Intermedia Art

New Media, Sound and Performance

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The P0litics of S0und / The Culture 0f Exchange. 31 January - 24 March 2005

Replies: 51
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The P0litics of S0und / The Culture 0f Exchange
Posted by Kelli Dipple, Dec 17, 2004 9:38 AM
An introduction outlining topics, was followed by contributions from three panel participants, in conversation across a 7-week period, including John Oswald, Douglas Kahn and Kenneth Goldsmith, introduced and moderated by Lina Dzuverovic.

A broad range of topics were addressed including: the underground tape movement, community and independent radio, collaboration, participation and appropriation, as well as soundart and the museum context. Some challenging notions were also put forward under the headings of 'nude media' and 'if it's not on the internet it doesn't exist'.

If you have not had an opportunity to view the online discussion, we encourage you to review the discussion archive below.

The online panel discussion and associated public forum wraped the d_culture season, its resources, live events and release dates in a peer debate, aiming to provide a context in which activities are contextualized by information, example and discussion. Focusing on the creative application and implications inherent in download, sample and cut-up practice.
Re: The P0litics of S0und / The Culture 0f Exchange
Posted by Lina Dzuverovic, Jan 31, 2005 2:12 PM
The practice of cutting-up, appropriating and repurposing existing content in the creation of new artworks was central to 20th century artistic practice. From Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Erratum Musical’ (1913) which spliced together dictionary definitions of the word ‘imprimer’ with a score composed from notes pulled out of a hat, via William Burroughs’s and Brion Gysin’s ‘cut-up’ technique used to allow new meanings to ‘leak in’ by re-cutting existing texts, to John Oswald’s releases which mixed and altered several musical sources, the history of the 20th century avant-garde can be read as the history of appropriation.

The availability, immediacy and ease of use of digital networked technologies in the last decade has made the link between the notion of 'the original' and artistic value more tenuous than ever, ushering in a new chapter in the debate around appropriation and the role of the author.

The early years of the Internet enabled independent musical and artistic networks to flourish and operate somewhat ‘under the radar’ of commercial production, often establishing their own gift economies and adhering to rules decided by the network participants themselves. But this brief period of ‘making it up as we go along’ when it comes to file sharing, distribution and exchange is coming to an end in the face of endless attempts by the music industry to understand, co-opt, capitalize on and engage with cultures of exchange introduced by online networks and grassroots initiatives.

Borrowing, file-sharing and re-purposing have over the years caused vicious lawsuits involving corporate lawyers vs. small music labels, artist collectives and college kids. But in an unlikely twist, today we are beginning to see an apparent openness towards non-commercial models of production from some unexpected sources. Tracks constructed by remixing, repurposing and sampling are now as ubiquitous on MTV as they are on releases by home-grown labels. Major labels tendency to appropriate strategies used by bedroom labels, such as releasing records on white labels in an attempt to launch a supposed anonymous release are now regular features across record shops. Last year David Bowie’s website launched a competition in which fans were invited to remix tracks from his new album. The prize winner walked away with a a prize including an .mp3 release of their track on Bowie’s website plus the handsome reward of a brand new car. The very fact that the ‘mash up’ phenomenon of recent years almost immediately became embraced by the commercial music industry points to a new strategy – that of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

From endless copyright lawsuits on the one hand, to winning a new car for remixing David Bowie's album - the issue of repurposing other people's work is a contentious one positioned between the flourishing open source culture and commercial interests of the content industry.

'Open source' models of sharing and exchange promise to not only affect future models of production, exhibition and distribution but to radically redefine the future of cultural production at large. With this steady stream of new models and ideas comes a constant redefining of ways in which we produce, commission, exhibit, distribute and archive artworks. The murky waters of copyright, authorship and ownership are constantly being re-examined by cultural producers, consumers and the industry alike.

This forum comes with a wealth of resources featuring a broad range of examples, positions, and views gathered from recent talks, events and discussions held at Tate Modern. These files are aimed at illustrating the current landscape of sonic production and offering varied historical perspectives. I hope that we can use these resources as a starting point in the discussion of the longer term ramifications of these issues on artistic practice.

