The Golden Ratio

Got a couple of new cassettes from Staaltape. Always a pleasure to receive these low-run hand-made releases, not just because they are delicate packages that get ruined when you open them, but aurally they always surprise me, especially just when I think I’ve got some kind of “handle” on the creative drive of Rinus van Alebeek, the devoted producer.

First is The Kylie Golden Remix Tape Volume 1. The story of this is that Kylie’s new album Golden has apparently been issued on cassette (as well as CD, various vinyl formats, and digital files). It originally came out in April 2018 with at least two different-coloured spools, and since then there’s been a Christmas Collector’s Edition on cassette too. These are already commanding collector’s prices of £20 or thereabouts on Discogs. The record company BMG didn’t miss a trick. In order to promote Kylie’s embrace of what must seem to some consumers like old-school technology, she made a video, part of which evidently included her slotting the cassette in a Walkman. In 1982, this would have been a big deal because the portable cassette player was somewhat new. In 2018, I suppose it has some ironic value. Kylie herself certainly managed to generate some excitement about it, if her shriek of ravished delight is anything to go by.

Rinus conceived of a remix project, using that video. In the back of his mind there seems to be a little voice reminding the world that neither Kylie nor BMG invented the cassette tape, and in fact a large number of independent labels – his included – have been quietly doing their bit to keep this piece of audio technology alive and usable. Indeed Staaltape is listed by Electro Beat magazine as one of ten labels in Germany currently doing just this. However, I’m sure everyone reading these pages already knows how well the cassette is flourishing; in 2018 alone we published about 50 blog posts featuring cassettes. This screed is probably something of a footnote to The Kylie Golden Remix Tape Volume 1, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of the precarious existence of some of our favourite things.

Van Alebeek commissioned friends and collaborators to remix the audio from the video. 23 artists responded, and 13 pieces are published on this tape. (There is a Volume 2, but a typewriter problem prevented him sending us a copy). All the contributors go under zany alias names, such as The New Plastic People, Kim Wild 93, Mrs. Mangle, Taco Bong, and so forth. The result is a real scattergun of noise, cut-ups, and tape manipulation, some of it very extreme, from which fragments of shrill pop music sometimes emerge. A lot of the tracks seem to zero in on Kylie’s whoop of triumph at the point when she got the thing working; it’s certainly repeated enough times in this whole confusing melange. Hearing that shriek repeated so often is not unlike seeing TV news clips recycled across several different channels through the day, all of which have a slightly different angle on the same story, only here the news presenters are avant-garde sound artists.

So far you might be thinking this project is a parody, a sideswipe at pop music, or an attempt to undermine mainstream culture along the lines of John Oswald and his controversial Plunderphonics works. Far from it, though. “It was not my idea to ridicule Kylie Minogue,” insists Rinus, going on to explain that the alias names were deliberately selected to make it clear that this was not “serious artists” having a patronising dig at pop. I suppose if anything is the target, it’s the corporate mentality of giants like BMG who will do anything that smacks of “novelty” in order to shift product, and rely on our own collective amnesia about recent history. 1 If I am right, then Rinus’s plan is to play a small part in restoring our memory. At the same time, these tapes are great fun to listen to, and the packaging (spray painted covers and typewritten credits) is sublime; the gold and black colour scheme is a master-stroke, making it look like a cheap version of jewellery or chintzy perfume packaging.

The second tape from Staaltape is What That Says About Me by June Crawford. June Crawford is in fact a man and is based in Montreal. This release seems to have its origins from a time when Crawford appeared on Radio On in Berlin, a 24-hour radio show where Rinus has a slot. I haven’t played the broadcasts, but you can; there’s a lot of talking, interviews, monologues, in among the sound-making. The A side of today’s tape is extremely confusing and mysterious, just the way we like them, and is a melange of travelling, memories, talking, and music; it may be making some points about the USA, large cities, and the future of the world. The tape itself is created and arranged in a very impressionistic manner, with the fragments of information arriving haltingly, in broken shapes, in distorted ways, making it very hard to connect one thing with another. It’s extremely hard to produce this sort of thing without creating a formless mess, but this June Crawford tape not only works, it produces a sublime result. It seems to be one of the hallmarks of Staaltape that Rinus can keep producing works like this, or helping them to happen, eliciting it from like-minded creators. He’s done it consistently across 99% of the materials we’ve heard from him now. Hearing What That Says About Me is like getting important messages beamed in from another planet, or another dimension; we don’t really know what they mean, or even how to decode them, but we know we must listen. “You can send the postcard you’ll find in the package to yourself & see how the post completes the work,” is but one cryptic remark from Rinus hand-written to me in his enclosed note.

For the B side, we hear June Crawford playing guitar, drums, and talking…along with foreign sounds which “float in the distance”…intended as some sort of travelogue statement, again very impressionistic but less bitty than the A side, and could even be heard as an interminable musical statement. Not even Jandek has ever managed this degree of fascinating monotony. Crawford’s monologue gets very depressing, especially when nattering insistently about suicide. Despair is one of this tape’s subtexts. For some reason I now can’t help thinking of this as an inverted non-commercial version of Paris, Texas; it has the same road-movie vibe, it’s about America, and packed with painful emotion. Now I can imagine what it would be like if Harry Dean Stanton were reciting the monologue instead of June Crawford. Ry Cooder would not have played on a soundtrack LP like that, that’s for sure. This is a profoundly touching item and it stayed with me for some hours after hearing it.

Both the above tapes received 26th September 2018.

  1. There’s the same kind of pernicious “forget about the past” agenda operating within Record Store Day, if you ask me. It’s the only way I can account for why consumers are prepared to pay £25.00 for a new piece of reissued vinyl that is nowhere near as good as an original pressing.

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