Public Works Productions

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Why I Hate the Tape-beatles

A Philosophy of Modern Music by Public Works

seal-like graphic with orchestral conductor “IT IS FINISHED,” John said as he fled to Prague, exhausted, spent.

Like some prisoner’s last words, this phrase rings in the collective cultural ether, an ephemeral epitaph on the tomb of a now-dead era. I could not be more thankful.

The passing of the Tape-beatles marks a final indignation, the last gasp of our society to preserve what it once fetishized as a privileged cultural activity, the making of “music.” Finally, we might let go of this deadening apportionment of our creative efforts. While its demise has been obvious for decades, it has taken the pitiful efforts of the frauds known as the Tape-beatles to generate the necessary outrage to accept the end of a precious, and ultimately duplicitous, endeavor.

Let us be clear: The Tape-beatles were not alone. They are the final step in a history of cultural treachery that spans the 20th century. From Stravinsky to Beck, we have been taken. There have been efforts to remedy this situation. This century is littered with names like Duchamp, Henri, Cage, Russolo, and The Sex Pistols. Some were genuinely radical, others merely brutal. Yet, all these individuals still desperately clung to the “idea” of music, as if some archetypal structure, some “Platonic Form,” guided their nearly unconscious endeavors. And it was, in the end, the Tape-beatles who wrote the final movement in what has become a prison, gilded by some of the most brilliant minds in our history.

In claiming to compose music with previously-constructed sounds, the Tape-beatles merely demonstrated the ultimate poverty of the modern Western musical lexicon. Why must it have been “music” that was made with “sound”? Such a question could never have been broached by these self-admitted cultural embezzlers. For it was not merely content they pilfered, but the whole of Western musical form. And this baroque crutch of musical history served them well. Able to pass off seemingly revolutionary notions such as Plagiarism®, guised in the sanitized, easily swallowed pill of musical structure, they arrived at a certain plateau of fame, experts in the intellectual currency of a clever elite. In this way they deflected any real criticism of their practice. The form, and even the content, were all part of a received language, constructed as a closed cultural syllogism which had already long since been discarded by anyone with aspirations to being genuinely radical.

But music is one of the greatest forms of artistic expression, you say. Listen to the Beethovens, the Mozarts, the Bachs. Western culture is rife with examples of such musical brilliance. How can we turn our backs on it now? What would be left? Yes, but what is left of music? Music can no longer serve as genuine expression in a society where its form has been so thoroughly co-opted in service of the market. When “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” now advertises tennis shoes, when the once immediate, historically rich form of rap so completely pervades commercial media, when classical music can only pander to the classist sensibilities of a moneyed elite, and jazz sells luxury cars, what is left? Just the hollow carcass of a once socially important expression of collective and personal experience. To even attempt to reclaim music is only to force its decaying remains into a kind of empty nostalgia for a lost unity. This language has been devoured by spectacular consumption. Mourn it. Bid it farewell. But do not assert any radical intents by resurrecting its ghosts. The necrophiles of the Corporate Western Empire have beat you to its grave.

Yes, the Tape-beatles, at best, could only redigest the market-based sentiments, the corporate fantasies, of a popular media electronically extruded into our lives. They are consumers consuming the consumed, like a starving man forced to use his own body for food. What nurturing substance music may have once offered has been long since stripped away so it might serve as a convenient receptacle for a corporately-defined affect, an emotional identity apart from ourselves, we now desire to possess.

V. Gurashvili, Tbilisi

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