by Linday Allen Park
The Tape-beatles are you — only better.
Gosh, I’m clever, aren’t I?
Well, actually I stole this comment from the liner notes of Music with Sound to illustrate how Iowa City’s pre-fab five use their latest record to cozy up to unwary listeners before conking them over the head with a cleverly packaged life improvement manifesto.
Though listeners bear the brunt of the assault, the real enemies, we’re told, are those who try to assert ownership of ideas and musical expression through copyright laws. Since the Tape-beatles dismiss all supposed creativity and originality as merely coming from artists’ unconscious eclecticism in a common culture, the band naturally treats such greedy, legally sanctioned attempts to stake out territory as outrageous.
So what better course could a group of studio wizards follow but to become the ultimate samplin’ fools in the underground cultural resistance movement against royalty gluttons like ex-Beatle Paul McCartney?
Thus, band members Linda Morgan Brown, Lloyd Dunn, John Heck, Ralph Johnson and Paul Neff have shunned musical instruments, singing and songwriting, opting instead to pirate copyrighted recordings and broadcasts, which they have been slicing, splicing and cloning into Andy Warhol-style commodities since the band formed in 1986.
Music with Sound, the current collection of 31 flavorful sound collages and fragments, comes off like an Orwellian consumer report. As we sift together through the aural junkyard of the airwaves and recording industry, our Tape-beatle tourguides terrify us by highlighting the sheer volume of junk we let into our systems.
Indeed, as the cut “Earlids” tries to teach us, selective screening of what we hear is essential to preserve our sanity. This raises the question of what side of the screen Music with Sound belongs on. Is the pop vehicle for the Tape-beatles’ critical artistic theory worth listening to in itself or is it just one of those “little games of little alienated people,” a scientific voice describes in one of the denser, more complex cuts, “From the Tide or the Wind?”
Well, if you’re looking for dance tunes, you won’t find them here (with the somewhat catchy exception of the industrially grinding “Positive Will”). But if you want socio-political commentary, Music with Sound belongs in your collection.
Rarely have the authoritarian voices of doctors, hypnotists, evangelists, political commentators and advertisers sounded so self-righteous and obnoxious as here, being distorted by constant repetition and juxtaposition with other absurdities. Worst of all are the motivational self-help messages (“I want it, and I’ll have it”), which are intoned so repulsively that you can almost visualize the “millionaire” businessman behind them, in his flowered shirt and lei sipping margaritas.
As happens with most other art records, first listeners to Music with Sound will cling to the most easily recognizable tidbits of earfriendly music before plunging deeper. Certainly the Beatles’ samples of hacksawing violins from “Eleanor Rigby” (in “Do You Think It’s an Accident”) and the kazoo band from “Good Morning, Good Morning” (in “I Can’t Help You at All; Sorry”) provide a necessary foothold. More instant fun can be had with the record’s lone vocal piece, a 30-second James Taylor-esque fragment called “Scientists Are Working.”
A final product note to potential Tape-beatle consumers: The band is putting the final touches on a full-length videotape version of Music with Sound, to be available soon. Judging from a recent live “performance” by the band, I’d wager that the video version may be definitive, and therefore, worth waiting for.