Last year, a young artist who had just moved to town got to work learning Manhattan's most noted record shops by dropping in with a questionnaire, asking clerks to take some time and choose their favorite scream in music and why they liked it.
The results are pressed on 12-inch vinyl, linking together 74 screams, shrieks, whoops, caterwaulings and guttural explosions, in what creator LeRoy Stevens aptly named "Favorite Recorded Scream."
Each scream is a few seconds long. It begins with the Pixies’ “Vamos” and includes samples of recordings by the Stooges, The Who, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, De La Soul, Slayer, Bjork, Puccini, Black Flag, and Led Zeppelin.
The whole thing lasts 3 minutes and 32 seconds. The B side of the record replays the screams, this time with 10 seconds of silence between each. Critics are taking note of the effort for what the New York Times called "a riveting if unsettling tour through decades of popular music."
Stevens, 25, moved to New York from Chicago in 2008 and he told the New York Times that upon his arrival he plotted a map of every record store in Manhattan. He began popping in to the shops to introduce himself and urge employees to fill out simple questionnaire that asked for every clerk’s favorite scream and why.
“For six months this is pretty much all I did,” Stevens told the Times.
“Every day I’d say, ‘O.K., I’m going to go to these six places,’ and I’d go off by bike or walking. It was tough. A lot of stores would say, ‘We like your project, but please come back another time.’ Some places I had to visit four or five times,” he told the newspaper.
Stevens said he made the album both in homage to his creative hero, Ed Ruscha — whose 1963 book “Twenty six Gasoline Stations” is simply photographs of gas stations from California to Oklahoma — and as a more practical travelogue.
His other source of inspiration struck while listening to an obscure but influential soul outfit known as Baby Huey and the Babysitters.
“It’s a scream. It came from out of nowhere. It was amazing, ear-piercing. Huey holds it for a real long time, about 20 seconds. It was the first time I’d heard anything like that. The sound he made wasn’t about an extension of language. It was pure.”
Those who answered the questionnaire get their credit on the red album cover, which simply lists the 75 screams, their owner, and the record store and employee who made the contribution.
“I just moved here, and didn’t really know anybody, and instantly I sort of had the in at every record store,” he said. “I walk in, and they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s LeRoy the scream guy,’ ” he told the Times.