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Where to begin? Well, where is it aT?
The eighties saw the explosion of the cassette "underground - a huge, ever-growing network that somehow encompassed everything from the mundane to the magnificent: heavy metal kids recording in their bedrooms; synth-artists plugging in the 4-track in the kitchen. The Autonomedia imprint has just published a book, Cassette Mythos (reviewed elsewhere), that attempts to document some of the motivations that inspired and results that came out of the cassette scene. Although the scene was and is varied, international and diverse, there are nonetheless names that stand out amongst the masses, including the likes of Sound of Pig, Harsh Reality and Audiofile Tapes, three American labels with long catalogues to their name.
Carl Howard's Audiofile Tapes features releases from a wide swathe of network musicians, from the more experimental through to enthusiastic and stylish space-rock. Scene stalwarts like Big City Orchestra, Lord Litter, Brume and Alien Planetscapes; big names from the early 80s like Konstruktivists, Test Dept and Edward Ka-Spel; and plenty more. The most recent releases include tapes by Maeror Tri, Magic Moments At Twilight Time, Klimperei and a Best Of Tonspur Tapes. The label evolved from the magazine Artitude, published from 1984 onwards, and which featured interviews and articles covering people like Heldon, Elliott Sharp, Michael Gira, 23 Skidoo and John Zorn. As well as having produced the magazine, and continuing to run the label, Carl makes music under the name of Nomuzic (see this issue's reviews section).
The following interview with Carl Howard was conducted "some time in the middle of 1992", and has been edited for space and to anglicise spellings.
When did you start aT? Why? How?
audiofile Tapes began with its Test Dept release towards the end of 1984, as an extension of Artitude / "the audiofile magazine", which commenced about the same time. Test Dept had played here twice, and I met them both times, as well as interviewing them. Two members of the band actually suggested that I release my audience tape of the second performance. Later on, their manager, Stevo, decided he didn't like the idea and insisted that I stop it. So I sent him my metal master as a show of good faith. What he was really after was money, like any hardcore revolutionary (right), but I assured him that I really hadn't made any on the tape. However, demand for the tape continues all the way into the 1990s, so I made the tape available again. Even though I haven't had anything in writing from the band, their encouragement was quite explicit (quote "you should" unquote), and since I'm not big on paperwork, that's been enough for me. Later on, one of the band members hooked my up with a guy in their crew who was putting together his own band at the time, the subsequently dreadful Band of Holy Joy. I was fortunate enough to be able to include a sample of their musical baby steps on my second release for the label, the Hear the Roar of Mountains compilation. This twin-tape with booklet is also a still-requested item, and helped to establish not only the musical attitude of A/a magazine but the tone of the label's first couple of years as well.
Establishing the label was my way of getting involved with the then-burgeoning cassette networking scene in this country as well as others, and was relatively easy to get going because it's so informal a thing. However, it was pretty much a backburner activity until the magazine concluded publication in 1986.
Can you tell me about the magazine Artitude - I never saw it and don't know much about what it was and what it did?
In response to such publications in this country as the influential underground zine Unsound, A/a came out with a strong sense of what looked anyway like Purpose, with a very deliberately crafted approach to graphic design and a focus on alternative composers and performers both present and historical. I don't want to go into extreme detail here because it'll make your next few questions irrelevant. Importantly, though, many of the artists featured in rather great detail in the pages of A/a were not noticed by more mainstream and moneyed publications for several years. Of course, by the time they did, most of their ticket prices became higher than anyone in my circle could afford, so whatchoo gonna do?
What were you doing before either of these?
The lead-up to Artitude, and the place where the whole graphic and written approach was developed over the course of two collegiate semesters, was the records section of the college paper I was working on at the beginning of the 80s. I determined to bring into focus the work of artists who actually made the listener's brain function, as befitted such an esteemed HEE HEE HEE learning environment. Called "from the audiofile", the idea was to slash away the standard format of amateur rock journalism prevalent at the time and replace it with one in which the ego of the writer would be suffused beneath the work of the artist in question, rather than the other way around. To this end, everything in presentation had to be different, and as a result a format emerged which was different from every other page in that weekly newspaper. Articles were presented as true files, dossiers, which strove - albeit naively - for objectivity in the face of manipulative journalism.
