Dunning and Brosamer – Glocken [Invisible City Records 2019]

Dunning and Brosamer’s “Metronome”

When I was a teenager I played tapes on my blue Walkman. I listened to and through music, and fell asleep with my headphones on. In the morning the batteries were exhausted. It happened all the time. Songs created a link or a tie – a vibrant map for living. I always listened to the same tapes (and more often than not, to a self-made copy of Beat Happening’s Black Candy and its obscure, pounding sweetness). I knew the music inside out; it invariably took me back home.

Later, other albums took me away, unlocking deep, unsuspected doors – unsettling the ground, the very foundations of identity. I remember the soft stridence of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising, Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations, the pensive urgency of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This was music for getting lost: lost in sounds, and, increasingly, lost to oneself, gently (yet absolutely) decentred, displaced, absorbed.  

Dunning and Brosamer’s minimalist Glocken (‘Bells’) belongs to the second category of albums (though, of course, the gate between the two is flying wide open). Every time I listen to the tape something emerges which wasn’t there before – and what was there before has changed again. Glocken retains nothing except, maybe, the beautiful record of its own alterations. White noise and tiny, subsonic vibrations – elemental electronics. The six tracks, all of which were recorded live, belong together like strata of the same geological ground. They seem to be governed by delicate climates and seasons of their own. This may be because they are mostly made of fragments, debris. According to the liner notes, Dunning and Brosamer made this album using an assortment of ‘gramophone, turntable, modified records, cast 78s, retextured disks’ (courtesy of artist Lisa Schlenker), ‘mobile devices’ and ‘synths’.

Glocken is a continuation of Dunning and Brosamer’s respective art practices, and former collaborations. In one of his early phono-archaeological projects, turntablist Graham Dunning had literally dug into the earth, where a storing facility for gramophone records used to be, excavating dozens of tiny shellac shards and trying to reconstitute and replay the broken records. Gramophone artist Sascha Brosamer, too, works with natural and manmade fragments – the cover of the tape shows a 78rpm disc cast from river trash collected alongside the banks of the Mississippi or the Panke. These waste-records, forever disintegrating, get played throughout Glocken. Because this composite album was assembled by people who let textures and materials speak, there are no recognizable words or singing, no soothing, familiar tones. Only the hands of the makers-discovers remain present, invisibly spinning, sampling and weaving sounds together – leaving imprints and marks which become embedded into the final object.

Despite its home-made, hesitant qualities, there is also something heavy and fiercely industrial to Glocken. It reminds me of the experimental pattern films of the 1930s – full of bright flashes, electric pulsations and abrupt disappearances. Films without actors, without a plot even. At one point (on “Ack”) a frail melody is heard, as if emerging from an old music-box – and gets immediately repressed. There are other attempted beginnings and hints of narration throughout the album. But (contrary, for instance, to hauntology’s love of storytelling and nostalgic reconstructions), no tale is told. Nothing gets repaired, mastered or organised. Only the ruins remain. Glocken is best heard in the dark – recalling, at times, the icy, infrasonic landscapes of musique concrète – the soulless, yet oddly poignant song of automation. And when the last dreamer falls asleep, the music will persist – indifferent and mechanical – almost absent to itself.

No One Will Ever Know: Flowers in the Sky turns 12 [The Grass is Green in the Fields for You 2020]

The Cat’s Miaow “From my Window” [Toytown 1993]

First suggestion: haunting is historical, to be sure, but it is not dated, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order or a calendar. Untimely, it does not come to, it does not happen to, it does not befall, one day …

— Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx 1

Delving back into the twee punk of our youth may seem counterintuitive during these times, yet at its most utilitarian, the music employs the blind optimism and mistruths of pop culture to burrow into the cracks. Inside the degraded adhesive of its pastel pink wallpaper, this sardonic exposé jangling out of a near-past body politic warrants revisiting. As illness metaphorises 2 across broken system after broken system; lo-fi outsider punk, C86, jangle, the paisley underground and related scenes from Glasgow to Auckland in the 1980s and 1990s portray a ruinous background, fattened into an omnipresent blob: not only from the onset of neoliberalism, but across its hideous maturation.