I would like to begin the forum by asking the panelists a very basic question:

It seems to me that arts institutions have ‘woken up’ to issues mentioned above fairly recently (in the past few years). Why are discussions around sampling and sound of particular interest to us at this point in the context of Tate Modern?
Burroughs and Burrows
Posted by John Oswald, Jan 31, 2005 5:35 PM
Lina writes:
"via William Burroughs’s [sic] and Brion Gysin’s ‘cut-up’ technique used to allow new meanings to ‘leak in’ by re cutting existing texts, to John Oswald’s releases which mixed several musical sources,"

Nice to see these connections mentioned in the same sentence. In the early '70's i spent an inordinate amount of time constructing some miniature tape pieces, which i call Burrows, based on texts as read by Bill Burroughs. My first attempt at audio publishing, in 1975, was not vinyl or cassette but a set of 10 of these Burrows on reel-to-reel.

In 1972 or '73 i purchased my first cassette deck, an Advent 201.

The interesting thing about the Advent, as relates to this discussion, was that it was marketed in conjunction with a label of cassette tapes (of mostly classical music) which were all first generation dubs, onto Advent machines naturally, from a master tape, done in what is called real-time; to differentiate from high-speed cassette manufacturing which became the prevalent form of pre-recorded cassette during its heyday.

The advantages of this one-to-one dubbing, other than the possibility of more accurate reproduction (an aspect that was not always considered an advantage by the cassette networks of the'80's) was that it could be done with two relatively cheap machines, and that an edition of any size could be manufactured at any time at home. This was so different from vinyl records which couldn't be economically made in quantities of less than 500 (and the cost of this would be equivalent to buying two cassette decks and becoming your own manufacturer).

Many of the Burrows pieces had an odd characteristic - they were reversible compositions, incorporating things like acoustic palindromes (when you play Burroughs saying "I GOT" backwards it still, amazingly sounds like "I GOT"). I realize now i could have made cassette tapes which you could flip over at any point and hear the piece backwards, but at the time i was technically quite literal, and i dubbed full-track (one mono track that is the full width of the tape) reel-to-reel tapes, and edited leader between the pieces (this is the reel-to-reel form of indexing) which, when played on any reel-to-reel playback machine in either direction would give the desired results, as long as it was played at the right speed. There was also a bonus tape loop that came in the box.

I made a few of these dubs but i never managed to sell one and i don't remember giving any away, so as a publishing venture it was a bust. But, probably the same thing would have happened at that time if i had gone the cassette route.

As a side note, the Burrows have never been republished, but we are currently looking at web-based formats where a listener can very visibly play the pieces backwards or forwards. Meanwhile, back in the '70's, i concentrated on making records, which had a whole existing system of distribution.

The next cassette label, after Advent, that i became aware of was Voicepondence, produced by Clive Robertson at a place called Artons in Calgary Canada around 1976.

I had one release on that label entitled Mrs. Schultz Overdubbing (1977).

As you can see my attempts at historical perspective will be inevitably egocentric, because i have always had the fault of being pre-occupied with what i'm doing when i probably should be paying more attention to what's going on in the rest of the world. Hopefully others, in particular Doug, can give a broader sense of the history of the creation and dissemination of audio artifacts.
Re: Burroughs and Burrows
Posted by Douglas Kahn, Jan 31, 2005 8:36 PM
Hello everyone. Good to be part of this discussion. My sense of Wm Burroughs' cut-ups is that they were parlor entertainments if not, at times, magical devices. The two are not mutually exclusive, and neither parlor nor entertainment should be taken in a deragatory manner. The tape recorder he was working with was in a long line of phonographs and radios that had replaced the 19th century piano as the main piece of entertainment furniture in many homes. The musical and song stylings on the piano ran the whole range, and much of it was produced by the females of the family as a type of domestic production.

For Burroughs it was similar, with the home here housing an extended family of friends and acquaintenances. It's similar to the first audiotape cut-up he heard or, rather, as he remembers as such: Jerry Newman's Drunken Newscaster. Newman was a jazz recordist, going to clubs with a wire recorder before tape became available. He was also Jack Kerouac's school boy friend and adult drinking buddy. Newman was an unreconstructed lush like Kerouac and there are pictures of the two smashed, draped over each other. A slurring, Freudian slipping, drunken newscaster would have fit right in. There's conflicting testimony so it's not clear whether the tape was in fact a cut-up or merely a recording of a drunken newscaster, or a cut-up by someone besides Newman. The tape is not extant and the only citations of it are from people who visited him. If it was circulated or broadcasted in any way, there would be some trace in the anecdotal record.