After the year was over, I created an independent publication based on this original column intended for public availability. But totally on the cheap. The endeavour lasted two years over twelve issues.
How did your musical tastes and interests develop?
This is different to chart because through the 1970s and early 80s I was listening to different styles of commercial and non-commercial music, although at different periods my favourite styles included pre-disco soul, progressive rock, early European music, new wave, and some of the electronic music which I'd been exposed to before I pursued it in earnest. I lost interest in what commercial radio played as long ago as 1971, and I still have no patience for it. Other than music, my interests were minor because I never left the house much, so throughout my formative years I majored in Televiewing. I grew up in a supposedly Liberal household which offered the fruits of authoritative disdain as well as, unfortunately, gross helpings of ethnic nationalism and social intimidation, neither of which have helped my in these, my hopefully waning years.
Could you tell me how you were introduced to experimental / alternative music, and the underground networking scenes? Who were you in contact with?
Early introductions and contacts developed initially in college, where I was encouraged to spend great amounts of time and money on the shopping streets of the East Village before it went to Hell entirely; this was the time of Factory Records' cool years, when Andy Warhol was still alive and people still thought of Lou Reed and David Byrne as interesting. Oh, and Brian Eno. Unsound was at that time a rare way into the mailboxes of those who produced music on cassette and those who gave bizarre, extreme performances - the kind so important in the mental liberation of a pent-up young man. The magazine, along with magazines like OP, No Commercial Potential, CLEM and some others, gave lovely addresses; and in the first issue I saw featured the first-ever compilation release of the Sound of Pig cassette label. So it was that Al Margolis and I initiated the first fateful contact which would, in time, change the course of HISTORY AS WE KNOW IT!!! (!!!) Also, I'd been encouraged to write to overseas sources by the good graces of a wayward copy of Dave Henderson's "Wild Planet" feature from Sounds magazine. It is to this that I owe all my eventual contacts with the forces behind Third Mind Records, Konstruktivists, Attrition, Adventures in Reality, and Legendary Pink Dots. Hullo, friends!
What other activities were you involved in other than a/A & aT?
Some of the related projects with which I have been active include the duos Body Without Organs and Alien Planetscapes, in both of which I have performed live. Nomuzic, my central project, has been a limited solo endeavour for lo these seven years, and not necessarily by choice either. The Land of Guilt and Blarney is a new sometime-project with my New Jersey housemates Louis Boone, Reginald Taylor, and Renard Hines. It has already completed one cassette and may yet begin another.
Could you tell me how NOMUZIC started? And how it has developed over the years?
After some initial getting together of things (I won't call it experimenting, because it wasn't too scientific), Nomuzic began in earnest in January 1985 with one monophonic synthesiser, one rack delay, and the same 4-track recorder that I'm still stuck with because I've never had the wherewithal to upgrade it. And you know how the technology had developed since then. Most of the synthesisers I've accumulated since that time have been of the pre-MIDI and even pre-1980 variety. I simply don't know any way to come off like a Front 242 imitation with a Korg MS-20 and an ARP Odyssey.
Nomuzic began as a solo project out of practicality and, with the exception of one live show in 1988, it has remained such. When I think of how other bands have developed in their first seven years, I feel like the train has left the station and left me holding the mortgage ... um ...
Would you cite any particular influences on your music or your attitude towards it?
Initially, Nomuzic experienced some of the leanings towards the 27th-generation industrial folk who were around and even slightly interesting at the time, however rhythmically it owed quite a bit to mid-80s Cabaret Voltaire and lyrically to a cross between a couple of William Burroughs novels and early-80s Cure. More recently, the tapes have been of two varieties, the song tapes and the floating-electronics tapes, both of which carry the flame of traditional electronic rock in their own way, and neither of which owe a great deal to any musical developments in alternative rock after say 1984. The tunes are based on old-fashioned monophonic bass sequences rather than fully-fledged polyphonic sequences, and the keyboard parts tend to be simple and spacey. I have to acknowledge the guidance of Gong, Hawkwind, and my friends the Pink Dots in the Nomuzic song tapes of recent years, although whenever I try to work directly in Ka-Spel's neo-classical modalities it comes out sounding like just another Nomuzic tune.