In our psychosomatic archives, it’s an act of play to connect the dots of what we were exposed to as tweens – in my case Flying Nun Records and the likes of the Dead C in New Zealand, Sarah Records and Glaswegian groups like The Pastels – to an increasing crop of likeminded bands we’re only hearing now due to reissues and browsing internet hall-of-mirror hellholes; Entlang, Toyland Tapes, The Kiwi Animal, Peter Wright’s Aotearoa lathe cuts, Peter Jeffries’ solo records, et al. My therapist advocates to get back in touch with our inner-child, and well, it feels wunderbar.

Tracing back to scenes we never encountered alongside those we may have participated in through online marketplaces masquerading as archives (Discogs, YouTube, Spotify, etc.) – whether in a wallow of nostalgia or otherwise – secludes us in a full-scale consumption-utopia predicted in The Society of the Spectacle 2. This isolation, as further flirted with in a lockdown, deflates our ontological sensations in its projection of spectral remnants of media and experiences onto Retina Displays displaying the eradication of our collective convening-energy. While marginal spaces are displaced, erased and reassembled into immaterial liminal coordinates in a server farm, the noise continues, but without the transpiration of gloaming escape or the peeling back of the hegemony’s scales. The master may have disrobed, but now he wears our clothes.

In Glasgow, as with a few other fortunate slabs scattered across the wastelands, we at least have spaces that very crucially and articulately counter the novel and distinct realms of separation and disembodiment we currently find ourselves in; providing outlets to climb out from the heap of streamable detritus. The Grass is Green in the Fields for You (TGIGITFFY), a small press/music publisher and its Subcity Radio offshoot Flowers in the Sky (FinS) occupy and share such spaces.

Printmaker, designer and Vital Idles drummer Matthew Walkerdine runs TGIGITFFY, while also organising Good Press alongside bandmates Jessica Higgins, Nick Lynch and a community of volunteers. Discussing Good Press is better left aside for another post – their role in providing space, materials and resources to local artists and eccentrics deserves more than a line or two. But for quick context, the nonprofit storefront not only carries artist-made ephemera from zines, chapbooks, prints, cassettes and other objects; it also houses Sunday’s Print Service for public risograph printing, the ‘Occupancy’ residence programme and events. Pertinent to this column was The History Of installation in 2013, which featured cassette compilations and writings from a group of artists and record labels.

As for FinS, the Subcity radio show started transmitting last year, and yet after only a dozen episodes Matthew kindly duplicated in mono and assembled the No One Will Ever Know mixtape, releasing it for a magnanimous £3 (the price of postage, or a jar of peanut butter). I mention the price as retort to the scabs on Discogs who sell rare punk tapes at extortionate prices. To put the gesture of the mixtape in context, I’ve broadcast nearly 40 instalments of There Is No There There (also on Subcity), I run a cassette label, and although I regularly make mixtapes, I have never made a gift for the show’s listeners. The mix’s accompanying letter echoes the same care directed into the show, reminding me of a time when independent and pirate radio wasn’t merely to promote club nights, for the sake of so-called selection/curation or as cultural capital dangling from social media feeds, but rather to reinforce the medium as conveyer of a message of community solidarity, however naively utopian – something to break through the desolation inside the advances of communication capitalism 3.

Letter accompanying No One Will Ever Know

As I’m nudging into nostalgic territory – a deplorable place to land, though it often can’t be helped, merely diagnosed – FinS and No One Will Ever Know transmit an effectual/affectual balance between underground ‘classics’ and contemporary lineations and detours; traversing shoegaze, the ever fertile and peculiar kiwi scene & its plump neighbouring island, post-punk, outsider CDr folk, dream pop, the more punk tinges of British art rock, et al. This inter-generational geology of outsider sounds isn’t banally compartmentalised as a timeline; but ricochets, so that the timelessness of a song written last week informs/deforms a song from decades ago and vice versa. The phenomenological temporality of the cover’s handless clock evokes a double entendre eliciting that the slow cancellation of the future 4 not only regurgitates the past, it understands full well, these partials and traces from the 20th Century, the dust continuing to accumulate, are here to loiter across the chain of presents.

