Eckhard Gerdes + Shelf Life,

“Scuff Mud” (Public Eyesore,

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like to translate the brain waves of a long-term coma patient into sound waves? Ever wonder what happens when a schizophrenic dictates his diary over the soundtrack of a sci-fi movie from 1973? A listen to “Scuff Mud,” a Journal of Experimental Fiction release from author Eckhard Gerdes and experimental noise outfit Shelf Life, just might answer those burning questions while leaving you with a whole lot more. If you are looking to rock out, then keep looking because “SM” is far from the typical new-release indie rock fare you may be accustomed to reading about in these pages. If you are looking for a challenging yet engaging vacation from your everyday musical routine, then read on.

Basically, what we have here is the poetry of Gerdes spoken over a soundscape created by Shelf Life. Subject matter ranges from Middle Eastern affairs to sex and relationships to the “out-of-placeness” of elephants in the Sonoran Desert, and the mood ranges from the very serious to the rather silly to the overtly risqué: “I’ll spend my fuel rod on you / Can you feel its bulge against you?” intones Gerdes early on in the fantastical journey that is “SM.”

The closest comparison I can come up with to something in fairly wide distribution would be the extended soliloquies of Robert E. Lee and Mary Todd Lincoln in Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s section of the multi-composer early ‘80s epic “the CIVIL warS”, although that avant-garde masterpiece at times seems downright pedestrian compared to this. Overall, “SM” actually makes for a very entertaining listen and it is definitely worth tracking down a copy. The disc is available from and you can visit JEF online at to learn more.

Ian Simons, Omaha City Weekly

"Scuff Mud" (which doubles as issue 36 of the Journal of Experimental Fiction) is an album of spoken-word poetry by Eckhard Gerdes, with music by Shelf Life. Their unique brand of gristly ambiance adds a layer of dense textures to the language, as well as a noticeable psychedelic edge. This creates an effect vaguely reminiscent of the word/music experimentation of John Cage, but is additionally enhanced by the quality of the writing.

The dynamic of this "collection" is excellent. Some of the pieces are disturbing, others are humorous, and many others are beautiful, but all display an equal dedication to language itself. For those unfamiliar with Gerdes' fiction, this is also a great introduction to his literary works, such as "Cistern Tawdry" or "The Unwelcome Guest plus Nin and Nan". His reading voice is strong, bold, and deliberate, treating each syllable much like a note in a song, and does a great job bringing out all the nuances of his verse.

Some of my personal favorites are "Hints," "The Burial of T.S. Acrostic," "Wouldn't You Know," and of course, the hilarious "New President," a piece of short fiction that describes a world entirely taken over by philistines (not so different, really, from the one we live in now).

This is an excellent album, and also a great piece of experimental fiction. That it can be both shows just how successful the experiment was.

Eckhard Gerdes and Friends
Blues for Youse

Hobo Coble!
Thorazine Hammer!
Ember Schrag!
Brion Poloncic!
Bryan Day!
Ulysses Gerdes!

Don't Miss It!
Eckhard Gerdes

I must say I have been loving your album, It's a unique and refreshing take on the spoken word genre at a time when many people are taking the easy way out with cut & paste stylistic formulas and repetitive rhyming structures, you have released a truly innovative and experimental classic reminiscent but in no way copying such classics as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. and you can quote me on that.

-- Shane Hollands, DirtyWordz, 88.3 FM, Auckland, NewZealand


Title: scuff mud

Ever heard jazz poetry? well, the genre took it's leave from reading performances from back in the days and quite often it mixed live free-jazz vanguards and poets/writers/performers of different nature. Shelf Life is not exactly a jazzist since his releases are on Eh? records (a division of Public Eyesore) but the global result is quite similar to some of those weirdest reading from the seventies be it for the american accent of mr. Gerdes, be it for the weird stories he tells or for the strange electro-acoustic music full of live sounds here played but that's the impression. The interaction of music and words is quite often well balanced equals the reader is not doing is rap without interruptions and killing your attention with his protagonist manias. I'm sure many of you remember the beatniks and their many collaboration with musicians, the music creating the scenario here's more electro-acoustic and probably more dynamic than many of those performances but if you keep that in mind more or less you may have a global idea of the "music". Some episodes like "New president" are more catchy than the other tracks but the global result is nothing but ok and keeps a live affect that makes the whole sound matter more vivid. "Hey kids do you wonna hear a story?.." Gerdes and Shelf Life can tell you a lot's of interesting stories.

-- Andrea Ferraris, Chain D.L.K. 

The long-awaited sequel to Scuff Mud, a live recording recorded at the Elastic Arts Center in Chicago on November 7, 2009, featuring Eckhard with Bryan Day of Shelf Life and Gabe Beam, Jim Baker, and Mark Baldridge, is now available from Public Eyesore Records's Eh? Audio Repository label.  The catalogue number is Eh? 53.  See for updated information.

Scuff Mud: Eckhard Gerdes & Shelf Life

OK - the last of the current Shelf Life/Bryan Day related releases. This one is out through JEF (the Journal of Experimental Fiction, edition 36) which is curated by Gerdes, a writer of a number of novels. On the album Gerdes reads 15 pieces to a Shelf Life background (who are Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Alex Boardman, Andrew Perdue, Jay Schleidt on this outing).

I haven't read any of Gerdes writing, but the selection here is excellent for this medium. There is variety between pieces which depend on rhythms and rhymes, extended stories and dislocating word play through substitution. For example, z. buzz is full of word mastications, woodwork uses construction terms in a salacious double entendre, uh hunh uses a blues tick at the line ends, blues for osiris is a rhymed retelling of the Egyptian myth. Lists and repetition occur, rhymes can be almost McGonagallian (a compliment). His voice is mellow and rounded, carrying the material with gravitas, particularly when at its most amusing silliest. Even if you don't listen to the words the timbre and cadences are musical. And the material is memorable - when I replayed it after some time when I got to the story new president I was sure I had read it somewhere. This is also the longest track (7 minutes) of a short (45 minute) 15 tracker. There is even a seeming structure to the set, from the opening description of a desert image in a couple of starts to the closing surreal dream in adam among the elephants in the Sonoran desert.

As to the music, this is my favourite Shelf Life to date - on a number of scores. The instrument range is the broadest - including flute, voice, guitar, twanging things, electronics, percussion, samples, trombone and probably more. And the constraint of short pieces (I am not sure if these were specifically recorded or are excerpts from longer works) provides a perfect platform for appreciating the SL-sound. The setting on new president is relatively restrained allowing the story to flow, while snark is noisy which suits the l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e abstraction of the poem. At times the music develops with the words: wouldn't you know builds from shimmering electronics into jittery guitar as what was a seeming narrative goes into abstraction and then a sequence of past tense extrapolations (band is the past tense of bane); or the growth of industrial tones around the nonsense of the title track. A few times (most obviously in woodwork, but also wouldn't you know) there are voice samples which, through their restraint, enhance the mood.

I am not a great one for spoken-word albums, but the words and music are equals here - and that indeed the music provides a way into the words which would be less accessible on the page - providing a very satisfying audio experience.