Shelly Blake-Plock (b. R. Richard Wojewodzki, 1974) is an American musician, author, and entrepreneur. He is old enough that many of the things that either he published or that were published about him in the 90’s and oughts have disappeared from the web, thank god.
Blake-Plock is the founder of Anacamptic and has been creating and releasing new music and sound art for over 25 years. Blake-Plock was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Baltimore, Maryland where he has worked for years in creative and complicated technology endeavors. He established Anacamptic in 2018 both as an archive and as a way to issue and document new creative projects. Very quickly it became more of the latter than the former, though in doing so is becoming the former of the latter.
Blake-Plock and MJ Wojewodzki have started a new band called The Preambulators. They released three singles in 2018: “He'd Rather Rip Us In Half b/w What Do You Know”, “Glorious Amateurs b/w Secret Weapon”, and “Perennial Longshot b/w I Can't Stop Driving My Car” . The sound is angular guitar and minimalist synth blended into sub-2minute post-punk inspired by Patti Smith, Minutemen, PiL, The Fall, and others.
Streams and downloads are available in the usual places, including: Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal, and Apple Music. The pair have loose plans to release more singles in 2019. Hit up Facebook, Twitter, or maybe Instagram to see how that’s going.
Blake-Plock is also releasing new electronic music under the name Pentary Th’ Mos. Three Anacamptic releases came out in 2018. In January 2019, Pentary announced that the year would be dedicated to the production of an album called “Aires”. EPs and singles related to the project are being released of a semi-monthly basis — check Soundcloud for the most recent status.
1992 - 1999
Blake-Plock was a co-founder of Ambiguous City Records in 1993, while he was still in high school. During this time, he played guitar in the post-hardcore band Butch and was primary lyricist in the indie rock band Planted. After helping to manage the production of several 7-inch records of local punk and indie rock bands, he released his own full-length cassette recording titled The Lonely Ornamental Music of Shelly Blake (1995) which was mostly recorded on the outgoing message of an answering machine.
"One of the most consistently remarkable lo-fi demos I have ever heard. Shelly dangles his entrails in the daylight with each painfully inspired twitch of his cracking quavering voice... Takes the listener on an emotional roller coaster suffering serious metal fatigue... Conducts musical biopsies without anesthesia. The longing and despair in Blake's voice is almost unbearable -- you feel as though you're eavesdropping on a suicidal breakdown. The lyrics sit on your tongue like a spoonful of lye. Brilliant. A dose of genius." Jim Santo, Alternative Press (1996)
"...eccentric, often morose but often excellent songs with an acoustic guitar on a 4-track recorder... the breadth and ambition of his 200 song strong catalog has more in common with Bob Dylan than Lou Barlow. When the casual, offhand feel of the tapes is mentioned, he affirms that he doesn't do a lot of planning: 'that's exactly what it is: find someone I want to play with, record some songs.'... That homemade, accidental quality suffuses almost every aspect of Blake's work. On one tune, he livens up a rambling tale of lost love with an irresistibly catchy kiss-off chorus... while on another, he sagely muses beyond his bedroom walls that ‘Songs about traveling/ And songs about love/ Aren't as important as doing it’... He can seem to be offering up a diary page in song. Blake has earned some very favorable reviews and has gotten hooked up with like minds at record labels, clubs, and in home-taping bedrooms all over. But Blake seems uninterested in exploiting this minor buzz..." — Lee Gardner, Baltimore City Paper (1996)
*Note that these early reviews were somehow kept available by the Internet Archive… which is pretty cool.
Will Schaff has uploaded a few of the more rare takes from the sessions that never made any official releases (including this 1994 Copycat recording of one of Blake-Plock’s earliest recorded songs: “Company Man”). The original Ornamental Music recording was limited to a few handfuls of copies made on blank cassette tapes. None of the music from that original set of recordings has ever been released online (as far as we know). Contemporaneous re-recordings of some of the songs showed up on later tapes and some of these re-recordings were released on Volume 1.