Who else do you see who is doing similar things, and in what ways are they similar?
As far as anyone working any veins similar to me, in the networking community, I don't hear it at all, which always surprises me since I don't think my compositions are particularly unusual. Someone once likened Nomuzic tunes to a more aggressive Pink Dots, however the only direct effect that they appear to have is on the lyrical constructions - certain images resurfacing in a particular way, verse constructions, although in no way as articulate. You know, you do what you can. The aim of Nomuzic is, quite surprisingly, not to duplicate the Pink Dots.
How is the music made / composed / performed? What are the aims behind it - to provoke an emotional or physical response? Your own pleasure?
Now, this is how a Nomuzic tune begins ... first, every other thing going on has to be cleared away. No tapes to dub, no TV to watch, no work to go to, no sleeping to do, no washing to rinse, no ingestion to perform. Typically, this process takes up to seven weeks. Then, in order to get myself into the mindset, I put down a one or two bar bass riff into the sequencer. I used to be able to compose lyrics in a variety of circumstances, like on a street or a train, but these days it's all too distracting. So I listen to the riff, and start to write some verses, mostly without editing. Then, having nothing but old sequencers to work with, I have to link up a hundred old gadgets to the digital rhythm machine so that the notes will trigger in time. This lets me use some of the off-beats that I've never figured out how to do in step time. Real time is out of the question, because in order to compose that way, you have to have coordination, which I don't. Eventually, all the clunky things are linked up and sequenced ... sometimes a four minute tune might take five hours to sequence, even with my country-simple riffs.
Mostly this is followed by a vocal overdub and a keyboard overdub because with four tracks playing at normal speed you don't feel that track bouncing is a serious option. Sometimes I'll leave a track open for another player so listeners can have more to listen to than me for an hour, or else I'll punch someone in. At times I have to leave a track unfinished for months until I can get someone in to put down an overdub for me. Fortunately, I've been able to have some extremely talented guests on tracks.
What sort of reactions do you get to it?
Those whom I send my tapes to have a lot of the same musical experiences so far as artists they like, so in general I get good reactions to it. People who don't play instruments, for example some reviewers, can't seem to get behind it; not knowing why, they invariably blame the sound quality. The logic is lacking. Not being a person who "uses music for particular functional or spiritual purposes, I can't say I'm concerned how the music is used by others or how it affects them. More important to me is the communal connection that music brings, and if that's positive, then, you known, let's do lunch. If not, well, just put someone else's tape on.
Where do the various track titles/ album titles come from? For example, those on Solid-Liquid-Light seem to have some sort of qabbalic / Jewish background.
In the past few years I've had a perfectly awful time reaching for titles. Priot to that I'd say it was much simpler. I can't explain why. Sometimes something will come to me. I don't think I've ever composed a tune based on a title, as some people do, but either I'll flash on a really clever title (Celestial Reasonings is a corruption of a brand name of herbal teas; The Many Teeth of "God" was my way of setting up the "god scenario" that's been running on the back panels of all the aT tapes since 1990 or so). But if I'm not inspired, all the titles seem to come out The This or The That, the bottom line being The. Solid Liquid Light and some of its titles are based on some mental perambulations of the time, and yes their origins are as you suggest, although they were never more than a passing point of remote interest. In/Divi/Dualism, likewise, reflects a time when I was more interested in the guts of language and its social implications, and reflects an influence of the work of Sharon Gannon, who performed in Audio Letter. Essentially, the idea was that "individualism" was a word which mirrored the duplicity of our culture because on the surface it means one thing, but in its components something quite different. The individual as Divided and Dual; the multiplicity of the single soul. When you're in college and your friends are self-taught spiritualist revolutionaries and budding Crowleyite ya-hoos, you tend to think that way. Not that I disagree with these particular sentiments, but in daily life I don't get much chance to dissect words and ruminate about the room any more. Ruinate, maybe.
Has NOMUZIC performed live? If so, where and when? How did the performances differ from what you record?
