Charging batteries.

I have a modern car for my commute, and it’s a perfectly nice car, but for the last month, whenever I’ve needed to get out for food or essentials, it’s always been in my old Citroën 2CV, Sister Joanne. My routes, for which I should be making quick, point-A-to-point-B runs in accordance with my civic responsibility, have been growing longer and more intricate in their explorations as a way of being out of the house, out of the neighborhood, and in my element again as the kind of person who needs a little private. meditative time each day to get my bearings, bobbing gently through the side streets and swaying around the bends.

Continue reading Charging batteries.

There’s something delicious about finding fault with something. And that can be including finding fault with one’s self, you know?

—Pema Chodron

Giant Power

One of my favorite elbows-on-the-carpet reads was the reprinting of the 1902 Sears Catalog that was one of the nifty pieces of late-seventies nostalgia that my grandmother kept in her balsam-scented telephone cabinet. Everything about it was neat, despite my steadfast belief in the world of the future as envisioned in my yard sale copies of mid-sixties Popular Mechanics magazines, and the neatest thing of all were the Heidelberg Giant Power Electric Belts.

“Joe-B, are you readin’ about those electric belts again?” she’d ask in the sweet Baltimore brogue that’s fast retreating into memory. “You and those electric belts. You know, I’d have thought you’d be lookin’ at the brassieres, but it’s always those electric belts.”

“Eighteen dollars was a lot in 1902,” I opined.

“It’s a lot now, too.”

“But for it to cost eighteen dollars in 1902…I wonder what they were for?”

“It’s right there in the description, Joe-B.”

“I don’t understand what it’s saying, though. Here, where it says ‘The suspensory encircles the organ, carries the vitalizing, soothing current directly to these delicate nerves and fibers, strengthens and enlarges this part in a most wonderful manner.’ What does that mean? What organ?”

My grandmother, who rode into the world on the tail of Comet Halley, was never one to mince words, but in response, all she could do was laugh.

“It ain’t the pipe organ in church, hon.”

She had to raise her mother-of-pearl catseye glasses to wipe away a tear.

“You talk crazy sometimes, Mama Gee. Why’s that so funny?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older, okay? Just remind me.”

“How much older?”

“Umm…thirteen. I’ll explain it when you’re thirteen.”

© 2012 Joe Belknap Wall

NEEMFest 2019

[photo © 2019 Bill Fox]

I was delighted to be invited to perform once more at the North-East Electro-Music Festival held at the Center for the Arts in Homer, NY. It’s a three-day festival of electronic and electro-acoustic music that brings together some of my favorite artists in the field for a diverse selection of genres and instrumentation. This was my sixth performance at one of these events, created by the Electro-Music community, now celebrating fifteen years of bringing artists and audiences together, often in a diffuse way in which players play, coalesce, and recombine into both planned and spontaneous ensembles that challenge and engage.

The event includes performances, unstructured time to just gather with other performers and composers and talk shop, and a variety of workshops ranging from the technical to the historical and instructional. We were lucky this year to have Bill Vencil, known on Youtube as Chords of Orion, with us to perform, share his technique, and conduct a great session on how to get established as a performer on Youtube.

There’s a openness and forgiving quality to audiences at EM Fests that really push a person to open up more, and experiment more, and to try new ideas and modes on an audience that is both one of the smartest and most forgiving in the field, and I’ve been gradually drifting from doing tightly scripted, fully orchestrated combinations of stories and live, improvised soundtracks that are my best approximation of what you’d get if stand-up comedy and digital jazz got together and made a noisy, chatty baby on stage. This year, I took on unresolved plotlines, half-told tales, and ruminations uncertainty and endings.


Joe Belknap Wall @ NEEMFest 2019 from Steve Mokris on Vimeo.

or listen to the performance as audio:

Joe Belknap Wall at NEEMFest 2019 – “Unresolved Plotlines”
© 2019 Joe Belknap Wall

Thanks again to everyone at NEEMFest for making this happen!

Continue reading NEEMFest 2019

For a few things that last.

I’m an industrial design fanatic and a former media conservation technician, and I’m always fascinated by the way some things are just seemingly eternal, while others are indefinitely capable of maintenance, and some are just running on a lit fuse from the day they leave the factory.

I’ve got the oscillating Westinghouse desk fan my grandmother looted her savings passbook to buy in 1938, right after my mother was born, because it was unusually hot in May that year in Baltimore, and it works beautifully not because it made a pact with the devil, but rather because it is made of simple materials and simple systems, and every decade or so, I lay it out on newspaper on my workbench, dismantle it down to its components, clean out the dust and lint and hair and other greasy nonsense, change the carbon brushes if needed, clean and polish everything, apply grease and oil where it belongs and wipe it off where it does not, and it’s good for another five years. Seventy-eight years down, it’s good for another seventy-eight if someone gets it after me and takes the same care.

