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?
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.