1 Derrida, Jacques. “Injunctions of Marx.” Specters of Marx, Routledge, 1994, pp. 3.

2 Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977.

3 Dean, Jodi. Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Duke University Press, 2009.

4 Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, 2014.

Killd By – Neotropical [Noumenal Loom 2020]

I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.

–Chris Marker, Sans Soleil

I don’t want to leave pompeii.

–Killd By, Neotropical

Listening to work created by departed loved ones I can’t help but pause to tarry with the uncanny depth and complex emotional mixture surfaced when hearing a familiar voice associated with a body no longer embodied. In a world where we are bound to our mortality and the mortality of others, it may seem like a banal reflection to note the fact that all recorded sound is destined to be listened to posthumously, one day, after the recordist’s passing. However, if this is a banal observation, it is also a sign of how thoroughly naturalised the experience of hearing the voices and recordings of the deceased has become over the past century. Our species has only been privy to the experience of reproduced sound and media for a relatively short period of time. It is a form of hubris to assume that we understand all that it affects.

At the risk of making ontological statements about the nature of recorded sound that would take us too far afield from the matter at hand — reflections on a recently released cassette, Neotropical by the deceased artist Colin Ward Ferguson, presented under his alias ‘killd by’ — it occurs to me that, while echoes, earworms, and aural memories have existed in various forms for as long as we’ve been listening, it’s only since the advent of sound recording that humanity has begun the process of weaving the vast and unique tapestries of sonic affect (tapestries akin to Chris Marker’s ‘eternal magnetic tape’) through which our shared concepts of history, temporality, and epistemologies of occurrence are given to be refracted, renegotiated, re-heard, and re-wound. 

As a listener and DJ, I take solace in the exploration of this incipient archive. As a collector, I appreciate the ceaseless accumulation of testamentary traces that bear witness to so many lives lived and navigated through the medium of sound and its machinations. Loved ones are recalled, sonic spaces re-constituted, and relationships between all kinds of telematically mediated and unmediated experiences are revitalised in a manner that, although perhaps not fundamentally different with respect to the evocations produced by other media, certainly resonate in intimate and neurologically unique ways. When we listen to Neotropical, we are listening to a work of negentropy; a negentropic gift in a cosmos seemingly circumscribed as much by mortality as by the second law of thermodynamics – the entropic tendency of matter towards ash; equanimous, and impersonal dissolution ¹. 

Neotropical, nested next to one of killd by’s circuit-bent noisemakers.
“Leave Pompeii”

For everything that Neotropical is, and amidst all of the reflections that it incites, it is also a wonderful entrance into the body of work that Colin left us. As the first posthumous release of his, which we are told he was working closely with the label Noumenal Loom to prepare at the time of his untimely passing, Neotropical is also a curious attempt to review, collect, and reflect on a body of work that, given its incredibly sprawling breadth and volume of output, resists attempts at linear, cohesive synthesis. As an artist, musician, organiser, and staple fixture of the shifting DIY scenes that constellated around the arts space Rhinoceropolis in Denver, Colorado, he performed under a rotating litany of monikers and pseudonyms and created a beguiling amount of work before passing at the age of 27. One of his most well-known projects, alphabets, was alone responsible for over 50 records, released serially month-over-month until the termination of the project.

The body of work we’re given to hear is thus always both less and more than a body. It is a body that can only be constituted retrospectively, after the last note is played, so to speak; and even then its constitution is always provisional. The desire to determine the extent of an artist’s legacy or corpus of work is the conceit of archivists and historians as much as a task left to be completed by grieving friends, struggling to determine the edges of the artists expression through the feverish, necessary, exploration of what remains. On Neotropical we encounter a collection of work that is not entirely ‘new’. Alongside a jubilant collection of unheard music, we also revisit fragments of music iterated upon and already released, in the form of YouTube videos, art exhibitions, and B-side collections between 2014 and 2017. Are the A-sides to those killd by B-sides that we hear again on Neotropical (I count at least eight, sometimes obscured under the guise of slightly deviating track titles) to be considered the other nine records released under the killd by moniker while Colin was alive, or an invisible and as of yet to be heard record to come? 

