Public Works Productions

The Daily Iowan, Friday, August 5, 1988

Just what are Tape-beatles?

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A subtle buoyancy… (CD)

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by Bill Stuelke

We used to pretend that Ralph was dead.

“You People are in Great Danger,” “Play by Their Rules,” and “Microphone Burning in Flames” are just three of the many bizarre selections found on The Tape-beatles’ first tape, “A subtle buoyancy of pulse;” which is now part of the archives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “We sent a copy to (them), and they sent us back a thank-you telling us that they really appreciate our assisting them in documenting the art of our time,” said Tape-beatle Lloyd Dunn.

The Tape-beatles is a local group of artists which use sounds as their medium. “Anyone that’s brilliant is a really hard person to get along with, and I think that goes for me,” said Tape-beatle and art student John Heck. “Unless they’re brilliant at being nice,” said Dunn who has an MFA in photography and video and has studied music with Kenneth Gaburo. Paul Neff, the remaining living Tape-beatle, is a member of the “Iowa Beef Experience” and works in the Union Bookstore.

The Tape-beatles uses home stereo equipment to record its pieces. It makes and uses sounds in many different ways. “We try to generate sounds with whatever will generate sounds. I have a MacIntosh that we sometimes use to make sounds with, and if all else fails we just hook up a microphone and go out and record something that makes a sound like a coffee percolator or a microphone burning in flames,” said Dunn.

JOHN: “Some of us can’t play instruments.”

LLOYD: “Yeah, I don’t know which end of a guitar to blow into.”

JOHN: “It’s documentative in a lot of ways. We segment things, take them out of their original context and replace them.”

LLOYD: “Whenever we do these rearrangements we try to make a point with it.”

PAUL: “We’d like to move away from audio art into something more suggestive of music — towards the realm of concrete music.”

BILL: “Why do the Tape-beatles do all this?”

LLOYD: “To draw attention to ourselves.”

The Tape-beatles began in the fall of ’86 and consisted of Dunn, Heck, Ralph Johnson and Chuck Hollaster. Hollaster moved away, Neff joined later and it’s rumored that Johnson is dead. “What the Beatles were to rock ’n’ roll, we are to tape. And of course that’s an absurd proposition. We want people to sense the absurdity of it,” said Dunn.

The group is working with a concept called “situationism” in its tape.

LLOYD: “‘Situationism’ is something that looks at the power of images. It says there are basically two kinds of power in the world: the power of capital and the power of images. Corporate capital has taken great pains to not only control material in the world but also to control the way that material is perceived. For example, McDonald’s advertisements don’t tell you anything about hamburgers, they tell you about feeling good. And they’re hoping that by associating feeling good with the name McDonald’s, you’ll buy their hamburgers, and it works.

“Corporate capital’s ultimate mission is to dominate human awareness with the point being — by dominating awareness, you can also dominate material, and dominating material is power. The Tape-beatles are interested in trying to prick a pin in that idea. We’re trying to point to the notion that our awareness is being dominated. The issue after a point becomes not whether to follow the Campus Review or to follow New Wave. (It) becomes whether to follow at all, or to be completely autonomous.”

JOHN: “We’re struggling to understand how the images are circulated and how people are manipulated, and we don’t understand it completely. At the same time we’re trying to analyze it, take it apart and figure out how it works so we won’t be powerless. Our function is to help the people around us and anybody that we can reach sort of learn along with us.

LLOYD: “We’re empowering ourselves with aesthetic effects. We’re making the claim that these aesthetic effects that we’re using in our art have the power over attitudes. We’re saying that if we usurp this power, then anyone can usurp it and therefore become an autonomous being (having) an awareness not dominated by material or corporate concern. Our system of living creates so many little concerns for us that we’re so busy dealing with all (of them) like paying the rent and paying utilities and making sure we don’t run out of bathroom tissue and making sure that we get the movies that we rented from the video store back on time, that we don’t really think about life itself. ‘Give me convenience or give me death!’”

The group relies heavily on its brand of plagiarism or Plagiarism®. Whereas the Biden brand of plagiarism has to be covert to be successful, Plagiarism® has to be overt — it calls attention to itself.

LLOYD: “We’re not just using it as an artistic effect, we’re doing it as a political move. What informs Plagiarism® makes it different from mere appropriation. Situationism suggests that our lives have become (corporate) property. Plagiarism says that we’re just taking back what really belonged to us all along anyway. It also questions the entire nature of originality. Is originality even interesting anymore? After a point people thrash around just trying to be original and they stop creating valid, interesting work.”

PAUL: “The avant-garde has collapsed.”

The Tape-beatles has even been Plagiarized. Recently they received several bootleg tapes of “A subtle buoyancy of pulse;” from Madison.

LLOYD: “We’re real happy about it! The last thing we want is to become what we criticize.”

JOHN: “What the Tape-beatles want the most is to hear back from people, to get feedback and to set up lines of communications.”

The Tape-beatles’ work can often be heard on KRUI’s “Curious Music” with Ruses Curry (Tuesdays 11 p.m. to 2 am.). The future may hold as much of an emphasis on performance as work in the studio.

JOHN: “The last year we’ve been thinking about performing live and actually integrating visuals with our sound pieces.”

LLOYD: “We were invited to come to Madison by a band there called ‘Semantics Could Vanish.’ I said, ‘Well, we don’t play. we’re a studio band,’ and they said. ‘Well, that’s all right, come and play tapes!’”

BILL: “C'mon guys, what really happened to Ralph Johnson?”

PAUL: “Ralph died in a fiery auto accident on Highway 6 outside Iowa City and was found upon examination of the wreckage to be strangled by a Joseph Beys T-shirt.”

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