writer Victoria Miguel over a meal of “chili, mugwort noodles and green beans, with Merlot and cookies.” The sounds of sizzling food, the shifting of cooking pans, and Cunningham’s gentle suggestion to “put that on the back burner” betray the intimacy of the meeting and give listeners all of the pleasure of eavesdropping with none of the repercussions of being discovered.

Shorter clips, such as field recordings of a pig farm in Bali, and live, improvised poetry by Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer on such topics as “Mesh” (“the tear-away jersey/made completely of mesh/tore away”) and “Spy Satellites” are intercut with the Relay Project’stheme song, written by Mark Greenberg, a musician and jingle composer.

Raven and Gates barely break even with the independently published venture. The revenues from the first issue will pay for the pressing of the second, which is due out in July. Both editors have other careers: Raven works as an editor-at-large for Bomb magazine, teaches sculpture at the Cooper Union, and works for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; Gates spends much of her time recording music, performing, and touring.

Liner notes are important, if not vital, to the experience. Without the one- or two-line identifying blurbs, listeners might not realize that they are overhearing someone’s frustrating attempt to apply for an absentee ballot for the 2004 presidential election, or a press conference with Walter Cronkite, or a “test tape” included with an answering machine purchased from Office Max, complete with customers’ unselfconscious “hello’s” and “fuck you’s”—all three of which are short-listed for issue number two, due out this summer.

Some tracks are more accessible than others. Let’s face it, listening to the clergymen’s monotonous recitation of a Giuliani speech is a trying cerebral exercise. But overall, the experience of immersion in an issue of the Relay Project is comparable to a long-distance drive during which one radio station’s lilting monologue fades into another’s country ditty, and so on, creating a naturally meandering, serendipitous exercise in listening.

 
 
 

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