Henri Chopin did put a couple recordings of Burroughs in his Revue Ou (I'm home right now so I can't state which ones exactly), but I remember them to be from the late-60s or early-70s, and they were readings, not manipulated or more performative pieces as with some of the other inclusions over the years in Revue Ou.

John, when and how did you first run into Burroughs' cut-ups: as propositions within his writing and/or as audible pieces.

Actual recordings were difficult to locate and at times fairly expensive, especially on a bohemian budget. For underground in literary experiments (similar to Burroughs' genre), apart from Revue Ou, I remember S-Press (still operating) from Germany was a good source. I also remember spending too much money on an LP of Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate from a gallery in England. The other source was Source: Music of the Avant-garde, edited by Larry Austin and others around the University of California at Davis (my current digs) in the latter-half of the 1960s. Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in a Room was first pressed there. It represented the grassroots of experimental music, who otherwise would have had some diffculty in gaining attention by record companies (there were some exceptions here). This is from my personal perspective, and is not meant to represent a nicely detached and researched historical account.

I was lucky enough to live in the SF Bay Area during the latter-half of the 1970s when Charles Amirkhanian had a morning show everyday on KPFA where he'd play a great range of modernist, avant-garde and experimental music, sound poetry, text sound, etc. College and community radio stations at the time, and to a great extent now in the U.S., were the main distribution channel for this type of work. The internet is definitely a major player now, especially with the remakrable Ubu (I assign the whole thing in one of my classes). Charles is moving increasingly on-line with Other Minds.

Cassette culture was excellent for putting practitioners, collectors and interested others in touch with one another, but limited in its ability to expose those not already in the loop to new work. That's where radio came in. Some of the work did make its way onto the airwaves and there were plenty of people recording cassettes (and reel-to-reel before that) directly off the radio. I still have several of Charles' programs sitting on my shelves. So I guess if we're looking at distribution, we're actually talking about complementary aspects of a system of distribution.

To spin this more personally, during the mid-1970s I did my own cut-ups while I was an MFA student at Cal Arts. There were tapes as part of my grad exhibit and they were "exhibited" in San Francisco, where I was living (it was a wicked commute), at a couple art venues. Charles also played them on his radio program. I went from gallery work to audio because I wanted to get my work out to more people. More people would encounter your work it seemed with one time on radio than a couple years of gallery exhibitions.

Later, after I'd moved to Seattle, I did a cut-up of Ronald Reagan being interviewed by Bill Moyers before the election. I sold copies of it at a slightly inflated price and used the money to help send copies free to community and college radio stations. Most of the money, however, came from my own pocket, working at temp jobs. For the Pacifica stations I sent multiple copies and said I'd send more if requested. It became something of an underground hit, my one hit.

I had actually taken my cue from George Grosz and Wieland Herfelde (brother of John Heartfield, and publisher of Malik Verlag). They would sell Grosz portfolios to art collectors for the going-rate in order to fund publication of an edition which could be sold cheaply or passed out free to a greater number of people.

"Reagan Speaks for Himself" was also published on an early SubPop cassette (pre-pre-Nirvana) which was part of the cassette underground we're talking about. I would also "perform" it and others at poetry readings in Seattle, which were really nice gatherings, and in art talks; I remember one with the comic artist Lynda Barry, who was also living in Seattle at the time with her poodle with a Mohawk.

The underground comic artist Spain Rodriguez, who had been a house-mate (along with Justin Green, author of Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary...known as the Citizen Kane of Catholic guilt comics) when I lived in San Fran, suggested I send it to his friend Art Spiegelman at RAW Magazine. RAW pressed it onto a flexidisc for RAW No. 4 and, with the help of a little "banned-in-Boston affair" (Evatone, the flexidisc manufacturer, wanted an actor's clearance from Reagan, who was by then in the White House, or from "one of his agents"), it got pretty good publicity. It also got distributed on a folk music LP with Si Kahn (no relation), Barbara Dane and others, called Reaganomic Blues, and the Fine Young Cannibals did a disco dance mix with it, before marketing drive steered them toward motown.

