The European Canon is Here

These hand-made cassettes on the Staaltape label arrived from Rinus van Alebeek in a parcel 9th March 2012. This Dutch creator living in Berlin is relatively new to us here, but we encountered one example of his highly unusual approach to working with tape on the Cycles Des Souvenirs CD for the Bôlt label, where he interpreted the music of Luc Ferrari. He’s a very imaginative and determined man with his own well-articulated raison d’etre, a uniquely developed set of aesthetics, plus a clear understanding of the properties of what can be done with cassette tapes, and why he’s interested in doing it. This strength of character is reflected on all these releases, even those where Rinus is not directly involved or not a contributor. All three of these tapes are real head-scratchers, instantly puzzling and almost confusing tracts of sonic information which do almost nothing to explain themselves, served up with Rinus’ hand-written notes on raggedy scraps of paper which are wrapped around the cassettes. The beetles of intrigue are already rolling their snowballs of golden dung across my mind, and the spiders of surprise are spinning their platinum webs.

Berlin Tape Run 2 is a compilation featuring Midori Hirano, Erik Levander, Seiji Morimoto, Der Tapeman, Joke Lanz, Bandrekorder ’59, Coco and others. It’s an inexplicable jumble of interesting audio captures. Have to say upfront I don’t know the place where this is at, but I like it. It’s much more lively and spirited than your average over-processed “field recording” genre of music. The latter seems so overly concerned with producing a pleasing aesthetic experience that it sometimes bleeds the life out of its subject matter. Not this audio merzbild of arbitrary pits and beeces. Despite large number of contributions tape holds together as a coherent (incoherent, babbling) stream of data. Guaranteed 40 minutes of odd cranial stimulation with this white mouse of mayhem, where the banalities of life on the street are gradually and subtly remade into grainy patterns of truthful radio interference. Score one to the Rinus-Ring so far.

What the heck is this sprayed-blue thing now in its black paper clasp? Four Corners of The Night it be, another compilation this time showcasing Anton Mobin, Christoph Limbach, Pierce Warnecke, and Rinus. More odd field recordings gathered from specific places in Europe, creators in question stalking by foot or trundling on saddle of bike. The unifying element is that they all did it on the shortest night of the year, then the works were edited afterwards. Read all the contextual information you like about these performance-art like events, but nothing really serves as a map for navigating the low-key, nondescript experiences. Again, banality is another keynote and a general refusal of any form of conventional aesthetic grooming in favour of a directness and simplicity. An interest in “Cagean” chance compositional methods may also play some role as a subtext or guiding undercurrrent. Inexplicably compelling to listen to, although you have to give it some time to make its overall trajectory and shape more or less apparent; it could easily be the most beautiful or the most infuriating thing you’ve heard for weeks. But I’m drawn to the fulcrum of this cosmos like iron filings to a magnet, and what’s left of my cerebellum is forming into ring-like patterns in sympathy. The unusual and elliptical process was continued to some degree after the tape was released, and each of the creators sent a copy to a friend who never normally listens to this sort of thing. Their reactions and responses were invited, and they have been compiled and published on the staaltape website. Of such things are new maps made.

Now here’s a tertiary item. Wrapped up it be in tissue paper like a mummy. It was glued up at seam so I thought I would snap a photo before I broke the seal. Now the wrappings have fallen from the bones of Paris Tape Run 2. On here we have a cohort or cadre of Parisian tape artists, led or directed to some degree by Anton Mobin or Julie Rousse. It’s a process piece with instructions, a game not unlike a Fluxus piece perhaps (except those gonks never really did anything except write the texts, then sat back feeling smug about it). The tapes are gradually filled by an aggregate process of passing it from one hand to another. The important rule to observe is that the tape was never sent in the post. The physical act of meeting is part of the process, the tape functioning as part of the audio handshake among these creators. Looks like they even used a special cloth pouch for the purpose, like an avant-garde equivalent of a diplomatic bag. This one features a lot of fascinating subtle electronic and radio-wave type music. And maybe some field recordings, fragments of spoken word. And other offcuts of found detritus, picked up from the mental streets of Paris and spun into gold. Like all the music on these tapes, it presents a slightly unreal quality that I find very enchanting. Or maybe it is a sense of heightened reality, encountering small glimpses of the truth in broken images. Of the three tapes here, this Paris item does contain perhaps the most content identifiable as some form of music, and if uncertain it may be the place to start your own investigations like a detective on foot who down these mean streets must go.

Recently I waxed lyrical about the raw non-aesthetic of Nick Hoffman’s tapes. In a similar-different way, these staaltape items present the unfinished quality of vegetables newly dug up from the musical earth. About half of the catalogue has sold out now (the editions are tiny) and I would recommend ordering up what you can find; as you can see the prices are quite reasonable too. A real pleasure to receive these genuine, hand-made and vital pieces of radical avant-garde art.

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