In the way the music continues to give anew on each listen and the aporias opened by our attempts to wrestle with death always resist closure, Neotropical can be seen as much as an annotation on a body of work as a record proper; completed through the labor of others, it is a guide map, a technology of love, and a tentative bridge that we cross through the attention that we give in listening to it; it is a joyous device for navigating the bardo of life that we, the living are bound to and it is a testament to Colin’s spirit, which urges us – at the emotional climax of the record in “Leave Pompeii” – to stay with the coming catastrophes, to retain a fidelity to all of the figurative Pompeii’s the universe will manufacture, and in that sense, to revel in the tender sorrow of the ashes that are our access to the memory of life. 

Listen to Neotropical here.

¹ For more information regarding my views of media artefacts and their relationship to the principles of entropy and negentropy, see the work of Jewish Czech/Brazilian Philosopher Vilém Flusser. A good collection to start with, available in English is the collection ‘Writings’, published in 2002 and available here.

Merula – Sleep [Men Scryfa 2020]

Merula’s “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”

Because I am a fresh dew woman, says
I am a moist dew woman, says
I am the woman of the dawn, says
I am the woman of the day, says
I am the saint woman, says
I am the spirit woman, says
I am the woman who works, says
I am the woman beneath the dripping tree, says
I am the woman of the twilight, says
I am the woman of the pristine huipil, says
I am the whirlpool woman, says […]
I am the daughter of Mary

— María Sabina ¹

Sleep awakens with the clunk of a tape player set to record. Tape passes across the heads. Here are the songs of sparrows; beautiful interruptions to convent solitude. Alone and in sisterhood, like other interactions in the cloister. The sparrows are reminiscent to arias I once heard spilling out of patio gardens in Oaxaca’s Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena. Perhaps the birds were recorded from a room with an open window; their texture originates in the background, but releases into the foreground. An innominate rendition of Tarquinio Merula’s (c. 1595–1665) “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire” begins to lift and lilt. A simple cello rhythm in the lower register enters, followed by unobtrusive guitar and the devotional Latin lullaby of the Madonna cooing her Christ-child to slumber.

The recording’s anonymity veils its performers, setting and era: hymnal voices as nameless and dispersed as the birds. Its chameleonic nature evokes an archival field recording of unknown date, likely captured around dawn or dusk, until contemporary traffic noise bleeds in, smudging its temporality.

On second thought it’s a digital recording, which nullifies the opening paragraph. The sibilant transients are merely the cassette; the carrier not the original recording.

Microphone handling noise, passersby, phase processing and digital tape delay meddle with the fib of the artefact – truths and untruths funnelled into uniformity – deepening the incidentals rather than dividing the native from the processed, as would be the case with a dubbed version, which in vague instances the laissez-faire non-production mimics. The consecrated emanations transcend a desire to translate, while the inalienable omniscience of the sacred engulfs faithlessness. Yet in its embrace of melancholia, temporal existentialism continues to reside: mother as comforter and silent mourner – aiding her child to sleep into the tide of death’s eventuality.

Over the first few listens I struggled to get through more than a few moments in trepidation of its otherworldly rapture. I succumbed. As with ecclesiastical, Quranic and appropriations of the holy – such as the Adhan, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares ², Georgian polyphonic singing and Current 93’s “The Long Shadow Falls” ³ – this version of “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire,” particularly with its sparse effects in tow, impressively blurs the boundaries of the secular and the sacred to keep the tired dichotomy down.

“Dags Att Sova”, the only composition of the b-side, responds to “Hor ch’è tempo di dormire”; slightly more electrified, disquieting, telluric and with an English translation, which as noted, feels unnecessary. Without the sparrows for accompaniment, vocalists Eva[?] and Thomas Bush seesaw before being swept away by an elegiacal and piercing organ. Eva’s voice returns without Bush. At the foreboding climax she recites “take this milk that I offer you / from this immaculate breast / savour the warmth of the sweetness / for it will not last.”

¹ Sabina, Maria, et al. “The Life.” María Sabina: Selections, University of California Press, 2003, pp. 40.

² “Marcel Cellier Présente: Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares ‎– Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (Volume 1).” 1975.