I can get back to more historical footing next time.
Re: Re: Burroughs and Burrows
Posted by Kenneth Goldsmith, Jan 31, 2005 9:42 PM
Lina sez:
It seems to me that arts institutions have 'woken up' to issues mentioned above fairly recently (in the past few years). Why are discussions around sampling and sound of particular interest to us at this point in the context of Tate Modern?

Kenneth replies:
Have they really? Judging by the way the Tate has handled the Bruce Nauman show, I'm not so sure. For all of the institution's professed interest in "sampling" and "alternative modes of distribution," the Tate, for example, doesn't offer a single downloadable sound sample from the Nauman installation on its website. Furthermore, if you wish to officially "possess" the show, you can purchase a CD with the complete soundtrack on it for £12.

When I visited the show, I saw many people going right up to the speakers and holding either a portable recording device or a cell phone right up to them. No one was stopping anyone from doing this, and the recordings have invariably they have made their way out into the world. Nick Currie (aka Momus) offers a gorgeous live-time document of the installation on his blog.

But this is all really beside the point. Right after the CD was available, it appeared on my favorite file-sharing group. Guaranteed that people are remixing the hell out of it right now.

My point is that -- and you'll hear me come back to this again and again -- artist's audio works are generally worthless on the market. That's why Nauman's "mass-produced" CD sells for £12 and his "unique" artworks sell for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands times that much. I can't imagine that for the sake of public education, the institution releasing MP3s of the Nauman disc is in any way going to impact Mr. Nauman's lucrative market (his current "artist ranking" is currently #4, behind Picasso, Warhol, and Klee.

But in other areas, The Tate shows incredible initiative. For example, this past Christmas, the Tate put on a spectacular show of artists like Christian Marclay and People Like Us remixing Christmas records. Fortunately, MP3s of this show are available on the website, but they're buried deep and I had a lot of trouble finding them. Which brings up another point: What is the difference between the Nauman exhibition and the Marclay performance? (I'm reminded of my wife, the video artist Cheryl Donegan, whose videos were acquired by MoMA, but are not officially considered part of the MoMA collection.) Are documents of performances somehow less important than those which physically reside inside the institutional space?

I don't mean to single out The Tate; New York's MoMA is no better. As a matter of fact, I'm hard-pressed to find one museum-based site that are offering artists recordings on an abundant and consistent level.

It's easy for the institutions to raise the issue, but when it comes to practice, they're falling on their face.
Re: Burroughs and Burrows / and sound at the Tate
Posted by John Oswald, Jan 31, 2005 11:15 PM
Doug Kahn writes:
"John, when and how did you first run into Burroughs' cut-ups: as propositions within his writing and/or as audible pieces. "

I had read his cut-up manifestos and the cut-up influenced novels, but in fact i was more fascinated by the sound of his speaking voice than any ideology; i used little bits of his reading Call Me Burroughs. And i remember being quite conscious of how what i was doing was so different from what he espoused: i.e., the cut-up technique as a way of breaking down language and losing control of it, as a way of letting it randomly create new relationships. Instead of doing that i was meticulously placing his words and phonemes in new orders, often in order to have him sound like he was saying what i wanted him to say, just like you [Doug] did so well with that other familiar voice in "Reagan Speaks for Himself". In fact we both also diverged from pseudo-real rhetoric into making those two guys into sound poet sound-a-likes.

One of the strangest meetings of my life up to that time was with Burroughs himself; we were sitting behind a movie screen at a cinema where he was about to give a reading, and he was giving me permission to freely use the recordings of his voice (in spite of this being a successful transaction, it was the last time i ever asked someone for permission). The strangeness for me wasn't so much Burroughs' spacey aloofness and right-through-you look but the fact that that same voice, which i had spent a couple of hundred hours working with as a disembodied recording, was now addressing me by name and responding to me conversationally. There was no way i could make this seem real.

Perhaps i should point out now that i am aware that we haven't answered Lina's question about the Tate Modern and sound. I was waiting for someone else to say something about this first, before i go into another anecdotal divergence.

And as i write this Kenneth Goldsmith (have we met?) has uploaded some comments which i can comment on:

It seems that all the sound art examples you are mentioning (i.e., recordings that fit on a CD or mp3) are things that don't really need or benefit from a gallery environment (and i will argue at a later date about how little the typical gallery environment benefits from them).

