Public Works Productions

Reviews of Recordings by Public Works and The Tape-beatles

“The Grand Delusion” by The Tape-beatles

The Grand Delusion

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)

Freq E-zine, Spring 2000

Originally released in 1993, The Grand Delusion takes as its themes the very idea of the American nation as a construct of media and cultural signifiers, especially as contextualised by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent events of the Gulf War. As a work of what The Tape-beatles mockingly trademark as Plagiarism®, the record also serves as the soundtrack to their triple-screen 16mm film presentation of the same name, and brims with energetic venom directed at the powers that be in what was establishing itself as the dominant world military and economic force at the time of its recording.

As the title indicates, every opportunity to shred the braggadocio and self-aggrandizing statements of Americas politicians and their partners in cultural control is taken with multi-media assault and battery in mind. Sometimes the sample choices are a tad surreal — ‘Frog Story’, which plays with an apparently scientific voice-over which is describing the inability to drop a frog in boiling water, for example. ‘Home Problems’ makes a stinging noise assault on the blathering pontifications on family life from some TV evangelist or politician (the difference is quite often hard to discern), layering echoed shouts and statements over a roiling base of tabla samples and hyperspeed percussion. ‘Flowers For Dead Heroes’ uses an Arabic singer and news story descriptions of the devastation inflicted on Iraq to undercut the speechifying declarations of America’s peace-loving nature and the evils of Saddam Hussein before dissolving into tape-wrenched murk and a dismal sense of ire.

Musically, tracks can get pretty frenetic in their looping, verging into the realms of breakbeat and sub-bass from time to time but without being especially Junglist or HipHop along the way, with excursions into sampladelic Romanticism, lounging loops and symphonic cut & paste. Stop-start disorientation is generally the method, and the whirl of sound bites from a century of broadcasting take the war from the screen and back to the likes of Bush, Reagan and that old warmonger and prominent Americanophile Winston Churchill. Still, calling a loping virtual Jazz smoocher which thrusts semiotic theory into the demands for conflict ‘Chilling’, while relating to one of the samples therein also shows a fine sense of irony, and when ‘Candidate’ quotes from a psychiatric dialogue seemingly asking the listener to undertake treatment for amnesia and unheeding somnambulism, The Tape-beatles are really pushing the point home, and then finishing the album with a flurry of sampled ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra,’ a piece which has almost become an anthem to (American) technological prowess thanks to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

As a bonus, the CD is repackaged with twenty minutes of material from the same sessions, oddly entitled ‘15 minutes in search of peace’, as a coda to and recapitulation of the original album — appropriate given its subtitle Synthety No. 3. These pieces are perhaps even more disorienting in their collages of rhythm and spatchcocked samba symphonics, and verge from the mockingly stirring to the stutteringly down-home and regurgitatively noisy. The Grand Delusion is really quite a heavy listen sometimes, as befits its subject, but stands up substantially in its own right as a landmark of plunderphonics too.

Antron S. Meister, Freq e-zine

Ampersand Etcetera, Vol. 2 No. 7

Initially released in 1993, Staalplaat have rereleased this “Plagiarism®” work with additional material that was prepared during at the same sessions but unfinished, and not previously released. Their compositional technique was a development from the feeling that ‘…in late capitalist society … there is “nothing left to say,” a feeling made more potent by the theoretical possibility of access to all knowledge.’ Following from this premise, the piece (synthety is a nice portmanteau/pun) is created from fragments of music, film dialogue and speeches.

And the method is put to a didactic and dramatic purpose — a political statement about the Gulf War which can be broadly read as concerning imperialism in general. Patriotic bluster, political speeches, psychologists and more are given free rein to dig themselves horrific holes, accompanied by looping and suggestive music. And rather than just being a political meditation, it is also a very evocative and effective musical work.

The story opens with speeches about America’s great heritage accompanied by suitably stirring music. Moving swiftly to the (then) current situation, statements about control are supported by looping fragments of Also Sprach Zarathustra which makes repeated appearances as a unifying element, and further underscored by talk of ‘moral right’ including crowds cheering in ‘America is confident’ where we hear subtle delay, echo and looping of the voices, adding a feeling of dread. The instrumental ‘Lament’ is a thoughtful looping and layered piece, perfectly situated.

