Public Works Productions

Questions by Erik Benndorf — Answers by Public Works, Fall 1996

Questions, and more Answers

Disk reviews

Minneapolis Summit (EP)

Numbers (EP)

Good Times (CD)

Matter (CD)

The Grand Delusion (CD)

Music with Sound (CD)

A subtle buoyancy… (CD)

Show reviews

The Chicago Reader

at the Empty Bottle

at the ATA Gallery

at Illinois State U


Artpaper (Philip Blackburn)

Icon (Todd Kimm)

Tractor (Steve Perkins)

Synergy (Steev Hise)

E-mail (Erik Benndorf)

Radio Free Berkeley

X Magazine (G. Daniels)

Vital (Anton Viergever)


Daily Iowan (1) (2) (3)

Neo (Beth Lucht)

Keyboard (Mark Dery)

Pulse (Paul Ashby)

Montreal Mirror (B. Kelly)

C.R. Gazette (D. Rexroat)

Artpaper (L. Roberts)

Black Book (Anuj Desai)

Erik Benndorf conducts a later interview with the Tape-beatles in Berlin, November 1997.

Erik Benndorf conducts a later interview for Artefakt with
the Tape-beatles in Berlin, November 1997.

How do you describe the music of Public Works? What about the terms plunderphonics, plagiarism, meta-music, and collage? (Please do not answer; ‘I despise definitions/categories because all they do is limit your music to a certain aspect’ which would be nothing but another definition!)

We do different kinds of music. Each of our CDs is in a different ‘style’ if you will. Music with Sound is a collage work using tape. The Grand Delusion is a more musical work using tape as its instrument, less an audio collage than a musical collage. Our new work under the name Public Works is entitled Matter and it is a musical composition using the computer as its instrument. In all cases, we make use of previously ‘finished’ works as a starting point in our compositions. We take them beyond finished and make new works out of them, which simultaneously exhibit the fingerprint sound and style of their sources, but which nonetheless are unmistakably new works that did not exist before we made them.

‘Plunderphonics’ is not a term or a genre. It is a signet of authorship belonging to John Oswald. Every student knows what plagiarism is. On the other hand, the Tape-beatles’ ‘Plagiarism®’ [where the ® is an R in a circle, which means a registered trademark] is our personal signet of authorship. This is entirely ironic. We intended for others to use Plagiarism® too (possibly Oswald did with Plunderphonics, as well) but nobody did, and so it remains de facto our signet of authorship.

‘Meta-music’ is a term I have never heard. I can only conclude that it refers to ‘music about music’ whatever that means. Music with Sound is ‘perimusic’, or music that is not quite music, but must be music because we don’t know what else to call it.

Is your music influenced by Cubist, Dada, Surrealist or any other so-called modernist artworks or approaches? If so, how do you go beyond them (if at all) and is there any chance to label your music postmodern? Please give your individual definition of postmodernism!

Yes. How could it not be influenced by Dada and Surrealism? Less so by Cubism, I suspect, which was for the eye and not the ear. Dada and Surrealism were over arching and applied somehow to all media. We go beyond them by having come after them. Context is everything. We couldn’t make what we make if we lived in the 1910s — it would have been impossible for us to conceive of our works at that point. Our works are a product of the 1980s and 1990s; we are a product of our times. There is nothing that unites the group of works called postmodern other than their status as artworks. It is a catch-all without meaning. Postmodernism denotes a product that I never buy. (In other words, I think of it as a brand-name used to sell artwork, without any inherent meaning itself.)

When did you first encounter something similar to what you do in music (no matter whether paintings, sculptures, music etc.) and was that a determining factor for your work?

We modelled ourselves after the Beatles, but we wanted to incorporate concrete music elements, as well. We admired the idea of concrete music more than the music itself. Most concrete music is unlistenable (in the same way that most concrete poetry is thick-headed and childish). But the idea was good, so we adapted it to our interests.

Does your music reflect your personal weltanshauung, your personal view or even way of life?

Of course.

Cubist collages attacked the realism produced by the newly developed cameras. Talking about music, would you consider plunderphonics, plagiarism etc. a realistic representation of our environment’s sounds and noises? Or would you say that there is no more reality outside the individual? Is there a reality at all?

Cameras predated Cubism by more than half a century! Cubism was not a response to photography! It was a response to the kind of painting that preceded it.

There is nothing ‘realistic’ about our work — but it does reflect its context and time — which it must in any event. ‘Reality’ is not a notion that I consider important in our work.

At the end of the 60s John Barth published his seminal essay ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’ in which he stated the used-upness of new, avant-garde ideas and suggested to write on exhaustion to create something new. What’s your opinion on a thought like that? Do you think it’s still possible to create something new? If so, how?

John Barth must be brain-dead. Writing to exhaustion won’t produce anything but the inane insults that modernist art has given us for the past fifty years. It’s always possible to create something new. It’s not only possible, it’s easy! ‘Newness’ is trivial. For years artists have been obsessed with ‘originality’ and ‘newness’ to the point that they forget to address the work itself and what it’s for. It’s no challenge to make something new. What’s really important is to create something interesting. Newness is a quaint and old-fashioned idea, like quilting, which means some day we might come around to look at it and explore it honestly again. But right now, the air is too polluted.

The concept of intertextuality also arose at the end of the 60s (Julia Kristeva) joined by a discussion on the death of the author (Roland Barthes). According to Barthes the author can only select from a vast amount of information (which is not his own of course but only acquired from thousands of different sources) in his mind in order to write. The author is no longer the author (lat. auctor —creator) but only a scriptor or editor. How do see yourself since your work contains a lot with preexisting sounds and you are thus the epitome of a ‘dead creator’? (don’t take that literally!)

What changed in the 1960s was not the artwork, but rather the mentation around the artwork. The author’s role has not changed; but we can think it has if we read too much art theory. There is an element of the editor in all authorship. There is an element of authorship in all editorial roles as well. Both create things that did not exist before they assembled the parts and made them. This is the crux of the matter for me. Attribution for each of the parts is an insignificant activity best left to the unimaginative. I have never read Kristeva and don’t remember what little I did read of Barthes.

Is your music in any way connected to the notion of entropy (both in the information theory and the physical context)?

Of course not. We create order out of a fictitious chaos. We create this fiction of a chaos to give ourselves source material. We are the opposite of entropy. Fiction is order. Composition is order. Music is order. Art is order. Chaos can only introduce itself here as a topic, not as a technique. Art and chaos are antithetical and together they are a contradiction in terms.

Do you consider your music subversive in any way?

Almost by default, as it questions the ownership of ideas and information, which is a pillar idea in our culture. Copyright says you have to get permission before you use anybody’s work in new work; we say that information is fluid and often cannot be easily identified, much less attributed or contained. Authorship can only be established through identifying unimportant markers contained in the work; a particular word order, for example; or a particular arrangement of objects and sounds. The Tape-beatles prove that it is possible (even easy) to make works — works which no one would dispute are new — out of previously existing works simply by re-arranging certain gross elements of the work or plugging them into new contexts. Even if you do nothing more than change the perceived meaning of an existing work, you have then changed the entire work.

Is irony a major factor in your music or do you see irony as a waste of time?

I suppose it is. We are ironic by nature. Iowa is a very ironic place.

How would you react if I’d release one your albums under my name (without any credits of course)?

It depends on what you did with them first. We don’t advocate stupid, selfish acts of simple thievery. We advocate creation, careful conscious thought, and making a contribution to society. If you transformed it into a new work of your authorship, we would applaud it as an act of kinship to our weltanshauung.

Interview conducted by e-mail in the fall of 1996.

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