All of the Nomuzic collaborations have been live because I enjoy what I've called the challenge of the jam. Once again it is taking the vacuum effect of electronic DIY-ing and opening it to certain social imperatives, by eschewing by-mail collabs for live outings. Whenever someone comes around the house, that's the time to drag out the gear. I've heard very few collaboration projects by mail which didn't strike me as antiseptic. The rhythmic material I do is particularly inappropriate for that kind of process. I've never been wild about the fact that Nomuzic is the perennial solo project, but it's just practicality, as I said. I don't have contacts with club owners, and in fact the club scene in New York City is really dreadful, so I rarely get the opportunity to perform. I never wanted to perform the song-oriented material as a solo because it would just look terrible to have just me up there with a hissy tape. There was one live show, in Brooklyn on a cold night in February 1988, and on that occasion Cheryl Sobas doubled on keyboards and guitar, and Patrick Gillis played synth and occasional bass guitar. The sound quality was really crude, but the energy was there and people said afterward that it really affected them just by how different it was.
Is NOMUZIC just a solo project, or has it been a group? How varied have its manifestations been? How have the various NOMUZIC collaborations come about (& who with)? Have these been mainly postal collaborations or have you recorded / performed face-to-face with these other musicians? What aspects of their music / personality attracted you to cooperate with them?
The people I've done duets with all share an affinity for traditional approaches to electronic music, and are not afraid of unpredictable bursts of voltage from palaeolithic synthesisers. In addition to those mentioned in the tapeography, I've had the good fortune to record with Lloyd Mair Jr., Ron Anderson, Steve Berman, Douglass Walker, John "Busyditch" Hajeski, John Hudak, Trev of Every New Dead Ghost, and Martin Bowes of Attrition. When the Pink Dots were at the house there wasn't the time to jam with them, but the world hasn't completely ended yet and it could happen. As for future projects and development, I really fear for these unless something comes along to open up its possibilities. As the ultimate solo project, the base is simply too narrow even for my taste, and my cranky old gear won't last forever and neither will the particles on my cassettes. So lacking the moolah to better Nomuzic's visibility on my own, all I can hope for the kindly love of strangers.
NOMUZIC turns up on plenty of different labels, and artists from plenty of other labels turn up on your own aT. Why is this kind of cooperation important to you?
This part is all about community. Minus any access to legitimate distribution, the idea behind networking in general and of maintaining what increasingly is a rarity - the cassette label - is to increase the access of your work and in the process to get in touch with some groovy active people and to hear what they do, and some cases what they do with what you do. The reason that some people have been so starry eyed from the beginning about so-called "cassette culture" is that it represents the potential for a truly creative communal atmosphere, one in which people do and change and reciprocate rather than simply consume passively. Ironically, serious-minded watchers of our failing economic system herald the downward changes of today as a sign that a return to older, simpler economic values are returning: small communities, small social systems, barter and exchange rather than corporate supply and demand. The cassette culture-vultures have been trumpeting this, in their own way, for years, but I don't think it was equated with so much poverty and suffering.
Given the fairly esoteric and obscure nature of a lot of what you release, do you ever feel isolated from more conventional artistic / musical society? Do you think that it's possible to create a real sense of community through the post / networking?
I don't really feel that I'm stuck in a bubble or a time warp and the mainstream is pulling away from me. Some people think like that, or think they have to be different, just to prove something to the straights. I don't care. I don't believe you can make your peace entirely with a culture that propounds death in the face of life and censorship in the face of freedom, and addiction in the face of education, but to agonise over its effects simply creates an artificial creative response, and so my attitude is, you do what you can. I've been around cassette networking for enough years to see the kinds of temperaments it can take on, and some of them are really small and ugly just as some of them are beautiful. At best, cassette networking and alternative performance communities are a microcosm of the shitty world they live within. Some places open up, like Czechoslovakia, and others close down, or else reach a low level and more or less continue on auto-pilot, as is the case here. I believe that the next generation of networkers will be just as interested in the lessons that musical history provides, however there will be little left to tell of the ones who spent these years recording cassettes and putting them in the post, only because history, like everything else, is the plaything of those who run the show. Most interest held by those in the mainstream domain is in what has occurred in the last six weeks of recorded history; in addition, cassettes are far too fragile and imperfect a medium to stand the test of time. But then, think of all the people who released albums on even major labels who are doomed to be forgotten by history during their own lifetimes, because their isn't the interest to reissue their work on CD. So it isn't all that different, really.