The old heated frog story — representing the publics acceptance? — is followed by Zarathustra and an evangelical psychologist declaiming about the monkey on your mind. ‘Love’ introduces some Middle Eastern percussive elements to the looping vocal fragments, and is unsettling, before the violent drumming, calling and blowy loops of ‘Home problems’ — social issues in the American home. The short ‘Behold a republic’ very nicely juxtaposes Reagan, Churchill and a speech on equality, deconstructing all of them.

‘Grave implications’ features some fine music based around a violin loop and simple percussion, while the ‘Great difficulties’ of a Jimmy Carter speech are layered over martial music. The disparity between the cocktail jazz and military and peace developments described in ‘Chilling’ is dramatic, and fades into distorted horns and Middle Eastern vocals, seguing into a slowed and wavering funeral march in ‘You have to participate,’ the aftermath of war. Pulsing horns and Zarathustra fragments play as a psychologist talks about anaesthesia and amnesia — of a nation: the tympani crackles. The final act of the battle occurs in ‘Flowers for dead heroes’ as the vocalist returns, and sounds of war are joined by words of justification, until it all breaks down with slowed voices and wild loops.

The penultimate track on the original release is ‘Thus’ a plunderphonic version of the piece which has underpinned much of the album. ‘Back to the start’ follows, showing The Tape-beatles humour — a piece from a BBC documentary on the Beatles, which has been edited so it refers to the Tape-beatles, about orchestra recording on Sgt Pepper, and ends with the great final chord from that album.

The additional material — the four tracks of ‘15 min. in search of peace’ (which runs for about 20 minutes) — revisits the themes, and some of the moments (talk of moral righteousness combined with crowd cheering), of the longer piece. However, it is different enough to provide interest in its own right, and is perhaps more pointed due to its shorter length. Together the two parts create an effective and thought provoking whole.

As a politically inspired work to listen to, it is moving, coherent and cogent - it could relate to many wars. In addition, unlike many spoken word pieces, this stands independently as a piece of music — the themes and structure do make it a ‘symphony.’ And while the presence of voices always makes a piece hard to not listen closely to, the music tends to be foregrounded, so it can work as a piece like an opera, which can be enjoyed, even if you aren’t really attending.


Sounds Celebrating Resistance

A very powerful audio collage put together around the time of the Gulf War in 1991. I found this about the time the US was getting ready to start another war which made it all the more dramatic. Celebrating plagiarism and the manipulation of sounds, they have put together a riveting study of mass psychology in the midst of a slaughter. Brilliant.


This archive document of a 1992 recording is focusing on the American (read USA) philosophy and the new technologies. Thought the technology subject is more or less apparent, The Tape-beatles has studied this philosophy to create an unique abrasive soundtrack rendering almost perfectly the average American citizen’s mind.

This said, The Grand Delusion is a solid wall of samples collage supported by an agile amalgam of original and surprising speech samples along several classical music manipulations as well. The political document is building its character through its speech samples, a sort of “read-along” propaganda as the extensive liner-notes found in the booklet helps to follow and understand the existence of The Grand Delusion. The effect is interesting and holds a certain interest but has to be taken with a certain distance. Also, the collective added fragments of unfinished materials as a suite entitled 15 Minutes In Search of Peace; a chaotic and desolate soundtrack following the themes of The Grand Delusion.

The Grand Delusion was made just before the dissolution of The Tape-Beatles; the hopelessness and anger against its main themes found in the content of this score is intriguing and is certainly due to the tension before their separation. However, this is more a tool than music.

Final Man @ Electroage

Tape-beatles Provide Oasis in Media Desert

Plagiarism is nothing new. Today, any glossy magazine has advertisements that make use of the collage form, and popular dance music uses recycled snatches of movie dialogue, other songs, or whole genres. This is the world of the Tape-beatles, Iowan media manipulators whose antennae have once again poked up from the still-settling asphalt on the Information Superhighway.

The latest ‘beatleproduct’ is a re-vamped version of the soundtrack to their 1991 film ‘The Grand Delusion’, released under the auspices of the Dutch subterranean label, Staalplaat.

Deliberately using the obsolete technology of movie projectors and record players, the Tape-beatles assembled the original ‘Grand Delusion’ from old LPs and film loops, creating a moving audiovisual collage of three movie projectors simultaneously focused on the same screen. Where the orignal targeted the mass media for its role in the Gulf War, the ‘Grand Delusion’ CD makes one sweeping gesture at modern America’s problems by mixing and twisting the cultural left-overs of the past few decades.

