Public Works Productions

Artpaper, Vol. 11 no. 1, September, 1991

On “Music with Sound” by The Tape-beatles

Music with Sound

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)

by Laurence Roberts

The Tape-beatles’ music uses sounds taken from their original context and placed in a new one — montage technique the Tape-beatles call Plagiarism®. According to their extensive liner notes, written in the style of an advertising blurb, Music with Sound “is the best cassette on Plagiarist principles for the money.”

The Tape-beatles’ source sounds include music and spoken words. Most of the music is instrumental and soundtrack material used a lot like the music’s original function — as background to spoken words that come from broadcast media, self-help tapes, filmstrip soundtracks, and so forth. (A portion of the liner-note material is a pseudo-catalog for self-help tapes.) The original (but is anything truly original?) sounds are skillfully blended together into a not-quite seamless whole. Many of the pieces are shorter than a minute in length with no gaps between them, so themes continue from one piece to the next, and a phrase spoken in one may be answered in the following number.

“Beautiful State,” the opening piece, uses a hypnosis tape as a source. Repetition underscores the line, “You just won’t feel anything” as if to imply that we’re rendered Insensitive to the real world by the media. “Desire” is a motivational tape devoted to getting money by wishing for it and warns, “There is no such reality as something for nothing.” “I Can’t Help You At All, Sorry” consists of sounds of overburdened office workers interspersed with demands of their managers. Taking sound elements from NPR broadcasts, the talk-only piece “More Difficult” parodies the over-exact speech patterns of the East Coast newsroom, statistics and connecting adverbs form a melange of highbrow gobbledygook. The brief “Coma,” sandwiched between the insistent voices of trained announcers, suggests that we are sleepwalking through the maze of commercial messages.

Music with Sound bears comparison to John Oswald’s Plunderphonic and to certain types of hip-hop music. Sampling — controversial because it uses bits of copywritten material to illegally form new works — is at the core of all of this music. Oswald produced a CD called Plunderphonic that was derived from music by pop artists and well-known classical composers. The Canadian Recording Industry Association forced Oswald to destroy remaining copies of the CD, although this brought a lot of publicity to the project — an irony typical of media-manipulating artists. The difference between Oswald and the Tape-beatles is that Oswald is mainly interested in sampling from readily identifiable originals, whereas the Tape-beatles’ source material is scooped from the polluted river of sound that constantly fills the air — sounds nobody wants and that are therefore unlikely to be the starting point for infringement proceedings. Incidentally, Retrofuturism, the Tape- beatles magazine, distributes cassette copies of the Plunderphonic CD.

In contrast to Oswald’s sampling, which is solely about music and the music industry, the Tape-beatles’ work has political content. It recycles spoken words with an ironic twist, turning the material into a criticism of the original makers’ intents. In this way the Tape- beatles resemble some of the more political hip-hop artists, such as Consolidated. In fact, Consolidated’s manipulation of George Bush’s speeches into admissions of collaboration with the Ku Klux Klan wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tape-beatles recording. But in contrast to hip hop, I really can’t envision dancing to the Tape-beatles. Consolidated revels in a particular contradiction: even though their stance is anti-consumerist, their music is still treated as a product by the major label for which they record. Music with Sound shares a similar disguise: it resembles the propagandistic media it satirizes.

A common denominator of music that relies heavily on sampling (or tape manipulation — different technology, same principle) is that it tends to sound like what it samples (surprise). The synth-based band New Order once said that the secret of their continuing success was that they sampled their previous output and thus continued to sound like themselves instead of like somebody else. The Tape-beatles take the banal sounds of our society and recycle them into more banality, but a banality that’s a comment on the source material. When we recycle plastic bottles, it’s to make plastic bricks. Entropy governs the universe. The only solution is to make fewer bottles, but a plastic brick doesn’t have that message molded into it. Only with sound is it possible to make silk purses out of sows’ ears.

Laurence Roberts edits Holy Titclamps magazine.

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