Sleep (1983) – Cassette Revolution: Why 1980s Tape Tech Is Still Making Noise in Our Digital World

This cassette sound collage by Joseph Nechvatal was released by Sound of Pig in 1983.

This cassette sound collage by Joseph Nechvatal was released by Sound of Pig in 1983.

Cassette Revolution: Why 1980s Tape Tech Is Still Making Noise in Our Digital World


Reviewer: continuo

In a way, the so-called Plunderphonics movement that spread across North America in the 1980s was merely updating music with experiments already familiar from the visual arts and literature and writers like Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, William Burroughs or William Gaddis, for whom collage was a natural way to grasp reality. This implied borrowing from other people’s work, but also a total lack of prejudices toward the origin of the material, be it contemporary mainstream media, well-known Classics, advertising, legal stuff, b-movies, etc. For the Young Turks named Negativland, The Tape Beatles or John Oswald, the juxtaposition of high art with crap was part of the fun, and the question of legality and copyright infringement arised later, almost as an afterthought – a painful one, admittedly, for those actually prosecuted. This Joseph Nechvatal cassette is precisely part of this exuberant reuse, Garbage in, Garbage out strategy called Plunderphonics.

♫ Sleep was Joseph Nechvatal‘s first cassette, issued 1983, the same year he co-founded the Tellus cassette series with Claudia Gould and Carol Parkinson. It was released in New York on Al Margolis’ Sound of Pig cassette label, who released hundreds of tapes during the 1980s. Sleep is entirely made of audio debris and found sounds sourced from radio, TV, movie soundtracks and commercial music, with the occasional addition of synthesizer. Joseph says he started collecting material for this tape as early as 1979, yet the music excerpts mostly sound 1983 era. To listen to Sleep is to put your ear at one end of a sonic kaleidoscope and hear the constantly changing patterns of its endless aural collages. Side 1 is a relentless, hilarious mashup of the most ridiculous sonic signatures from the ca. 1983 period: aimless guitar solos, break beats, Bollywood films, harpsichord at the wrong speed, talk shows, etc. After two minutes of the same material, Side 2 suddenly turns to a barely audible murmuring man speaking a few words on loop mode for the remaining 20mns. A relief from the preceding audio litter or mere technical difficulties, according to point of view.

About josephnechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an American post-conceptual artist who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity. In 1975, he moved from Chicago to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young. In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the sordid Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists’ group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose. In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrète audio collages. In 1983, he co-founded the famous avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and New York. In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987. In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic. In 1999, he earned his doctorat in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and soon wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise. In 2001, he extended his initial experimentations into the virus as an artistic painterly tool in a series of artificial life works. These works include various series of paintings, animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny. He has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body. You can follow him on Twitter at @twinkletwink Homepage:
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