On the other side of the coin, I have the French blue steel crepe pan my sister bought me in 1986, which I’ve washed with soap about five times in thirty years, and barring a little warping it suffered when I was young and green and still learning the craft of cooking, it’s good for as long as someone owns it who understands the concept of seasoning and doesn’t idiotically soak it in the sink. Same goes for my slightly cheaper, but well-made, impersonations of All-Clad-type pro cookware sold as a house brand by the various stores owned by Federated Department Stores, Inc., which succeed by virtue of being slavish to the heavy build of what they cloned, unlike cheaper versions with riveted handles and heavy look but no real body.

Anything with nonstick coatings, beyond being worse than Pol Pot, famine, and child abuse, is doomed from the first day, and you’ll have the privilege of eating all that polytetrafluoroethylene in the tragic butter-free bomb-shelter-ration-grade meals you grind out without a trace of soul in those pots, not that I have a particularly strong opinion either way.

Simple materials are best. Composites are always bad, unless they’re proven over time. The rise of 3D printing makes it possible to resurrect old things with broken plastics and makes it likely that those things can have long lifespans as long as you can get the files to print new parts. Lightweight, slim, elegant things usually don’t last, though they’re pretty for a while, and fashionable, and Jean Cocteau says we’re meant to forgive fashion everything, seeing as it dies young. Old things and ingenuity work, too. The high spec drill I use as a construction worker was one I found immersed in water in a basement of a renovation project, and I took the time to strip it, wire-brush it, and replace bearings, and it’s good for another thirty or forty years, at least. I ever terrorized a coworker in my penultimate career by suddenly darting into busy traffic on a Baltimore street to retrieve a tool that I watched being run over again and again until a gap opened up.

“What the hell?” she asked, and I beamed back.

“Vintage Snap-On three-eighth’s ratchet,” I said with the delight of a lottery winner, feeling a bit sad for the poor schmuck who had it roll off their truck and delirious for myself, because those things are amazing, and it’s scuffed up from its time as a pinball and still absolutely perfect in every functional way.

Come to think of it, I’m about to be snowed in, and I think maybe I’ll stop writing on the internet for now, get that wrench out, and spend a little time giving my also permanently repairable LML Star motor scooter a little sprucing up in anticipation of a new season of zippification…which is all part of the peculiar instincts of the anti-materialist materialist making a way through the world.

Research well, buy smart, and make it last.

—writing on the lifetime of objects, 9 February 2016

What are we for?

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Touch the wire.

I was delighted to be invited and to perform at Oscillate: Pittsburgh 2019 at the Western Pennsylvania Center for the Arts in Verona, PA. It was a pleasure to be a part of the event and enjoy the work of so many fantastic musicians and sample the wares of the exhibiting vendors (Evaton Technologies, RPS Effects, and Vinicius Elektrik) .

For my set, I performed under my Kantoendrato monicker, live-scoring a brief story about my youthful experience of things electrical, “Touch the wire.”

“Touch the wire,” as told on 23 March 2019 – © 2019 Joe Belknap Wall
Click through to see my rig

Kantoendrato: playing Oscillate Pittsburgh 2019

I’ll be playing a gig in my ambient mode, as Kantoendrato, on Saturday, March 23, in Pittsburgh, PA. The details are as follows:


A meet-up & performance event for electronic music and modular synthesizer enthusiasts, featuring manufacturer demos, live performances, hands-on wiggling, and more! Admission is free, however donations to the The Western Pennsylvania Center for the Performing Arts Academy (a non-profit organization) will be gladly accepted. We understand that starving artists and students are especially strapped for cash. 


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania Center For the Arts 
300 James Street
Verona, PA 15147 


Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 
from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM (ish)

Hope to see my Pittsburgh area folks!

dispatches: The Cloud

My mother was progressive and carefully explained sex to me well ahead of the rest of the kids in school, which was a problem, given my in-built mania to tell everyone around me about cool things I’d learned.

Mind you, I was not clear on the idea that sperm cells preferred to be administered in a liquid medium of a precise consistency and temperature, and I explained to my fellow students, with a tone of wisdom and gravity, that sperm was microscopic, like bacteria and viruses, and just leaked out of boys in a cloud that could impregnate any unlucky girl in the vicinity of a particularly potent boy.

My breathless retelling of this misconception about conception led to a very brief mass hysteria in my class involving all the girls taking to fleeing the boys as if they were surrounded by swarms of yellowjackets, complete with sudden darting changes of direction and wildly flailing fanning gestures.

“What on earth are you doing, Miss Wassman?” asked our teacher of one of the gesticulating young ladies.

“I don’t wanna have a baby!”

“You what?”

“I don’t wanna have a baby! There’s sperm everywhere!”


“Joe Wall said—”

“—Oh, did he now? Mister Wall, can I have a word with you?”

And I was disabused of my errant notion.