If there is indeed more to these sound shows at the Tate than the recordings, then there is no need to use the existing real estate to exhibit them, and the networked dissemination of sound files is something which, as you point out, others do quite well, so it really doesn't make much difference if the Tate or MOMA make the effort to distribute soundfiles or not.

I checked out the site you mentioned describing the Bruce Nauman show and listened to the soundclip there, along with the postage stamp photos. These are like a postcard of a painting you'd find in a gallery giftshop. It gives you a glimpse of what the art is like, but it is not the art thing itself, whether that's an oil painting or an arrangement of loudspeakers in a particular place; postcards and mp3s are not what people go to galleries to experience.

What i visit an art gallery to experience is a fairly long list of things. What i personally wish to avoid there most often includes audio and video recordings which are merely that, and therefore much more easily accessible or ignorable elsewhere.
Re: Re: Burroughs and Burrows / and sound at the Tate
Posted by Douglas Kahn, Jan 31, 2005 11:52 PM
Kenneth’s remarks regarding the Tate’s handling of Nauman’s show are very interesting. I’d like to throw this up another contextual notch to the question of democratic communications in general. It’s good to valorize underground networks, but it’s also good to know why they’re underground in the first place. Among a number of perfectly fine reasons, there is also the fact that so much information and communication has been driven down by the lack of a democratic media. This is particularly obvious in the U.S., where there is no semblance of democracy remaining in mainstream media, where conservative corporations call the shots and state propaganda and lies affectionately known as spin rule the day. Democratic institutions have been sequestered to local transmissions and networks and narrowcasting, and have influence to be sure but negligible standing in people’s daily lives. “Public” broadcasting with National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System is culturally conservative and lacking any political backbone, with what few redeeming moments that exist being broken up and scattered by its syndication system.

It’s different in other countries, when I was living in Sydney, a well-known American academic came to my university and was bubbly and effervescent about how the internet was going to put intellectuals in contact with the public (he was also enthusiastic about the political promise of CD-ROMs, but that’s a different story). The lackluster response was due in large part to the fact that there were people in the room who had regular access to national radio and television. Eva Cox, a social theorist, was on the tube or radio three or four times a week. When Chomsky came to Australia for two weeks, it was in effect The Noam Chomsky Show, with daily newspaper coverage, prime time interviews and a nationally televised speech in prime time directly criticizing the sitting Australian government. One of the world’s most notable political thinkers has been kept from American airwaves as though he had a bad case of anthrax breath in a country bent on minty fresh.

In terms of the arts of sound, there were two or three weekly programs broadcast on ABC radio, one of the national broadcasters, at decent times of the day dealing with new music, audio and radio arts. Moreover, people were commissioned and paid. Nobody was going to make a living from it, but it helped support the creation of work by a wide range of artists, musicians, theatre people, writers, etc., and did offer a living to the folks working at the stations putting these shows together who were practitioners in their own right, and important members of artistic and cultural communities. It helped make Australia a hotbed of activity and helped generate a true artistic depth in the arts of sound, with outstanding individuals like Jon Rose, Joan Brassil, Joyce Hinterding, Paul Carter, Rainer Linz, Virginia Madsen, Rick Rue, Nigel Helyer, Julian Knowles, Roz Cheney, Tony MacGregor, to name a few of a particular generation. Some of these people are simply not on the international radar screen, subterranean or otherwise, but are nevertheless responsible for work of substance that outstrips much of the work holding people’s attention. When I left about three years ago, some of this (as well as other elements of democracy and sanity) was being attacked and dismantled under pressure from the conservative government who have been in power since 1996 under Little Johnny Howard (if Blair is Bush’s poodle, Howard is the flea).

The existence of a national broadcaster guarantees nothing, of course. Several years ago I was at a conference in Sunderland called “Hearing is Believing” which was held explicitly to try to get something going in terms of radio and the arts of sound. There were a few representatives from the BBC, but they were totally outnumbered by people testifying to how stodgy the BBC was, and there was little reason not to believe them. It may have changed, but other countries have had a longer and worthy tradition in the area.

