Public Works Productions

Reviews of Recordings by Public Works and The Tape-beatles

“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)

See also: On “Music with Sound” by Laurence Roberts from Artpaper, 1991

Pitchfork Media

From the feature “Found Sound: Fifty New Discoveries in 2001”

Expert splicers from the same school as Negativland and John Oswald, the Tape-beatles (who also record under the name Public Works), have turned their flagrant disregard for intellectual property into some of the most brilliant sound collage ever assembled. While many such artists find that the methods used in creating the work are social commentary enough, the cut-and-pasted vocals, music, and noise of Music with Sound takes it a step further, attacking from every angle possible the banality of an overshopped and overcommercialized American culture. Regardless of your stance on the public vs. private ownership debate, the Tape-beatles must be heard.

David M. Pecoraro

The Wire, no. 158

With the debate on sampling still raging in major record company offices around the world, along come two recordings to irritate the legal skin once more. Though not entirely new — Music with Sound was originally released in Canada in 1991 — these works contribute to the mine field of ownership, copyright, the unregistered, and the hacker mentality where ideas and their consequences are not ownable.

Previously working under the name The Tape-beatles, and now curiously called Public Works, the members, Lloyd Dunn and Ralph Johnson, stake a claim to all received culture at its most consumerist in order to tear it apart and re-integrate it into a new context. With scissors poised, or possibly a cursor on the screen, they cut and paste sound into our receiving ear to enact their critical commentary on countermedia knowledge (Dunn used to edit the publications YAWN and Retrofuturism).

For this listener, who has owned the Music with Sound CD since its release and used it consistently in DJing sets and to demonstrate the inventiveness and imagination of sampling, the first album is still the most potent for the two. It retains a freshness and quirkiness that Matter fails to capture. Many listeners will recognise the opening chords of ‘Beautiful state’ from Orb live shows and recordings, or the familiar chords and melody of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ creeping into a track. The sleevenotes state a desire to make machines ‘speak alluringly,’ and the duo’s condensed use of spoken texts has arguably had a profound effect on artists as diverse as Coldcut and People Like Us.

Matter opens with ‘Substance,’ an elegiac piece with computerised voice and Arvo Pärt drifting gently in the background, but continues with rather too much focus on post-Industrial rhythm samples. A Laibach instrumental B-side used as a backing track, for example, lacks the rawness of the first album, where less is most certainly more.

Slotting themselves into our plagiarist culture, where every art form affects the next, and where recorded history can be interpreted as a catalogue to be sampled, and making no attempt to manipulate and treat stolen moments, Public Works attempt to ‘capture and reproduce “truth” in all its definition, clarity and brilliance.’ Filed alongside recordings by Negativland and John Oswald, books by Stewart Home and Kathy Acker, and a Pro-Walkman, Public Works CDs are essential objects for any modern plagiarist.

Robin Rimbaud

Option Fall 1991

Like John Oswalds’s now infamous ‘Plunderphonics’, the Tape-beatles delve quite unabashedly into what they label as ‘plagiarism’. As the Tape-beates well know (to quote Ecclesiastes), there is nothing new under the sun. What is important, however, is what you do with the old stuff. And what the Tape-beatles do is quite imaginative and musical. Of course, ‘musique concrete’, found sound collage, sampling and the like have been around for quite some time (‘number nine, number nine … ’ — even the Beatles-Beatles did it). Still, what the Tape-beatles do is fun, clever and musically stimulating. By taking samples from popular media, including music (yes, the Beatles are included, along with Stravinsky and others), commercials, news and other broadcast sounds, as well as educational and instructional audio, and applying the standard techniques, these manipulators of magnetic tape prove themselves to be resourceful and inventive. Forget that David Byrne and Brian Eno paved the way in the realm of ‘popular’ music with ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’. You don’t have to be the first to prove yourself.