Since you started to get involved, what changes have you seen in the American / worldwide cassette scenes? Do you see any signs of progress? What do you think are the scene's good and bad points?
I've indicated that I think the networking "scene" has reached a low boiling point, or rather a simmering point. Without the fires of idealism (Ho, Lads!) which once motivated its growth and development, it has succumbed to attrition due to economic realities on the one hand and pettiness on the other. Some of the most promising stalwart labels of the mid and late 80s have had to either scale back operations or give up entirely, such as Sound of Pig, X-Kurzhen, and Generations Unlimited. Several of the distribution avenues have called it a day, such as The Starkman Concern, Missing Link Music, Systematic, and New Music Distribution Service (which, although it provided a valuable service, was in the end a scam perpetrated by its officers). Some have been guilty, although with the best of intentions, of tape glut: Sound as Pig released as many as 300 cassettes before it realised "enough is too much", as Popeye used to say. Harsh Reality Music has been similarly guilty, and has had to adopt a more conservative release schedule. Not conservative in its product, but only in its amount. Somehow, mostly through my abject snobbery, I managed to release only 170 or so tapes in the first seven years, and even at this slower pace I've had to reduce my promotional efforts due to sheer financial disability. At its best, the "scene" remains a place for people of great spirit and musical talent to get their original work across inexpensively. People like Don Campau, who runs the Lonely Whistle label, will always exemplify that spirit. But at its worst, it is so positively small, so slimy and dreadful, that there is almost no reason for anyone outside of the already-converted to get involved.
Would you agree with the often-stated assertion that 99% of the material that survives in the cassette scene is rubbish and wouldn't get a hearing anywhere else? Do you see anyone involved pushing music forwards in any way? Do you feel that the importance of it is artistic or political? Is it more important that it offers the opportunity to explore artistic avenues that have no commercial potential, without compromise, or that it offers a model of how well a decentralised communications structure can work?
Perhaps not as high as 99%. There are simply too many fine talents bubbling under the surface, existing on the fringe of the networking continuum, for the number to be as high as that. I'm talking about incredibly gifted electronic composers like Barney Jones (ex-Mars Everywhere) and Jeff Carney, who is Terry Riley's cousin. Their worst problems are that they have almost no money and no ability or desire to promote themselves. Through careful cultivation, these people's work can be heard on my label, Harsh Reality and (whatever is left of) Sound of Pig. The same is true of Jack Wright, who is known to free-form improvisers across this country as one of the finest sax players around. But because his capacity to promote himself is so slim, he has to be carefully courted. Not that he is against having his work released, but the idea simply doesn't stay in his mind.
Sure, most of the material on indie cassettes is masturbatory. Some of it is so poor and so deliberately offensive that it gives others working in the medium a bad name. But whatchoo gonna do? You have a completely mercenary culture out there that isn't concerned with the welfare of its own participants. Those who promulgate the ME ME ME version of creative endeavour do so at the expense of those whose work has the ability to challenge greater responses from everyone around them. I would liken it to the difference between social interaction and solipsistic tunnel-vision. It happens that those who bring more to their own music are those who encourage others to "push forward as you say. It isn't necessarily a question of style or even technique, but simply of musical and social integrity. Unfortunately, in a scene in which anyone with a tape recorder and a stamp can join, it takes work to weed through the slop. Believe me, I get a lot of slop, but if I bother to bitch over it all I'd have lost all patience and hope already.
Naturally, there is a political import to this, but it is oblique because it goes beyond sound bites and jingoism into daily life. Its implications go very much against the methods of big-scale capitalism, and it seems to me more modelled on the craft and guild society predating the Renaissance. However, you don't have the determinism among networkers needed to bring such a full-scale change about. Nor is it absolutely necessary; I never favoured the idea of withdrawing from society as a whole, for all the reasons stated above. As the world goes, so must its microcosms, except hopefully without the systematised suicide.