³ Current 93. “Where The Long Shadows Fall (Beforetheinmostlight).” Dutro, 1995.

Mark Vernon – Ribbons of Rust [Flaming Pines 2019]

Mark Vernon “Only the Shell Can Tell”

In 2016 Glasgow-based sound artist Mark Vernon travelled to the abandoned seaside resort of Laem Thian (Thailand) with his recording equipment. It is unclear whether he deliberately chose to visit Laem Thian, or whether – in some mysterious way – the place called him. I like to believe that he intuitively obeyed a confused call. Once in Laem Thian, he started to record what was not there. He captured – without filling them – the absences; he documented the places where life had been, and the nooks, the fissures where it still grew. In the course of his three-month trip, Vernon also collected miscellaneous local tapes – Thai pop songs, religious hymns. Many of them had irreversibly deteriorated in the hot, tropical climate. And though the magnetic tapes were eaten with tiny parasites, there was still something to hear and grasp and see.

Ribbons of Rust stitches together Vernon’s personal field recordings with extracts from the mass-produced Thai tapes. It is a delicate assemblage of distant, plaintive singing, quivering piano notes, and half-erased, anonymous conversations. I like especially the drowned, otherworldly voices filtering through the album – like a choir of impossible sirens.

Vernon does for the ear what filmmakers Peter Delpeut and Bill Morrison – working with deteriorated archival film footage – do for the eye. He encourages us to listen closely to surfaces, to the minute fissures in the fabric of the world itself. Despite its careful composition, the album retains the spontaneous quality of a found object, or a phonographic fossil. What remains is the weather-worn, broken shell of sound, long after the song has dissolved. What we hear over and over is the distorted sound of the medium – its infinite vulnerability and exposed sensitivity.

For all its haunted resonances and liquid, decayed grace, Ribbons of Rust is not about distant ghosts. Rather it explores sound as pure, immediate presence. It recognises the radical, affective act of being alive in the present – of hearing, seeing, feeling. Something happens. A story gently circulates from Vernon to the listener, and dissolves again. As I listen back I do not visualise the wasted shores of Laem Thian, but other, closer waves – the island of Oléron (France). The place was full of indifferent cats and, (though I carried a camera) I knew they were the real, careless keepers of memory. Ribbons of Rust, similarly, seems to say that recordings exist so that we are free to forget, and start from another time, another place.

Laila Sakini – Your Day is My Night [PP TT 003 2020] Laila Sakini & Lucy Van – Figures [PP TT 001 2017]

Stars around the beautiful moon / hide back their luminous form / whenever all full she shines on the earth / Silvery.

— Sappho ¹

Excerpt from “Your Day”

Mixtapes are inherently Sapphic in their fragmentary insertion and omission of sonic extracts, frail reproductions, emotional spectres teleported from sender to receiver; the clippings, drawings and collage of folded paper, and the inclusion or exclusion of tracklists and notes. Like reassembling the words and vignettes of poems from disintegrating papyrus, mixtapes expose clues out of the redactions of time and space. Conflicting intimacies and distances concentrated in a small object unfurl into a room or the cocoon of a car’s interior ² — all for the sake of fragmentation and a splintering ³ of missed and retrieved messages.

A tension of coldness and warmth pervades mixtapes released on cassette labels. The consumer/receiver rarely knows the artist and usually the artist isn’t transmitting information to anyone in particular, merely a sparse group of collectors. The tape is more commodity than gift; nevertheless the materiality of the process, its arrival at a destination and whatever (shelf)life the object takes offers something more singular than a typical mix streamed on a market-driven platform or online radio station.

Laila Sakini’s Your Day is My Night mixtape on Purely Physical Teeny Tapes eludes the tropes that commonly compartmentalise mixes. In lieu of such trappings an affectual stream eclipses stylistic pinnings with neither side feeling futuristic or referential to the past — bringing a full-circle against the grains of style to its close. The A-Side, “Your Day” draws deeply into a stretch of solace and space. Spiritual jazz instrumentation provides textural motion in place of genre nods, before an outgrowth of drum sequencing patters into more synthesised pastures. The side’s closing moments stretch back across a plateaux of space, yet more fertile, moist and subterranean than the airiness of the opening segments.