‘Grave implications’, touted as this album’s ‘hit single’, matches up Dwight Eisenhower’s ‘military-industrial complex’ speech with a 1960s pop song. Other tracks pair up-tempo tabla and drug scare record or contradictory statements about the ideological health of the United States. The excellent liner notes include, among other things, as good a manifesto of sampling and Plagiarism® (not plagiarism, which will get you kicked out of any Great Institution, if you are caught) as you will find.

Not as dense as other media collage products (Negativland’s ‘The Perfect Cut’ and Milk Cult’s noisier ‘CC Nova Dispatch’ album jumps to mind), ‘The Grand Delusion’ relies more heavily on cutting up and re-arranging sounds rather than layering them. By appropriating the voice of the authorities and re-ordering their words, it sounds as if the Tape-beatles have uncovered what was really being said in the first place. This cut-and-splice approach makes the clean production on this album all the more impressive, especially in light of the Tape-beatles’ strong commitment to obsolescence.

‘The Grand Delusion’ is intelligent music, the polar opposite of a sampled and looped ‘ooh ooh’ in a hip hop or house track. Where Beastie Boys and Enigma throw sound bites around like cliches, the Tape-beatles are not afraid to tackle the truth with a little thought and lots of razor blades.

Per Jambeck, The Johns-Hopkins News-Letter, June 3, 1994

It should be unnecessary for me to write this review of the Tape-beatles new CD ‘The Grand Delusion’. If I were true to the generative principles of their music, that ‘there is nothing left to say,’ whereby the process of composition is transferred from the creation of a work to a re-construction from pre-existent materials, then it should be possible for me to read through other review essays and simply find statements that are applicable to the Tape-beatles.

I could write, for example, that ‘The Grand Delusion’ explores relationships between art, culture, and language; [it] amplifies or critiques of recent controversies about collisions between politics and art, as well as issues of identity … in art making.’ Or, I could claim that this recording ‘wrings fresh content from works that are on the surface so beguilingly empty and yet seem somehow incredibly vital to our existence as participants in culture.’ And while both are felicitous in describing the Tape-beatles work, where do these quotes come from? Does it matter?

Late-night talk show host David Letterman is fond of noting what he calls, I believe, combinations of words that have never before been used in the history of humankind. This illustrates the extent to which language (and, by extension, music — particularly melody and rhythm) has been ‘spent,’ an appropriate modifier given our relative position as members of a capitalist society. We have been trained to be users and, depending on the value of that which is used, pristine collector or careless discarders. The aesthetic of the Tape-beatles proposes another option.

Listening to ‘The Grand Delusion,’ one can re-interpret the language of history (such as Dan Quayle’s speech at the inception of the Persian Gulf War), the history of music (even the ‘original’ Beatles), and the music of language, as most of these compositions revolve around the spoken word. And as this tripartite categorization (language-history-music) is meant to illustrate, within ‘The Grand Delusion’ we discover the existence of, as religious historian Mircea Eliade calles it, ‘The Myth of the Eternal Return.’ Or as rapper the Diabolical Biz Markie says it, ‘What comes around goes around.’ But what the Tape-beatles bring forth is not ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ but rather the bountiful ways in which the return can be experienced anew.

Mark Nowak (review unpublished)

Option 57 (1994)

As usual, the Tape-beatles, as their name obliquely implies, have created a music solely through the medium of pre-recorded tape. The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heads Club Band’ was a forerunner of ‘The Grand Delusion,’ which is also a concept album. If the Gulf War looms in the foreground of this CD, the more important subtext is the ‘grand delusion’ that many suffered. The Gulf War became a media war fought on CNN rather than in the Gulf. Sampled bits of music from a wide variety of records, old and new, are re- and de- constructed. This musical melange is combined with the voices of political leaders, journalists, media celebrities and others, many of them speaking about the Gulf War. The results are variously chilling, moving, humorous, tragic, outrageous, and always both provocative and musical. The music works in concert with the spoken texts, just as the piano accompaniment comments upon and supports the text and melody of an art song by Schumann. There is a glut of musique concrete which is just so much noise, but a dearth of that which is as musical as this.

Dean Suzuki

Dream Magazine (winter 1999)

Sound sample collage, like kin of Negativland, but a bit clearer sounding, Here it’s a vision of the America(TM) that wages war and death for money/oil/power on the innocent pawns who always have to pay with their homes and their lives, because they’re in the way of our never smart enough bombs. A lot of presidents and politicos, wise and foolish all mixed and matched with cool sounds and music, paint a portrait of the good old U.S.A. that’s very realistic and quite hard to look at. Would be genius in a mix.