For those interested, the song “Dissertation” which closes the Volume 1 collection was recorded in 1992, more than a full year earlier than the Ornamental Music recordings, and is probably the earliest known of Shelly’s solo recordings. There should also be a 1994-era slowed down electric guitar version of Bob Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind” floating around; it was originally meant to be a b-side on a split 7” with Will Schaff’s Noel, the Coward project.
Ornamental Music was followed by several musical releases including Color Notation on the Sociopathway (1995), The Kindest Cuts (1996), Secret Breathing Lessons (1996), and “Twenty-five Cent Games for Five-and-Dime Prizes” on the Magic Eye Records compilation Magazines Sell Sex (1997). Blake-Plock also took on two short tours during this time — one into Canada and another across the U.S. Midwest.
In 1997, Blake-Plock moved to Washington, DC where for a few years, he spent time living and working as a painter and used-book seller. While in DC, Blake-Plock and Atom Fenster started a band called Sundowner (note: there have been several bands across several genres over the years who have called themselves Sundowner… to date we have not found any recordings of the Blake-Plock/Fenster Sundowner online). That said, blending noisy guitar pop with punk energy, the group played regular shows in DC and Arlington before recording a short yet-unreleased album and breaking up.
2000 - 2005
In the year 2000, Blake-Plock emerged in Boston with a new recording: Folk Blues and Things to Use (2000). Blake-Plock occasionally played out in Boston and Cambridge, but spent more time focused on recording music at home.
“Except for scattered and cryptic e-mails, each from a different part of the U.S. East Coast, I hadn't heard from Shelly Blake in four years. However, Blake's music has never been far from my mind. His previous cassettes, The Lonely Ornamental Music of Shelly Blake (1995), Color Notation on the Sociopathway (1995), The Kindest Cuts (1996), and Secret Breathing Lessons (1996) were lo-fi masterworks; emotionally raw, breathtaking poetry. In the interim, Blake moved to Boston, got married ("Spend a lot of time singing to my wife," he reports) and, if this recording is any indication, found some peace if not comfort. Recorded on 4-track by Providence, RI-based artist-musician Will Schaff, Folk Blues and Things to Use is just Shelly's voice, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, straight up, no chaser, like a 21st century version of the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Gone is the outright agony of the old work, but Folk Blues is nonetheless a terrific tape, overflowing with complex emotions, luminous lyricism and sad, stark beauty. Isn't it time you heard something real?” — Jim Santo, Demo Universe (2000)
The next few years saw a steady stream of new recordings. Drug Warriors (2001) was the last piece Blake-Plock completed in Boston. Upon relocating back to Baltimore, Blake-Plock recorded the unreleased Novel Great Americans (2002), issued early work and tour recordings done with bassist Joel Grip — soon to be a regular collaborator — on the album Apache, What Apocrypha Have You? (2004), completed an intense look at the middle of the Bush years on What a Queer Thing, Democracy (2005), and came through with the Fall Records’ release Discourse and Correspondence (2006). The latter featured an afternoon of Blake-Plock’s guitar and piano based “living room pop” recorded in the summer of 2005 on side A and a side B containing an unexpected deep dive into experimental free improvisation and highly theatrical performative audio. It would be several years before Blake-Plock would return to traditional song-forms and song-based lyrics.
