The thought of recording music in a car, especially while driving, has fascinated me over the last year. I even had grand plans of buying a handheld recorder, seeking to soundtrack my excursions throughout North Carolina, which are largely shaped around Top 40 hip-hop and R&B (Drake-lamenting and Rihanna-loving), questionable talksets on the local college station, and the audacity of fellow drivers to ignore a pedestrian’s right-of-way. I was particularly interested in how sound would leak out of my creaky 1998 Integra, whose speakers had long ago been partially blown out.
Of course, I never did any of this, nor would it actually have sounded remotely interesting to anyone’s ears but my own (if that), and certainly not an iota as resplendent as Graham Lambkin’s new LP Amateur Doubles. My point: there’s an allure to the automobile, both in its peculiar acoustics and its cultural standing, that makes it a tempting musical space, one that Lambkin in fact used for Amateur Doubles. According to the liners, the LP was recorded in a Honda Civic, providing “a perfect snapshot of life on the open road.” And although it’s not likely that Lambkin’s improvisations made use of my imagined, naive methods, there is nonetheless the simultaneous evocation of comfort and excitement on Amateur Doubles that I might feel while jamming on NC 54 West toward Saxapahaw.
These “dangerous, tedious, pointless and timeless” improvisations are split into two tracks, each comprising a side of the LP. We hear playful children and sneezes; claustrophobic breathing and alerting honks; meandering, soothing synthesizers; car doors opening and closing; a car’s ignition. What’s heard even sounds like it was recorded in an automobile. In fact, it’s plausible that the sounds were performed while Lambkin was operating his Civic, shuffling selections from his vast archive of cassettes in and out of his tape deck (in actuality, he sampled the CDs 3000 Miles Away by Philippe Grancher and Pôle by Philippe Besombes and Jean-Louis Rizet).
Needless to say, much of the album is pervaded by the roadside ambiance of passing truck horns and whizzing cars, possibly seepage from Lambkin’s open window. Only a few minutes into the second side, after (what seems like) miles of mammoth pines on US I-85 toward Petersburg, VA, we are lulled into a stupor by Lambkin’s gorgeous loops. And once we reach that transcendental state, during which we forget whence we came — and think “Oh crap, did I just pass a cop?” — the car suddenly stalls, its ignition cuts out, and the music halts. Lambkin directs a child to get out of car and the preceding sample returns, but only for a moment, as it sputters away into silence. Lambkin quickly engages the ignition again and a new loop enters, returning us to our open-road bliss.
Throughout Amateur Doubles, we feel like a passenger along for Lambkin’s ride. But for me, specifically, listening to the album brings back memories of several great, formative trips — winding through the backroads to a Durham’s swimming hole; ascending and descending New Hampshire’s White Mountains; worming around the bends of PA 611, sandwiched between the Delaware River and the ridge atop which part of Easton, PA sits; and post-rush hour cruising down US I-76 along the Schuylkill into Philly. I have developed such strong memories of the music I hear while driving, of those radio experiments and mix CD fumbling, embalming connections that have lasted my brief life. This record manages to flood me with these thoughts, recalling night drives whose soundtracks otherwise in no way resemble what’s heard on Amateur Doubles.
Maybe this driving narrative was only a Stravinsky-esque constraint, but to me, this record encapsulates not only the sort of collaging I’ve dreamt of, but also my fond musical memories of which I still dream. Amateur Doubles is music’s dream of me.