On the flip-side, “My Night” momentarily carries over the ending passage of “Your Day”, before ricocheting back into kineticism. Mangled vocals that seem to call out from a vessel in the Indian Ocean delineate a grid, giving way to a sludge of rhythms — the digestion of lotus-eaters. “My Night” has a more smudged and grubby energy, like a car with an insect splattered windshield mainlining into the Tropic of Cancer.

“Those Who See” from Laila Sakini & Lucy Van’s Figures [PP TT 001 2017]

Purely Physical Teeny Tapes’ inaugural cassette features a bed of Sakini’s drifting compositions set to the nonchalant voice of Australian poet Lucy Van. The tape comes packaged in a plastic drug baggy, much like /\\Aught’s eleven tapes of unparalleled grainy particle techno (2014 – 2017). The entirety of Figures oozes with cloud-like pads, fizzling drum machines and meandering poetry, but I’ll merely focus on the opener “Those Who See”.

The extended poem arrives somewhere between Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson. It’s riddled with twisted ironies and sardonic deadpan humour, like “in your communist fantasy all is taken from me / all our enemies in an orgy of IQ to body ratio, of IQ to body radio.” I particularly relish the menagerie of husbands in circulation amid the unfolding of the non-narrative. “My husband is a weight lifter. Each morning I fill his Tupperware with meat patties. He lifts my weights to his mouth. Chewing through spit, my husband is a dentist, all swagger and sweet skin in a white suede coat, pulling debris from under my gums. Forcing my tongue against my teeth, I sound silly when I talk.” “Those Who See” closes on a germane warning as “the working class and immigrants yell for no reason: you are who you pretend to be. Be careful who you pretend to be.”

¹ “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.” If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, by Sappho and Anne Carson, Virago, 2003, pp. 68–69.

² Bijsterveld, Karin, et al. Sound and Safe: a History of Listening behind the Wheel. Oxford University Press, 2014.

³ P-Orridge, Genesis Breyer. “The Splinter Test.” Book of Lies – the Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult, edited by Richard Metzger, Disinformation Company, 2014.

LST – Hard Drive Vinegar Vol. 1 [Self-Released C32 2020]

3-panel j-card
A2 “One of th Blue Holes”

How can a preservation engineer possibly begin with anything other than a k7 ¹ called Hard Drive Vinegar Vol. 1? It’s the latest tape to pass through my letterbox — but besides its newness, cassette binders are polyester-based and never acetate — thus it’s safe to assume it doesn’t reek of herring gull beak, albeit they are circling. There is something acidic about the nine track collection, not as acid techno, but rather auto-catalytic, like acetic acid accelerating the decay process ².

LST (Tarquin Manek) has released a slew of donked-up tapes under various guises and as part of the trio F Ingers; via Night People, the recently deceased Blackest Ever Black, and Australian labels Another Dark Day and Chapter Music. As the title suggests, Hard Drive Vinegar contains material that rotted inside Manek’s hard drive from 2009 – 2019. Its decade timespan is surprising for such a cohesive work, especially with a geographic spread of recording at home in Australia and after relocating to Berlin. One of its enigmatic charms lies in how it seems to disregard time and place in favour of its own conformity; especially pertinent now while concepts like distance and closeness are both futile and ever-blending together in omnipresence. Distant like our next-door neighbours hemmed in and invisible, who are as close as those in other communities, cities and continents. As the hourglass marks the disappearance of time in one realm to record its swelling growth in its subterranean other, the belly of the infinity sign rotates upwards.

Hard Drive Vinegar sits somewhere between noise and ambient while transcending as neither. It rattles out loner beats, the occasional extinguished vocal sample or a dried up stream of radio static, billowing gently across a torn canopy of sporadic and disturbing synths, emptying itself in anticipation of another tranquil or unsettling pouring-out. It absorbs space negligibly, circulating it and returning it unconsumed. Such peculiar pacing is sardonically comforting during the lockdown. Like the streets, quieting and disquieting, the tape offers the compression and rarifaction of a vague anxiety building up and releasing.

¹ French slang for cassette, as in kah-sept.