“These living room recordings by Maryland songwriter Shelly Blake range from minor-key acoustic-guitar confessions (‘The Dear Devil In Me Likes The Dear Devil In You’) to noisy, unsettling improvisations (‘Sailing In the Boat’) to upbeat, piano-driven ditties that recall the naivete of Daniel Johnston’s early tracks. The rough-hewn minimalism makes for a lively and honest listen.” — Paula Carino, AllMusic Review of Discourse and Correspondence (2006)
“In a church where William Elliott Whitmore is preaching to a congregation that solemnly remembers Daniel Johnston fondly, Shelly Blake is in the last pew scribbling his feelings on life, jotting his fears on a prayer card that may profoundly touch a few of the parties before him but will never make it to the pulpit. Blake will make up tunes for his thoughts off the top of his head on his long walk home on a warm Sunday afternoon.” — No One Is Awake, Review of Discourse and Correspondence (2006)
“Open your mouth too wide and cherries fall out. No? Is it just me? Me and Shelly Blake. More cherries fall out of his mouth than mine - and more cherry-pits. He sings sloppy and achey, Daniel Johnston in a wagon with the dude from OMC's ‘How Bizarre’. Eventually he introduces the electric guitar and this is a moment that you know, this is a moment that is familiar. It's when you're at the Scrabble tournament and you've just spelled the word ‘singersongwriter’ and there's a squawking sound, a brief electric buzz. You look up and there's a stork in the corner, long-legged, bearing an electric guitar. He stops playing, he looks at you, he blinks his eyes. ‘Yeah, what?’ he seems to be saying, in stork. And when you look back down the word ‘singersongwriter’ has been changed, either by cheating or by some obscure rule. And your tiles now say: ‘Elope, elope, elope, elope!’ — Said the Gramophone, Review of Discourse and Correspondence (2006)
2006 - 2010
Following the release of Discourse and Correspondence, Blake-Plock’s musical interests turned fully to free improvisation.
Blake-Plock and Joel Grip recorded The Shades Experiment — an unreleased series of several days and nights of improvisations based on the history of paranormal happenings along the Patapsco River. The cast of participants included saxophonist John Dierker, Samuel Burt, and a number of musicians that Blake-Plock would come to play with on a more regular basis in Baltimore’s experimental free improvised music scene.
What followed were short American tours with Joel Grip and Blake-Plock’s first European dates — including several performances at the 2006 Hagenfesten in Dala-Floda, Sweden. Upon return to the U.S., Blake-Plock and Grip performed “48 Hours” — a continuous 48 hour long multi-state traveling improvisation.
Over the winter of 2006, Blake-Plock and Matthew H. Welch recorded The Violencestring (2007), featuring a multi-character libretto set to a mostly free improvised score. It was released in Europe by Umlaut Records and in the U.S. by Fall Records. The album — sort of a piece of free improvised musical theatre — featured performances by Carly Ptak, Twig Harper, John Dierker, Lyle Kissack, Lawrence Lanahan, Niklas Barnö, Eve Risser, Ben McConnell, Aaron Henkin, Ryan Dorsey, Jenny Graf Sheppard, and many more. Joel Grip served as musical director. Blake-Plock spent the majority of 2007 mixing the album and it was released late in the year.
“Blake-Plock and Welch recorded the album in an abandoned mansion in West Baltimore. Shelly’s lo-fi roots and unique take on sound editing come through especially strong on the project. He has called his process ‘reductive sound’, whereby a wall of instruments is recorded live – some through a small army of microphones and some direct to the board. Decisions are then made in the editing room to ‘chip away’ at the recording in an attempt to find the music and sound most essential to drive the narrative forward. Rather than smooth out the edits, Shelly leaves the edges hard and allows fields of sound and space to emerge and disappear in a very blunt and raw way. Residue and hidden scraps of sound therefore emerge as if from a palimpsest.” — Umlaut Records
“One of my recording philosophies is the idea of reductive editing. I use the example of sculpture. There are two forms of sculpture. There is either assembling something out of things and putting them together, or there's getting the rock and chipping it down and reducing it to the final form. I think a lot of people tend to do recording that first way. They keep adding things to it. This is done completely the opposite way.” — Blake-Plock on the process of producing The Violencestring, “Work in Progress” by Sam Sessa, Baltimore Sun
Following the release of The Violencestring, Joel Grip organized a tour of Sweden for Blake-Plock, Donkey Monkey, and Grip’s own Jolly Boat Pirates. The tour included stops at Nya Perspektiv in Västerås, Jeriko in Malmö, the Eskilstuna Konstmuseum, and at the Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm.