Other contexts for the subterranean networks we’re discussing are closer to the action: the organs of discourse. They are responsible for plucking subterranean events from obscurity, if only for a moment and if only for a little lift, but often for invaluable and sustained support. Musicworks, for instance, has done a great service to Canadian artistic and musical communities and individuals for a very long time. In terms of the arts of sound, the institutions and organs of discourse in “the art world”, in particular powerful ones in New York and London, have finally begun to recognize the work that has been going on internationally for a long time. However, there are just too many artists who have been doing great work for a long time who have been excluded. We can be generous and say that this has been an oversight, or we can be more cynical if not realistic, given the number of people and exhibitions and nations excluded, and say that it’s been an appropriation by latecomers to the scene, from classes, institutions and positions of power skilled at appropriations called “discoveries” and selective amnesia singularly called “history.” In terms of discourse, have a look at the jaw-droppers on the recent Artforum online forum on sound art. It seems you’re meant to believe that sound art started in earnest around 2000. There was certainly some of the same hype around Sonic Boom in London.
If It Doesn't Exist on the Internet It Doesn't Exist
Posted by Kenneth Goldsmith, Feb 1, 2005 9:00 PM
As someone who has been doing a show on WFMU for a decade, I can only say that the state of radio in America is dismal and getting worse all the time. And this includes college radio as well as commercial radio. There really is no hope for radio on the FCC-controlled airwaves as we know it in America. As much as I detest Howard Stern, I can sympathize with his jumping ship to go to satellite radio, where not only will he be paid a shitload of money, but can say what he wants, unhindered by the FCC. It seems today in the US, that if people truly want freedom of speech, they are going to have to pay for it (satellite radio, cable television). What would The Sopranos be without the word "f**k?"

However, just as the airwaves are dying, the web is rising. Doug mentioned with skepticism of the professor in Sydney who "was bubbly and effervescent about how the internet was going to put intellectuals in contact with the public," but this was several years ago, no? I'm not going to say something that I used to say only as hyperbole, but is fast becoming true as a rule:

Re: If It Doesn't Exist on the Internet It Doesn't Exist
Posted by Kenneth Goldsmith, Feb 1, 2005 9:47 PM
And furthermore, because John's "Burrows" and Doug's "Reagan Speaks for Himself" don't exist on the internet, they don't exist.

Coversely, because John's "Kissing Jesus in the Dark" and "Plunderphonic" is available on his website, it does not only exist, but is thriving with new enthusiasts (such as myself) enjoying, sampling, playing, etc. the work every day.

It is networked; it is alive

John, you could easily realize a reversible web-version of "Burrows" with Flash. UbuWeb would be thrilled to host it. Doug, the offer for stands as well for "Reagan Speaks for Himself."

I think the cassette-underground network is one of the great lost treasures of recent innovative music. And the reason it's lost is due to its moribund medium. We recently put up the whole run of PhonoStatic cassettes from the mid-80s, with the hopes of greatly enlarging UbuWeb's cassette-network holdings Hopefull we can, in time, fully document much of the movement in open-source MP3s.
But it does Exist...
Posted by John Oswald, Feb 1, 2005 10:27 PM
Kenneth G. writes:
"And furthermore, because John's "Burrows" and Doug's "Reagan Speaks for Himself" don't exist on the internet, they don't exist. "

I probably should not be replying to this because by Kenneth's definition i personally do not exist : it was not i who put tracks you mention on the net; i have yet to upload anything, although i've been thinking about it.

But i did find "Reagan Speaks for Himself" yesterday at :
Re: But it does Exist...
Posted by Kenneth Goldsmith, Feb 1, 2005 10:34 PM
John sez:

But i did find "Reagan Speaks for Himself" yesterday at :

:-) This makes me *so* happy. I'm glad it exists!
Re: Re: But it does Exist...
Posted by Douglas Kahn, Feb 2, 2005 12:30 AM
It’s good Reagan Speaks for Himself was found, in a dark and dusty corner of the internet, existing. It had its day when Reagan had what wits he ever had available to him available, when his dim half-witted opinions morphed effortlessly into national policy and international relations, and when people in the States and around the world, especially in Latin America, lived or died depending on what he had for breakfast. The tape had since been relegated to the same degree of amnesia as Reagan himself, with the exception of enthusiasts, who would correspond in this case to accidental synaptical activity, perhaps resembling the incoherence of a dream. And fair enough. We all have our days, some better than others.