The single biggest mistake that I think you can make, as a networker, is to believe that because everything now is done on a cheap, home-grown, slapdash scale, that it necessarily has to stay that way. What is involved is the scale of an operation that you can finance, your skill at self-promotion, your concern about graphic presentation, charitable friends and so on, and then simply the attitude with which you characterise yourself and your work. If your only concern about a finished piece is its ability to sell or impress someone, then the fairly democratic atmosphere of networking probably isn't your avenue. But if you see it as a way to reach out, to further the bounds of communication, as a conduit for social linkage in a real creative community, then you've already established a principle of self-assurance and dignity that can cause nothing but a constructive, reciprocal response from the people you send it to. Even if you think you're Michael Bolton Jr. or Harry Connock Jr. Jr. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to want to listen to it, but I'll have to respect your reasons for doing it.
Do you regard what you're doing (aT & Nomuzic) as Art? Or art? Is it an important question? Why do you make music? Why do you run the label?
No, I'm not really concerned with the production of Art, or art, or @rt. I'm concerned with the production and distribution of music. Part of the vacuum effect of DIY'ing, of being stuck in an electronic community rather than a physical one, is that moments of real contact are limited, and you tend to spend the rest of the time thinking about doing rather than doing. Art is for those who think think think about what they're doing, or about what others are doing. I have a working-class attitude to getting the job done. Once I overcome the laziness required to link up some synthesisers, there is no question but that the thing to do, is to get to the task at hand. Fortunately I've rarely been intimidated by a stack of unanswered mail. It's been set in my head for years now that Friday night is mail night, so I have the ability to keep awake for hours longer than usual until the job gets done, or close to done. It takes greater effort to put on a tape that I fear will be shit.
Most indie cassette labels (and other ventures like zines) seem to be heavy loss-makers. Do you think that this limits participation to those people with disposable incomes ie the well-off?
It's true that the biggest reason for people going out of indie distribution is the money. Loss of interest appears to run a distant third. To answer the question I skipped earlier, I personally keep the label going, and the music going, because I can't see myself not doing it. I know that it's right for me to do it. The concerns that I have about Nomuzic not going anywhere, these don't lend themselves to the label as much. When I have a very bad month with few or no orders coming in, then I am gravely concerned. I do have new releases in the works almost all the time, and I like to know that I can get through the printing stages out of label profits and not out-of-pocket. It's reached the point where I can no longer shoulder the reckless expenses of buying blank tapes every week just to trade with people I hardly know, even though being a relatively liberal tape trader gives you a reputation of being open. I've had to give up advertising in all cases unless a publisher offers me a "handout, and I've had to tell radio people that I must request wholesale prices for promo tapes. Sure, the radio programmes run on a budget of nil, and so in the end everyone is hurt by this policy, because it means that I can't do the promotional work that artists' tapes deserve, but all I can do is pass the pain around.
Even alternative and supposedly alternative magazines are beginning to drop dead in droves here, like the truly excellent Factsheet Five and (no comment here) Sound Choice. These days I am most impressed with, in this country, Gajoob and Electronic Cottage [now deceased], and in the UK with The Organ, Music From The Empty Quarter, and of course EST.
When I did exercise a liberal trading and promotion policy, I must admit my yearly losses were astounding given the miniscularity (see also: "microsity") of aT's operation. Something like $2,000 for 1989 and $1,400 for 1990. However, with the stinginess programmes initiated in 1991, I lowered my loss column to $100, and that was only because I bought quite a number of blank tapes to bring on the Legendary Pink Dots North AmeriKKKan tour. Even I can shoulder a loss of $100; that comes to about 27 cents a day.
My major problem with the whole home-grown art process from the beginning is that it tends to be almost inbred, too paranoid and protective for its own good, and exclusionary to women and so-called minorities. I see no coincidence in the fact that the only consistent contact for cassette networking I've ever had for all of Africa is a white male from Cape Town. It has to do with the fact that networking is, in its external makeup, a leisure time endeavour, something very suburban and even bourgeois. It turns out that in the international capitalist society, leisure time is a luxury granted mostly to males, and to white males at that. So it must be something of a surprise that African-AmeriKKKan electronic composers are reasonably well represented on my label. However, as in life, aT has not had much success in attracting the attention of talented women.