DREAM Magazine, P.O.Box 2027, Nevada City CA 95959
by George Parsons

A conceptual work of cut-ups and collages that’s designed to break down the myths of the Gulf War and the role the media played in ‘promoting’ it. Comprised purely of stolen material, speeches (lots of old gray-haired Republicans) and music from old records are recontextualized and layered upon each other in one ingenious segue after another. Unlike Negativland, the seams of editing are sewn shut, creating a constant stream of sound and music. Brilliant.

JM. Audio Drudge no. 5 (1994)

Here’s some new product from the Tape-beatles, Negativland’s less annoying midwestern pals, with a soundtrack to their film of the same name. Like Negativland, they construct their music from disconcerting samples and stolen fragments, and like that band’s last record, Free, the overall subject is the current state of the American psyche. The Tape-beatles, however, have a more serious tone and goof around less, and are far more adept at manipulating sound into genuinely new shapes than their San Franciscan compatriots. The building blocks for their music are snatches of classical strings and exotic percussion riffs rather than synths and drum machines. You’ll recognize some samples (AIso Sprach Zarathustra gets a good kicking on ‘Thus’) but many more will be totally new, totally different, and totally brilliant.

MG. EST no. 5 (1994)

On le sait désormais Staalplaat falt parti des meilleurs labels européens avec Tesco, Cold Meat Industry, Cthulhu, Musica Maxima Magnetica et Discordia. C’est pourquoi c’est toujours avec un plaisir d’une puissance incommensurable que I’on découvre leurs nouvelles productions. Le label s’est construit une renommée et une image de qualité que l’on ne peut pas discuter. Comme à leur habitude, évitant de s’enfermer dans un style précis, iIs produisent ce groupe canadien étrange au doux nom ‘The Tape-beatles’. Ces derniers vont faire fureur chez les amateurs de musiques basées essentiellement sur les collages en tout genre. Le résultat est complètement déroutant et prodigieusement envoûtant. La construction des morceaux, leur recherche, leur qualité surprennent et on se demande si cette inventivité est voulue et si elle nest pas due au simple hasard, car jamais dans ce style un groupe n’avait atteint une telle harmonie. Totalement lyrique et parfois tribal sur de courts moments exaltants, cette production souligne le caractère novateur de cette oeuvre hors du commun. Parfois rebutante, du fait de son changement incessant de rythme et de climat, on passe de rythme sombre à des propagandes typiquement américaines ‘style moralisatrice et grand discours engagé’, puis on replonge dans des rythmes complètement fous pour tomber par exemple sur un extrait de ballet, et c’est comme ça jusqu’à Ia fin, ce qui en fait son côté fascinant!

[We’ve known for a while that Staalplaat is one of the best European labels, with acts such as Tesco, Cold Meat Industry, Cthulhu, Musica Maxima Magnetica and Discordia. That’s why it is always such a great pleasure to discover one of their new releases. It’s impossible to argue with the renown and the image of quality that Staalplaat has built for itself. In keeping with this, and avoiding at the same time confining themselves to a defined style, they bring forth a strange Canadian band with the sweet name ‘The Tape-beatles’. This group should create a furor among those who love musical works based on collage techniques. The result is completely surprising and amazingly involving. The construction of the pieces, their research and their quality is surprising, and one wonders if this inventiveness is due to intent, or simple chance, since never in this genre has a group achieved such harmony. Totally lyrical and occasionally tribal during short exultant passages, this work underscores the innovative character of this out-of-the-ordinary form. This work can be occasionally off-putting because of the unceasing rhythmic and atmospheric changes; you go from a rhythm somber with typically American-style propaganda; then you plunge back into rhythms that are absolutely crazy, then fall, for example, into an extract from ballet, and it’s like this up the end, which is what makes it fascinating!]

[Source missing.] (1994)

If there is such a thing as audio-espionage, then the Tape-beatles are the world’s master spies. Alongside fellow sonic plagiarists Negativland, they pirate music, text and vocal samples from numerous films, speeches, library recordings and other sundry, covert sources. They also maintain that these sounds are in the public domain, available for use by anyone for virtually anything. Perhaps the ultimate sonic collage artists, taking elements of Dockstader and Marshall McCluhan to the nth degree, the Tape-beatles’ anarchic mosaics aren’t actually digestible as music per se, but rather as recorded statements on the flexibility, and ultimate self-cannibalization, of the media. For the curious, the adventurous and the thief.

Darren Bergstein. i/e, summer 1994.

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