The tape became revivified because of the Showtime mini-series on Ron and Nancy (with the remarkable Judy Davis playing Judy Garland playing Nancy Reagan playing herself) and because he croaked, finally. The person from Truthful Translations wanted to post the tape and I said sure. I believe he had found an mp3 already floating around the internet. With this newfound interest I egosurfed Reagan Speaks and found that it was on the playlist for a number of college and community radio stations around the U.S., as a counter to the psychotic elevation of Reagan to great statesmanhood chorusing at the time in the U.S. mainstream media. I’m just guessing, but I imagine that more non-enthusiasts and aspiring-enthusiasts heard the tape on the radio than those who hunted and pecked their way to Truthful Translations. No doubt several of the radio jocks grabbed the mp3 and played it over the air. Whatever works.

And it’s true, the “bubbly and effervescent” American academic spoke about four years ago, long ago perhaps for the democratic media in Australia to deteriorate enough for people to begin believe him now. His enthusiasm for the prospects of the internet in the United States was not the problem. The state of public intellectuals in the States was indeed pathetic, so any alternative held out some hope. He ran into a problem because he confused the situation in the U.S. with that of Australia. If it was someone from say Greece that had given the talk there probably would have been no problem, but people around the world tend to get fidgety when people from the U.S. are confused in this manner. It’s like George in Of Mice and Men when he wants to pet the rabbits The academic no doubt thought he was being visionary but the people in the room were thinking more “not applicable” with a hair-trigger suspicion of cultural imperialism.

Which gets me back to a point from my earlier post, it’s important to think of distribution, information, and communication in terms of a system and not to put all the eggs in one basket. I’m not ready to write off radio broadcasts. It would be more beneficial to fight for their livelihood and figure out how better to integrate them in a more systemic way. The FCC is hopeless, that’s true, but they were forced by rampant pirate radio to accede (no matter how compromised the number) to LPFM (low-power FM) stations around the country.

Kenneth, does UbuWeb have any current activities, plans or desire to integrate with broadcast media? It seems like it could be a fruitful relationship, given the increasing size of your holdings. Perhaps you could even form conduit for institutions as the Tate, MOMA to reach aspiring-enthusiasts.

Finally, since I’m holding down the last time slot here on the West coast, I forgot to mention that, once when I was invited on national radio in Australia, I played my Plunderphonics CD in its entirety, without commercial interruption, as well as Negativland’s U2 shindig. The regular announcer and I gave listeners plenty of warning so they could get their recorders in place.
Posted by Kenneth Goldsmith, Feb 2, 2005 4:54 AM
Doug sez:
Does UbuWeb have any current activities, plans or desire to integrate with broadcast media?

Yes. UbuWeb is on the verge of launching a 24-hour web-stream, which will be automatically programmed, with a bot randomly rifling though Ubu's storehouse of MP3s, and continuously piggybacking them one after another. The ID3 tags will tell you what is playing as its being played. We will launch this before the summer.

Doug, I am still deeply committed to the idea of innovative airwave work. I still do my WFMU show every week and relish the freedoms that WFMU offers particularly in this unprecedented climate of fear and repression, combined with corporate media consolidation. I feel the same way as you do, that the airwaves are loaded with magic and the serendipitous connection with an unknown and / or unsuspecting public can foster the most incredible bond between programmer and listener. It's the difference between the magic of stumbling upon something whilst spinning a dial late at night on a long car ride as opposed to the predictability of clicking on something you know will be good.