² Casey, Mike. “2.3.5 Vinegar Syndrome (VS).” FACET: Format Characteristics and Preservation Problems Version 1.0, Indiana University, 2007, p. 33.

Introducing Oxide Ostrich: A K7 Column

Counter-memory is a practice that questions traditions of memory and attends to voids and gaps in narratives ¹. If memory is a construction, counter-memory is an alternative political construction, a montage of facts, objects, dreams, expectations, shadows and spectres.

— Lisa Baraitser Enduring Time ²

While we as an archive and society adjust to the imperativeness of social distancing and the existentialism of the home as confinement, I have shifted from preservation engineering and being alongside magnetic tape at the National Library of Scotland to the comforts, quandaries and cells of cataloguing long strips of VHS audio (6-8 hours per tape). In the intervening period our relationship with physical and digital material will manifest altered meanings and relevancies while our senses run amok across truncated domestic spaces. A poetics will emerge across a plurality of emotional terrains marked by immense hardships and transformative realisations, and for many of us, the hope of a less selfish and petty future. We have entered into a space Baraitsir poignantly mapped in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic in her seminal book Enduring Time, through her reflections on an elongated present and as the poet Denise Riley ³ relates, as living in a “great circle without a rim” rather than a linear entity hurtling forward.

Surrounded in this circle with a vague horizon, I’ll be ruminating on my dormant work with archival magnetic tape and connecting it to a separate but related interest in a weekly column on forthcoming, recent and not so recent cassette releases. I intend to heed the contemporary, but the circle requires drawing from the past to inform the present; if this is the archivist in me quivering in the corner, please shrug it off. 

Through Unlocking Our Sound Heritage my team’s work predominantly focuses on the preservation and eventual online access of unpublished sound carriers. In the meantime, without proximity to collection material, this weekly write-up will grow out of another type of unlocking – in the company of a shrunken and often eccentric community of reclusive, but occasionally social musicians (i.e. utilising the cassette as a social carrier), lo-fi recordists, printmakers, collage and postal artists, tape-heads and outsiders enamoured by the intimate materiality of the cassette and its connective and enticingly paradoxical qualities. 

The outsider cassette scene – although the format was invented in 1963 – burst-open in the late-1970s when experimental punk and electronic artists around the world blew the lid off of a conservative music industry clinging to the budding hegemony of neoliberalism. Throughout this column I will refrain from referring to the cassette community and its output through the media’s construction of a cassette revival – this lazy assessment sheds very little light on the music and its wider cultural, political and historical footings. Even when reviewing landmark tape releases (1977-1995), which continue to push the envelope, I will circumvent nostalgia, abstain from eclipsing the present through eulogising the past and avoid commemorating the retro. The onset of 1980s omni-capitalism, material superabundance, mass reproduction, environmental carelessness and its continuing spawn are ripely pertinent to this story, but not through the vestigial romanticism of re-inflating the aesthetics of the decade; rather these extremities and sociopolitical fissures impelled artists to burrow under the surface in dedication to art practices for smaller audiences (often only their immediate communities) and non-market purposes over the excessiveness of reaching people and capital as one and the same. Likewise, participation in the outsider cassette scene offers a praxis of counter-memory and counter-history ⁴. In this spirit, the column is concerned with the underground, its resilience and ongoingness, its pertinence today, its elasticity and noise within the walls of the current crisis and its dream of the collective over the individual, as the late Mark Fisher conceptualised in the posthumous manifesto Acid Communism ⁵. This column is about how people persist in the sharing of recorded material across alternate spaces, economies and power structures. Simply, it’s the cassette’s place across small-scale movements; from correspondence art to post-Fordist capitalist deconstructionism told through a different tape release each week.  

¹ Ahıska, Meltem. “Occidentalism and Registers of Truth: The Politics of Archives in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 34, 2006, pp. 9–29.

² Baraitser, Lisa. Enduring Time. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

³ Riley, Denise. Time Lived, without its Flow. Capsule Editions, 2012.

⁴ Foucault, Michel. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History.” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Cornell University Press, 1977.

⁵ Fisher, Mark. “Acid Communism.” K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004 – 2016), Repeater, 2018, pp. 751–770.