He sang and played many of the instruments, but got backup musical help from dozens of fellow musicians, including Nate Brenner (aka Natronix) of tUnE-yArDs, bassist Mark Allen-Piccolo, and multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle. An aside: Allen-Piccolo and his father are the ones who designed the music player circuit in all the wooden bases of the portmanteaus, as they have a circuit design business.
So Zapruder pieced together recordings from different studios and time periods in a situation he describes as a "free for all."
"It took years," Zapruder says with a shrug, "That's what it's like when you do something you've never done before. You make a lot of mistakes."
And it is a relatively unique idea — there isn't much to compare this project with. Zapruder mentions Tristan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony on Bang on a Can Records, an electronic composition in five movements on a microchip in the jewel case. Also, a release from German ambient-experimental label tomlab that featured an album with an object (though the music wasn't inside the object as with Pink Thunder).
In his own career, Zapruder's recorded three well-received albums; Spin Magazine once called his work prolific, and described his compositions as "in the mold of Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird," a pretty weighty and favorable comparison in the indie music world. But so far, he's never done anything quite like Pink Thunder. The stunt for which he's perhaps most well known is 1999's 52 Songs, in which he wrote, recorded, and posted one new song a week for a full year; and this was back before the ease of the modern web with ubiquitous sites like Youtube, Bandcamp, or Soundcloud.
So while he's dabbled in the avant garde, this was certainly the first time he Ebay'd and thrift-shopped physical items (he went to Urban Ore in Berkeley) to display and interlock with his music.
And now he's back to his other undertakings. The married father of two also works part-time at Pandora (where he was the curator of the music collection for seven years), is in graduate school for music composition at California State University East Bay, and is making another record. He's a third of the way through recording, and hopes to put it out next year. "I have a lot of songs that didn't come out because I've been working on this," he explains. He plans to release that in object form as well.
And he'll be taking Pink Thunder on the road in the next year as well, stopping by the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, lecturing at New York University, and making an appearance with Wave Books and Black Ocean at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Boston, which is "the SXSW for writers." AWP is also where he first premiered Pink Thunder.
As he describes all this, he wonders aloud if he has dark circles around his eyes, worn from the general life trajectory, and perhaps from explaining his vision for the last hour plus while standing in the diminutive Mission store. He doesn't have raccoon eyes today, munching on a health bar as he first describes the portmanteaus, but I can see why he'd be tired.
On the same day the Curiosity Shoppe installation closes — Nov. 18 — Zapruder will also perform Pink Thunder live at Amnesia. Earlier in the day, there will be a closing party at the store; that will be followed by the live performance down the street.