Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just Press Pause. (taped over)

I'm always bemused (and a little scared) when things from the underground "rise" to the surface. In the May issue of Modern Painters (Wow. Could an art mag website be more pointless?) there's a wide-ranging article on cassette tapes penned by Alan Licht, the Bob Weir of Noise. Thankfully well-written, it's a good historical primer on the events and years that brought us to Leaderless: Underground Cassette Culture Now opening at Printed Matter on May 12. Licht does a fantastic job of conveying the seemingly irrational affection that some of us have for the tape format. Obviously this is a subject close to my heart, so I feel the need to fill in the some of the blanks left behind.

I had one quibble with the Licht's article, and that was the omission of one of the most crucial players in the contemporary tape and noise community, Hospital Productions. This slight will be partially corrected when HP head, Dominick Fernow, guest curates at the Printed Matter show. The label's releases are primarily noise and unstable, scabrous drones. It's a significant oversight on Licht's part because not only does Hospital release aurally and visually intoxicating cassettes, they also have a retail shop in New York that specializes in both noise and black metal* cassettes (also, vinyl and CDs). There are probably a handful of places like this on the planet. Fernow has put as much care into creating the environment of the store as he has the design and production of his releases. Both the work and the works embody a very specific place.

I already had a couple of their releases, but I fell madly in love with Heavy Tapes when I came across their booth at the NY Art Book Fair. Maya Miller's cover designs are consistently compelling, and the quality control on the music at the label is always top notch. Heavy Tapes releases run the gamut from noise to drone to pure electronic explorations.

What the Recycled series lacks in finesse, it makes up in duct tape and the subversion of not just the cassette format, but the entire recording industry. By covering the tabs the releases are dubbed over old crappy pre-recorded cassettes probably found in the 25 cent bin at Value City. On the Merzbow joint there are times when the dubbing has failed and the ghosts of the it-was-useless-before-but-now-it's-really-useless music effectively become a part of Merzbow's composition. My favorite tape in the series is by Skin Crime. Recorded over a Bad English cassette, when the caustic wonder of Skin Crime's music stops, the listener is left with the tail end of John Waite and Neal Schon's bad idea. It's a hilarious moment, and it's also appropriation and deconstruction at its best. When you see me smile, indeed.

Chances are, you won't like this stuff. Trust me. Listen to a couple hours of Filthy Turd and call me when you're done cleaning up. One of the funniest things that I've seen in the art world (And let's face it. We're on fertile ground here.) was when a DJ at the NY Art Book Fair played a noise record. I witnessed no less than three booth holders run over to ask him to turn it off almost immediately. It can get a little rough. Personally, I love the immersion that noise insists upon. Forget how I started this paragraph. Get your noise on. I dare you.

Here's a list of the contemporary cassette labels listed in the Modern Painters article with a couple distributors thrown in for good measure.

American Tapes
bone tooth horn
Heavy Tapes
Hospital Productions
Fag Tapes
Fuck It Tapes
Hanson Records
RRR Records
Self Abuse Records

*The history of the black metal tape scene alone has filled the pages of several books and countless websites. A few artists, Banks Violette and Matthew Barney, have tapped this dark vein for the undercurrent of contemporary cultural it tends to expose.


pd said...

Hey HAA, how'd you know that I have been excavating all my old tapes and playing them in the studio?? It's hard. I've thrown out so many due to lack of space and some embarrassment at my past tastes, but otherwise it has been fun.
Can I also say that I love that you have a link to MAUDE!! One of my favorite sitcoms of all time. I am considering purchasing the DVD.

Heart As Arena said...

Yeah. There's something so intimate about a cassette. It's like digging out an old memory when you come across them. And Maude. Don't get me started. Actually, I was thinking of you recently when I started another Pym book. She's soooooooo good.