Do you have any thoughts on the international nature of the cassette scene eg the fact that you inevitably end up communicating / sharing info / entertainment with people from cultures you might not otherwise encounter?
Again, perhaps it's simply that I'm jaded although I do like hearing from people in countries I haven't heard from yet (Asia is like a dead zone; I guess even the Japanese networkers can't get behind the work I release because no one strips naked, cuts themself, and shrieks), however I invariably find that one country's middle class is much like another's and so all the lines tend to blur.
It seems to me that the underground music scene contains a higher proportion of innovative musicians and artists than the mainstream does. If this IS the case, why is it so? Why aren't more cassette artists just content to churn out pop / rock stuff?
I have found that a subsection of networkers have a sociopolitical aversion to making rock music, even if it's the music they grew up with and adored, because they've reached the conclusion that rock is a manipulated toy of the Music-Industrial complex, and so entirely co-opted. Similar paranoias have kept the mainstream jazz community from embracing its most progressive exponents, such as Steve Lacy and Sun Ra. But when I listen to the cassette-only releases of some of the many people I know who don't fear rock as the Enemy, such as Lord Litter, Alien Planetscapes, Victimized Karcass, Vocokesh, MCH Band (Czechoslovakia), and some of the space rock bands in the UK like Manchester's Krel, I know that the anti-rock paranoia is just intellectual oatmeal. People spout ectoplasm because they have no living matter inside them; that's the nature of bureaucratically-inspired miseducation. As for the number of genuine progressive musical talents among the networking community, that can be chalked up on the one hand to the democratic nature of networking, and to the greater tolerance for real alternatives on the other. And don't forget, being a progressive artist comes not without giving up certain financial rewards, and so the cheap method of communication becomes a necessity again.
Are there any connections between cassette networking and mail art? Such as the fact that cassettes are exchanged as frequently as they are sold?
Cassettes are exchanged for friendship reasons and for promotional reasons; very occasionally they're given as presents. This actually occurs far more frequently than actual sales, let me assure you; this despite the fact that cassette sales now represent the largest chunk of major labels' product sales. As to the question of mail art, I have no affinity for it and never have, and so can't comment on it.
What do you think of the cassette as a medium, compared to CD/ vinyl/ DAT whatever?
Cassettes are like those flimsy blue air mail letters you get from the Post Office. They're poorly made but they're cheap and they do the trick. I'm sure most people wish they could put their master recordings on CD-ROM and release them on whatever the latest digital rave medium is for listening to things; however, analogue tapes are a completely bottom-line audio product no matter how the technology refines them. There is simply only so much you can do with magnetic tape running as slowly as 17/8" per second under a crummy, non-environmentally sound plastic shell. No one should expect greater performance from a cassette than it can deliver; I've spent years trying to make my peace with its limited frequency response by rolling off deep bass and boosting midrange, but unless you've got incredibly sophisticated recording gear, any copy you dub is going to come back with a compromised audio spectrum and a shaky signal to noise ratio (we call it: hissssss). As many people use cassettes for their professional demos as network with them or use them for party soundtracks. They are entirely utilitarian and should be treated as such. I've had nothing but a cassette normal-speed four track recorder to tape Nomuzic on for seven years, but not by choice, believe me.
What ambitions/ plans/ goals do you have for the future?
I'm not good in the Futures area; the present is difficult enough to fathom. Essentially, I've already discussed the course towards greater visibility that I'd like to see Nomuzic take, and for the rest, to get out of this economic depression with a roof over my head wouldn't be too bad. I'd like to see if anyone in the DIY arena is working with militant rap music. I really get behind Public Enemy, KRS-1, and Paris, but there doesn't appear to be any crossover between the two communities. Again, it's that "Middleclasswhitemale" thing which has the effect of keeping everyone else away. Otherwise, I can only suggest that people squeeze their way into my mailbox, or else look for me (hopefully) on future North AmeriKKKan tours of the Pink Dots. And ... I still want copies of everyone's live Dots tapes! So hand them over. This has been a Public Disservice Announcement.
Interview by and (C) Brian Duguid, "somewhere in the middle of 1992".