Mono Pause
Presses Play

by Sherry Sly

originally published in different form
by Performer Magazine, April 2003

At a West Oakland warehouse show the headlining band suddenly stops their long
rendition of the "Chariots of Fire" theme song and the lead singer begins to recite
poetry. An audience member starts shouting obscenities and the air is filled with
unpredictability, even danger. The lead singer/poet manages to eke out a few
stanzas above the fray and... a 2000-ton weight falls on his head. The audience cracks up,
both from relief and because the comic timing is perfect. It’s as though they’ve
witnessed a Roadrunner cartoon as imagined by Andy Kaufman.

An Andy Kaufman kind of feeling is a good way to describe the aftermath of a Mono
Pause show, recording, or interview. Like Kaufman, they raise questions about the
very nature of humor and performance and the disquiet of pushing the fourth wall.
Also similar to Kaufman, they are satirically earnest while being talented enough to
warrant that earnestness if it were not satirical. And much like Kaufman, they are
difficult to describe.

"Mono Pause is one of my favorite bands right now because their live show is
unpredictable," says KALX DJ Ricardo Esway. "Every time you see them it will be
slightly if not drastically different. They constantly challenge you by playing different
styles of music ranging from sound collage, weird art-rock, Southeast Asian disco
pop, goofy skronk, field recordings, and generally anything left of center. Then they
mix that with crazy visual content, you could get backwards songs, exploding
computers, tongue-in-cheek alter ego identities, organ transplants, elaborate
videos, the list goes on. Basically we are all prisoners of this band because if you're
a Mono Pause fan you have to go see them or you miss out."

Mono Pause calls upon countless influences. They utilize instrumentation, and
dialogue, and also tape loops of original and manipulated found sound, all resulting
in something that can not only be called music, but music as accessible as a
3-minute pop tune. Peeping Through the Listen Hole, their 1999 vinyl LP, treats
head banging metal as seriously for source material as it does Middle Eastern
traditionals. Through it all, the band has this instinctual feel for beginning, middles,
and endings. The end result is more satisfying fare than one would expect from an
untraditional and nonlinear band.

Mono Pause is in its tenth year, and if they were a tree and various related projects
its branches, what shade that tree would provide. Originally a duo from River Falls,
Wisconsin, Mono Pause founding members Mark Gergis (who also records as
Porest) and Peter Conheim (also with Wet Gate and Negativland) relocated
to California. Other Mono Pause members include Heco Davis (who is also probably
the world’s only 78-RPM record DJ), Erik Gergis, Brently Pusser (also of Three Day
) and Miles Stegall (also in Corsciana). During a hiatus in 1996 the Gergis
brothers spent six months in suburban Detroit and under the name Twelve Steppes
they released an elaborate CD and booklet that is in parts a minutiae obsessed love
letter to Michigan. Continuing Mono Pause projects include The White Ring, a
right-wing ex-National Guard singing combo and Neung Phak (a name that roughly
means "mono pause" in Thai), a Southeast Asian traditional and pop music group.
With Neung Phak they perform with singer Diana Hayes.

The band is still recovering from their first tour in the summer of 2002, where they
hit the road for about a week with Finnish band Aavikko. Both groups have since
collaborated on creative projects, including a brilliant split single, where they cover
each other's songs.

The tour also ended up being an inadvertent sociological study in comparative
urban centers. "We concluded that LA club audiences are possibly more easily
manipulated than audiences in other cities," says the band, which prefers to be
cited as a collective entity. "Most of our shows on the tour began with us being
hijacked by masked and angry men, and dragged off the stage and threatened with
violence if we continued. A cued recording would play over the PA during these
incidents, with a heavily Eastern European accented voice declaring 'tonight's show
by Mono Pause has been canceled, please find the exit and leave.' Los Angeles was
the only city of the eight we visited where people did actually leave as instructed.
Right on cue. Those people down there are very good listeners."

Mono Pause is heading into the studio in late April for one of their infamous time-
consuming recording sessions. The band's library is sparse, the major recordings
being Set the Controls for the Head of the Duck, a 1995 completely improvised long-form instrumental piece released on one side of a cassette, and Peeping through the Listen Hole, a 1999 vinyl LP, as well as a growing handful of compilation tracks. While they wish they could spin their exhaustive process as a result of savant perfectionism, the truth is more human.

"Essentially we are severely Attention Deficit Disorder-stricken people," says Mono Pause. "We often spend weeks…and weeks trying to relearn (i. e. 'remember') a single song we
spontaneously composed in a 2-hour session one night which was inadvertently not
recorded. We'll try to remember it and then argue about which part went where."
"Often we forget that we're in the middle of recording a song to tape and it gets
discovered months later that half of it has been accidentally erased. Then, since we
can't remember how the first half went, we spend another season arranging a
companion piece to attach to the second half. By the time we figure it out, our
enthusiasm gets the best of us and we forget to stop recording that we're digging
on in the first half and accidentally erase the last half."

"We are also our own tape engineers, which makes things go somewhat slowly,"
says the band. "Also, since we record everything in our own environment and have
never stepped into a real studio, it means we can take our time."

Mono Pause's recording studio, aptly named Transit Sounds, lies in the median strip
of a busy West Oakland boulevard where the rent is low and affordable. "We
literally press the record button around the sounds of BART trains rushing past,
semi-trailer trucks on their way to the port," says the band. "On our Peeping
Through the Listen Hole LP we wound up amplifying the sounds around us on
more than one track. We just kind of gave in. That's the West Oakland sound."
"So far our recording projects have been built mainly around pieces which we have
been playing live or in our studio for months or years, but a large part of the Mono
Pause method so far has been to craft songs out of our recordings of group

What is most impressive about Mono Pause is that listening and watching them,
they make it all seem so easy. Their profoundly untraditional recording and
performing methods, which require huge investments of time, energy, and creativity
result in music that is listenable, watchable, and digestible. They have none of the
negative characteristics that are often attached to the "experimental" label, which
can include humorlessness, inaccessibility, pretension, and a choice to be "arty"
over entertaining.

"One Mono Pause track can span ten years, feature 4 different guitarists, 3 wars,
and 6,720 packs of cigarettes," says the band. "This is imperceptible to the listener,
but so are most things."


Neung Phak's debut album will be issued by Abduction Records in mid-2003.
Mono Pause's next album will be issued sometime after that on the Seeland/Electro Motive Records labels.