Dean Suzuki, Option Magazine, Oct/Nov 1991

Wildly sampladelic material originally released under the guise of the Tape-beatles and famed for tracks like ‘Grave implications’ where US President Dwight D. Eisenhower rambled over an ‘I am the Walrus’ loop. Part of the Meat Beat and Negativland tradition, Public Works sample speeches from authority figures, usually a father, preacher or politician, and run them over piss-take or fear-inducing sounds. Music with Sound they claim ‘is an appropriately entitled recording and practical guide to the current copyright controversy. Not only does it include detailed examples of unregistered, transcontextualized and copyright-protected works, it also describes a world where ideas and their consequences are not ownable.’ The concepts are deep but the sonics riot across TV themes, radio interviews, adverts, easycore, ambient sound and absurd newsbites. Best of all is ‘Do You Think it’s an Accident,’ where a group of philosophers try to define what makes us human while ‘Eleanor Rigby’s’ string quartet cycles into infinity. An instant classic that in a parallel universe would be a deserved Top Ten hit.

(Tony Marcus) Mixmag, March 1997

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, in a culture that moves with increasing speed, so much of its music has the attention span of a demented flea. Public Works (formerly known as the Tape-beatles) along with Stock Hausen and Walkman, People Like Us, David Shea, and others, have fused this hyperactive attention span with a love of the kitsch to come up with the kind of fast-moving genre hotch-potch that can only come from a society drenched in information overload. Of the two releases, Music with Sound (released after a six-year absence from the record racks) is the more immediate, placing an almost continuous vocal sample soundtrack (purloined from all manner of B movies, information films and the like) over a varied music soundclash, that features free jazz, classical strings, latin rhythms, and Beatles samples (I’m sure I heard ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in there somewhere), and creating a strangely fluid, lawsuit-busting whole, that is by turns amusing, baffling, and frightening. Matter, Public Works ‘debut’ album, keeps the vocal input, but places it over a more formularised and linear post-industrial soundtrack, which to these ears at least, is rather contrary to the spirit of plunderphonics, and frankly, isn’t half as interesting. What links both of these albums, and perhaps separates them a touch from their more satirical ilk, is the overtly polemical nature of much of its spoken content, addressing political structures, consumer society, and individual state of mind in the late 20th century. Or maybe they’re just winding me up. Regardless, while Matter err … may not matter so much, Music with Sound is a worthy addition to the plunderphonics catalogue, and certainly as regards samples, it appears that what the Public Works wants, Public Works gets.

(DJ 4 Minutes 33) Magic Feet, Feb/Mar 1997

As pioneering masters of the art of Plunderphonics (along with the infinitely sued Negativland) this is actually a long deleted album by the Tape-beatles, a hard album to qualify because there’s no distinction drawn between ironic content and serious intent. Sonically the album is entirely made up of lifted snippets and soundbites from radio, TV adverts, loops and all manner of American media. The culminating impression is intended to paint a picture/critique of a culture out of control, high on product, and unreal modern culture. As the sleeve notes say ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Music with Sound is like pudding in your ear.’ Isn’t it always?

(9 RHJ) Jockey Slut, Feb/Mar 1997

The Tape-beatles REALLY celebrate plagiarism and even made it their life-philosophy. Their points of view are not based on luxurious choices. They are concerned with culture and society as a whole. They rebel against the consumption and entertainment system that often oppresses creativity and they do so in a very humorous and integral way without getting too political or paranoid. They travel through the entire media landscape. For them it’s not the medium, but the message that’s important. Their issue is not to present new music, but to put styles into as many contexts and perspectives as possible, and I think they succeeded very well. A brilliant and well documented statement.

Anton Viergever, Vital no. 22, December 1991

The plagiarist masters continue their collage assault. Mixing, splicing, and montaging all borrowed sources they create a surreal world of clashing musics (mostly jazz), media dialog, and whatnot into a roller coaster ride of much subtlety and excitement.

R.F., N D 15, 1991

A fascinating collection of experimental sampling. Done in short snippets using totally “found” sounds this contains an excellent collection of vocal samples embedded amongst musical sounds that have been chopped, looped and processed. Totally UN-danceable (don’t even try!), these guys have an excellent sense of humor which they turn on the topics of advertising, politics and especially yuppies! (YA!!!!) Hilarious. Definitely one to play name that tune/ ad/ broadcaster with. Better still, this is a long overdue acknowledgement of this new form of composition. While others slip and slide samples into their tracks the Tape-beatles slap you in the face with them. It’s all they use. Love it.

(5 stars) I. Street Sound, Toronto, July 1991

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