From 2008 to 2012, Blake-Plock was a board member of the High Zero Foundation — organizer of the annual High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music — and a member of the Red Room Collective. His festival performances included sharing the stage in collaboration with Dan Deacon, Kenta Nagai, Wobbly, Jon Rose, Jennifer Walshe and many others. Blake-Plock has performed in four editions of High Zero — 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2018.
Representative of the era:
“As the night before, the final set at High Zero was a high-energy free-for-all. The performance was like a film loop of a train repeatedly hitting a car. Shelly Blake-Plock swirled cross-currents of feedback against his guitar amp and Rose Burt responded in kind with her baritone sax. Kenta Nagai and and Kate Porter were natural sparring partners: him unleashing a taut Chuck Berry scrawl, her pushing a fierce vibrato against the bridge of the cello. In the final minutes of the all-too-short set, Will Redman pummeled his drum kit, looking like a polished '50s drummer out of hell.” — Lars Gotrich, NPR Music, A Blog Supreme: High Zero Festival 2009
And on another night:
“Shelly Blake-Plock seemed preoccupied with shoving as many things as he could into the strings of his guitar. (Pencils and dollar bills are one thing on a prepared guitar, but a toy xylophone? Really?)” — NPR Jazz, A Blog Supreme (2009)
In 2009, Blake-Plock also curated The Art of the Set Up: Sound Objects as Artifacts featuring works by Alessandro Bosetti, Peter Blasser, Bonnie Jones, Andy Hayleck, Mike Muniak, and Melissa Moore at Maryland Art Place. The following year, created a sound installation for the Megapolis Audio Festival.
2011 - Present
In 2011, Blake-Plock took a musical detour back into songwriting with the a honky-tonk music group called Oella — named after both an old mill town and an Incan goddess. They performed at Shakemore in 2012 and released a lo-fi recording of the set. Better-sounding audio of the song “Reno” appears on the official compilation of that year’s edition of the festival. Might also be some bootlegged video floating around. They performed their final show only months later at Baltimore’s Center Stage in 2013.
“But did want to say thanks to CityPaper for anointing a lo-fi bootleg of our Shakemore set as the ‘ninth’ best ‘local country album’. Seriously, that's both very cool and completely hilarious.” — Oella
In 2015, Blake-Plock and MJ Wojewodzki began collaborating on what would become “Arts and Remedies”, an album’s worth of songs looking at pagan themes and mythological frameworks. This work is currently undergoing remastering for re-release as of late 2018.
SIGINT and Pentary Th’ Mos
In 2016, Blake-Plock began working with Matthew H. Welch again, this time on the SIGINT project. They released their first album — The Unreliable Narrator — and in 2018, Blake-Plock launched Anacamptic Media to release new music from that project as well as from his new electronic music project called Pentary Th’ Mos.
In 2019, Pentary is focused on the production of “Aires”, a full-length album of ambient and beat-driven electronica designed as a sort of soundtrack to Aleister Crowley’s mystical chronicle, The Vision and the Voice. Anacamptic is releasing semi-monthly EPs and singles comprised of work produced during the sessions.
On September 29, 2018, Blake-Plock and MJ Wojewodzki recorded “He’d Rather Rip Us In Half”, the first track by The Preambulators. The single was played on the Watt from Pedro Show, encouraging the duo to write and record more music. Inspired by punk and post-punk records by Patti Smith, Minutemen, PiL, and The Fall, the duo writes songs characterized by politically-tinged witticisms, angular electric guitar and minimalist synth arrangements, and brevity.
Literature and Visual Arts
Blake-Plock’s early short poems were published between 1991 and 2001 in Ant Magazine, Baltimore City Paper, The Wisconsin Review, The Windless Orchard, and The Dudley Review.
