Tellus #20 Media Myth has been web published as mp3s at http://www.ubu.com/sound/tellus_20.html
Curated by Joseph Nechvatal
Cover art by Steve Parrino
Total time: 64:38
First published on cassette tape in 1988 by Tellus
01 Randy Greif ‘The Rift In The Earth’ (8:15)
02 Pierre Perret ‘Gaïa, La Terre (excerpt)’ (3:45)
03 The Psychic Workshop ‘Apocalypse from Transmissions of Decadence’ (2:26)
04 Social Interiors ‘Russian Around’ (2:32)
05 If, Bwana ‘The Sound Of…’ (2:55)
06 Crawling With Tarts ‘Plowing And Tilling’ (5:21)
07 Violence and The Sacred ‘Teddy Bear Stinks Real Bad Now (Excerpt)’ (2:47)
08 Art Interface ‘Music For Fans #1′ (5:17)
09 Minoy ‘Tango’ (5:34)
10 Nicolas Collins ‘Devil’s Music 1 (Excerpt)’ (3:15)
11 Silent, But Deadly ‘What’s New Pussy?’ (3:42)
12 JPM Studios ‘#5′ (2:41)
13 Joseph Nechvatal ‘Psychedelic Hermeneutic’ (1:37)
14 A Place To Pray ‘Thelema (excerpt)’ (5:13)
15 Maurice Methot ‘Overture From La Dolarosa’ (2:08)
16 Michael Chockolak ‘Skomorokhi’ (2:59)
17 Dance ‘Nagasaki’ (4:20)
After he curated 'Power Electronics' (Tellus #13) back in 1986, Joseph Nechvatal was back 2 years later with a more ear-friendly but no less challenging compilation tape in the Tellus series. A founding member of Tellus he also contributed artwork to issue #4 and, as a composer, appeared several times on various Tellus issues. 'Media Myth' is devoted to composers using mass-media quotations and audio-samples, and favoring sound-surgery as a composing method, that is: sampling, collage or concrete music.
The Michael Chockolak track (actually 'Chocholak') is a beautiful sampler lullaby using ethnic chant as source material, a bit like a slowed-down version of Roberto Musci & Giovanni Venosta. There's another beautiful electronic instrumental melody by Californian Minoy, a kind of valse. Several composers like Art Interface, Crawling With Tarts or Pierre Perret choose soothing sounds to achieve their de-construction of our sonic environment, the latter delivering his personal take on concrete music out of field-recordings. Weather concrete music is collage music or social commentary is open to discussion, though. More often than not on this tape, composers will unceremoniously sample from pop songs, famous operas, preachermen, porn material or public announcements (Maurice Methot, A Place To Pray (Rune Brøndbo and Olav Hagen from Germany). I assume the goal is to put everything into perspective, to create ironical conflagrations of nonsensical sound bits - especially in the Silent, But Deadly track, a risqué play on 'What's New Pussycat'. The name of the band says it all, I guess. The band included the famous NY dj Special Ed, worth checking out on WFMU. The Nicolas Collins' sound concatenation is even more cruel, where the needle-like precision samples are so short as to erase any meaning the sound excerpts might have for the listener, and you're left with pure meaningless aural stimulus - arguably what the composer think of mass media muzzak. Canadian collective Violence And The Sacred use Maoist-era chinese samples to good effect, in a juxtaposition with media idle chatter. Aussies Social Interior achieve similar surreal effects with russian language - the most exhilarating track on Tellus #20. It seems participants consider language as something to de-construct, to reduce to bits, to pulverize anyhow.
On his blog post.thing.net, Joseph Nechvatal posted this article called 'Towards a Sound Ecstatic Electronica', written 2000, including theoretical afterthoughts on the two Tellus cassettes he curated. He starts with describing the political and moral context of the Reagan era (1981-89), the so-called 'Reaganomics'. A time of media hysteria and massive information overload where huge amounts of phantasmagorical data are flooding from every possible medium. At the heart of his theory is the assumption that artists politically react to this media overload with 'anti-social phantasmagoria', at best ultimately reducing the information to its bare 'nerve energy'. Nechvatal assume electronic technology can be an antithesis to the controlling technical world. It is thus the electronic composer's responsibility to be aware of his environment and to make us conscious of its wickedness. We're talking here about the 1986-88 period, while Reagan was still in charge. This was also the time when Lloyd Dunn's Photostatic Magazine (1983-93) was published in Iowa, advocating xerography as a political graphic weapon ; supreme ironist Negativland released their 'Escape from Noise' LP in California in 1987 ; John Oswald released his Plunderphonics' EP in 1988. So this was definitely a time for cultural terrorism in the US. Nechvatal's writing is infused with french theory. We find echoes from Baudrillard's excess of signs theory and the copy-replacing-the-original motto. Jacques Attali's 'Noise' (translated in the US in 1985) comes to mind as well, where he considers music as a mere industrial sector but still pop music as a strain of subversion. These ambitious post-structuralist references enhance the impact of the 2 cassettes Joseph Nechvatal curated (Tellus #13 & 20), and I have yet to read a more challenging piece of writing on humble cassette releases.
May I conjecture, though, the 1980s material abundance served to hide the increasing formidable US debt under Reagan. Might one then not ask what the accordingly excessive information overload of the 1980s served to hide? I think this would be a valid question, and the answer might come as an inflatable hollow structure holding nothing but its own lack of substance - this is the Myth from the cassette title, after all, and myths are created by artists. Jacques Attali again: 'Music runs parallel to human society, is structured like it, and changes when it does.' The media frenzy opening on total intellectual void, I suspect addressing the media overload is like addressing a mirage. My point is this: the artists on 'Media Myth' were more taking part in the media overload than reacting against it. Just because you use a sampler doesn't make a cultural theorist out of you, at least not much more than the use of a banjo. But admittedly on 'Media Myth', unlike the media dumkopfs they vilipended, composers delivered exciting and engaging music.