Questers from Quebec

You may recall two previous posts where we noted Rinus Van Alebeek and his Staaltape label. Among the projects he likes to instigate are “Tape Run” events, where a cassette tape is passed relay-fashion from one sound artist to another, to document / record / express what they will. Often this takes place in great secrecy and in the confines of a single city. The results are always unexpected and sometimes even quite shocking, hence the need for secrecy. If they applied for a license to do it from local government officials, most likely it would be refused or the creators involved would have to pay a heavy fine for contravening 13 local restrictions and bye-laws. Lesson one for would-be radical artists; don’t tell anyone your plans.

Most of the “Tape Runs” I have heard are from mainland Europe, but now it’s possible to hear one of the international contributions on Montréal Tape Run, an item sent to us in February 2013 by the Crustacés Tapes label. The cassette was “passed between 10 sets of hands over 10 days across the city”. Right there you’ve got a coherent rule – a structure, governed by numbers, that delineates this as a project, makes it finite, and makes it admissible as a composition. Without that rule, you could have a tape project that theoretically takes place across several cities, involves too many creators, and goes on forever. Second lesson: don’t try and map the whole world.

Included with the item is a brief document on flimsy paper, said document written in typewriter (one with a red ribbon, even – how old school can you get?) and pencil annotations. From this, we deduce that ten artistes contributed, five on each side, including Andrea-Jane Cornell, Alain Lefebvre, Hélène Prévost, Martin Tétreault, Joshua Bastien, and others – including the mysteriously-named grkzgl, who turns out to play a pretty mean spring-box. As to that, we can also deduce something about their methods for sound generation, but not very much – due to the famous Canadian love of the “cryptic” when it comes to giving away trade secrets. Some of them may be performance pieces, some of them may be field recordings, some of them may be very odd and perplexing compositions involving a highly unlikely set of elements.

It’s all quite bewildering, I’m happy to report, and whereas I seem to recall likening the Paris Tape Run to a form of latter-day derive by some madcap Situationists, the overall feeling I’m getting from Montréal Tape Run is not unlike Fluxus art, where small and apparently trivial events or actions are framed, contextualised, magnified, captured quickly and presented as interesting ephemera rather than fossilised and plonked firmly on the pedestal of “high art”. This sensation is not dispelled by the fact that the tape is hard to follow and it’s not always clear where one piece ends and the next begins, but this is also welcome to my ears, and probably deliberate. That said, I was able to orient myself on side one when I heard the actions of three stone masons hammering away outside the window, and realised we had reached ‘Crayon Maçon’ by Hélène Prévost (noted electro-acoustic composer and radio producer, she) – it’s a mix comprising two field recordings of events happening in and around her studio, and one “action” – her sharpening a pencil. 1

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, please do investigate – after all I know you’re all longing to hear what a piece called ‘Rainbow Banana’ sounds like, and it’s on side two and it’s by Dona Silicon. Personally I’m not only impressed by what I hear but also wonder to myself why something so fragile and marginal and eccentric should be so compelling to listen to 2. I suppose it has the same sort of rough-hewn experimentation I hear on Van Alebeek’s projects, the sense that the outcome of these works is not known in advance, there’s something at stake, and that there is both nothing and everything to lose. I also like the fact that so little is “explained”, that there are no printed biographies of the creators that can sometimes seem so self-serving and pretentious, and not a web link in sight. Hand-made cassette tapes, sounds recorded without use of a laptop, and a typewritten note – it confirms to me that I’m right to stay in love with the “old” world of tangible objects! Indeed the passage through time and space of this artefact is so important to me that I have taken photos of the envelope it arrived in, for your delectation.

  1. At least this contribution has a “point” to it. Ha comma ha.
  2. Actually that’s a pretty good list of adjectives describing what I enjoy about modern music.

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