In the late-90’s Blake-Plock took part in several exhibitions of visual art under the names R. Richard Wojewodzki, New Routines, and Century Studios. These exhibitions included a solo show of paintings at the short-lived Ogle Martin Gallery in Baltimore. In addition, he contributed to the space of visual poetry and text-based mail art, participating in a number of exhibitions and actions including with Vortice Argentina, AUMA, and Artpool P60. Selections of his work from this time are in various collections including at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
“The exhibition features photographs (as independent artworks or as documentations of art actions) and videos, graphics and collages, web-works and 'things' (as (art) objects or as installations) as well as completely non-visual bare texts - like one of my favourites, Richard Wojewodzki's message on the back of an envelope: 'I am from the United States and my foot is 12 inches long'.” — Bea Hock, FOOT-WARE: A VIRTUAL SHOESTORE, Artpool P60 (1999)
Blake-Plock was a member of the Dudley House Writers’ Workshop from 2001 to 2002 where he focused on writing new poetry and producing new translations of Ancient Greek poetry. With fellow member, Phillip John Usher, he edited and published the multilingual poetry review Annetna Nepo.
In 2003, he self-published a book-length poem titled Baltimore which was premiered in a reading at Lehman Hall in Cambridge, MA. Through the mid-oughts, Blake-Plock picked up occasional work writing for alt-weeklies — including a rather non-sensical series of food articles that had very little to do with food — and contributed to a handful of blogs. In 2010, he wrote and then shelved an obscurely satirical coming-of-age mystery novel about Enochian vision magick. Since 2013, he has been working on a book concerning esoteric ritual based in part on W.B. Yeats’ Castle of Heroes and A Vision. And in 2018, he started work on a science fiction novel with the working title of Qubit Hound.
In the field of technology, Blake-Plock’s expertise is in the xAPI data specification — an open source spec designed to allow for the interoperable tracking of human learning and performance in a machine readable format. He has has written widely for both academic and general audiences. Articles and white papers include “Mission Control for Learning and Performance”, “xAPIsec: Towards an information security protocol for xAPI” published in the xAPI Quarterly, “Embedding Cyber-Physical Systems for Assessing Performance in Training Simulations” presented at the Interservice / Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference, and “Benefits of xAPI Profiles Extend Across Development Teams” published in the trade publication Learning Solutions.
In 2018, Blake-Plock became a private sector representative on the Education Data Roundtable at the United Nations Global Partnership for Education.
Blake-Plock’s work in technology started as a high school teacher in a school that was an early adopter of 1:1 computing. In the late oughts, he designed and taught courses on technology in education at Johns Hopkins for Baltimore City Public Schools educators.
Coming out of this experience, he helped one of his Hopkins students to develop a non-profit after-school technology center in Baltimore and then began working on software projects. He became specifically interested in open source and data interoperability in the learning space and in 2014 co-founded Yet Analytics, Inc., a software technology firm that works in the space of experience data and learning analytics. The firm was awarded the Nielsen Data Visionary Award at TechCrunch Disrupt, San Francisco in 2015 and provides services to corporations, academic institutions, and government customers.
Blake-Plock is chair and managing editor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Learning Technology Standards Committee Technical Advisory Group on xAPI (TAGxAPI) where he edited the first “Technical Report on xAPI Implementation” and is founding chair of the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering (ICICLE) and serves as managing editor of its Proceedings. His writings on the field of Learning Engineering have appeared in the EDUCAUSE Review and include the article “Learning Engineering: Merging Science and Data to Design Powerful Learning Experiences” in GettingSmart.
In addition to his work in learning technology, Blake-Plock is highly engaged with new forms of post-screen media — especially those where message, memory, and experience merge and where the human and the machine mingle. It is likely that some of that work will start to surface here within the structure of Anacamptic.
Blake-Plock lives in an old purple house in Elkridge, Maryland with his wife, the architect MJ Wojewodzki. They have three children. And a few cats. Shelly drives a Jeep. And has a bad knee. He sometimes walks with a cane. He prefers coffee to tea. Sometimes he responds to email, but it is easier to catch his attention on Twitter: @blakeplock.