While LPFM is a great thing, the web is better.
Re: Radio
Posted by Douglas Kahn, Feb 2, 2005 3:34 PM
Kenneth. You make quite a bit of sense until you get to your last sentences. If you think “If it doesn’t exist on the internet it doesn’t exist,” then you really need to get out more. Ice doesn’t exist on the internet and the cold air can feel good on the faces of the people you get to talk to. And now “LPFM is a great thing, the web is better.” It’s not a horse race. There are many things that LPFM can do, in certain places for certain people, that the internet can’t do as well or at all. And that’s okay too. They are not mutually exclusive. Because of different media systems in different nations around the world, many people don’t have to jump on the keyboard to find sensible political discourse or interesting cultural events to the extent that is required in the United States. But, dear moderator, I think we’re spinning our wheels. Omigod, it might be internet ice!
Re: Re: Radio
Posted by John Oswald, Feb 2, 2005 5:28 PM
Back when i was still in high school i managed to finagle having a radio show at each of the two university radio stations in my home town. The biggest attraction for me was having two turntables and a mixer. One of the shows, which i put together each week with a friend, focused exclusively on spontaneously creating what eventually came to be known as mash-ups, etc., i.e., playing two records at once, with the emphasis on matching an instrumental record with a predominately vocal record. We tried opera with jazz; tibetan chanting with heavy rock; Beatles vocals (some of their stereo mixes had all the vocals in one channel) with the Beach Boy's Stack-o-Tracks instrumentals. We thought the results were often amazing, and eventually became curious about who might be listening to the fortuitous coincidences we were generating. We'd been doing this for several months. The phone never rang during our show. So we had an on-air contest. We asked a skill-testing question, which was : "What is the middle name of the current leader of our fair country [Canada]". The prize was an Aretha Franklin album that we happened to have a spare copy of. When no one phoned in we changed the skill-testing requirement to "Name the leader of our fair country" [answer : Pierre (Elliot) Trudeau] and we added in another album. Still no answer. We then offered a free vacation to a vaguely specified place if anyone could identify themselves. We eventually gave the Aretha Franklin album to a night watchman who walked into the control room when he told us his name.

Several years later i was involved in the creation and production of record albums. We would press 500 or a thousand of something and send it off to a distributor and usually after a few months or a year we'd have enough money to repress, if all the copies had been distributed. I had very little idea who was buying these things. I remember being very surprised when someone on another continent came up to me and said that he had such-and-such a record which i had been involved in making, and that he liked it.

A few years later Mystery Tapes International (the distribution wing of mLab, where i still am the Director of Research) began to distribute cassettes exclusively through the mail. We manufactured the tapes, sometimes one by one as orders came in (we were a bit of an anomaly in the blossoming cassette network in that we didn't trade). We often made revisions in a title, like software updates, and occasionally someone would order what would be, as a result of this process, a unique copy of a title. We made a big deal about how you could only get the mystery tapes from us, and we discouraged making copies of them, because we said they wouldn't sound as good. The quantities of tapes we were distributing were less than a tenth of what what i'd been selling in the record business. But instead of not knowing who was getting the music, we had an address for every one of our customers world-wide, and we often got comments from these people with their re-orders.

I was particularly happy to know who was listening.

Mystery Tapes International's final release was the plunderphonics CD which was distributed for free (again to specific people) in 1989 for a little more than a month before legal proceedings endeavoured to stop its distribution.

Ironically, when word got out that i was no longer in the business of distributing free CDS others on several continents, often under the moniker of Copyright Violation Squads took up the slack; usually providing a service where if someone sent a blank cassette and postage, a dub of the CD, or a dub of a tape of the CD would be returned. This was before anyone knew the internet existed. Over the next several months and years thousands of copies were made. The nicest thing about the compact disc medium was that every CD was the equivalent of the master tape (which i had given to the opposing lawyers to destroy to keep them happy) and CDs made from CDs could be exact clones.

Also because of the greater quantity of distribution and broadcast (thanks Doug) i was hearing from even more listeners than with the mystery tapes.

A few years later i put together a CD called Grayfolded. This one was for sale. Somewhere during production it became obvious that it was going to be a 2-CD set. I finished the first CD and a new record company i affiliated with just for this project sold it (through third-party distributors mostly) along with a mail-in card to subscribe to get the at-the-time uncompleted 2nd disc. The card also requested suggestions and comments. We knew that a specific audience (called deadheads) were very opinionated and often knowledgeable about the musical territory i was electroquoting (plundering).

We received a large number of mailed-in subscription orders which included thousands of suggestions and opinions. This was the same type of feedback that i had enjoyed with the mystery tapes.

Fifteen years after the release of the plunderphonic CD a very similar story transpired with a release by Brian Burton entitled The Grey Album. (Coincidentally the Beatles 'White Album', the source for this project, also provided material for a track entitled Birth on the plunderphonics CD). The only difference was that when legal threats stopped Burton from distributing his CDs, the copying was mostly propagated by internet file sharing. Thousands of copies (each a clone of an mp3 master) were downloaded in one day.