Saturday 23 January 2016

Works for Magnetic Tape: TTW#82

I am pleased to announce that my first spoken word album is now available on audiocassette from the amazing Tapeworm label. I am delighted to have contributed to this remarkable series of tape releases. Works for Magnetic Tape will be officially launched at a special event being hosted by The Royal College of Art on Wednesday January 27. The details are contained in the flyer above.

The three tracks that make up this audiocassette release reflect my interest in how differently written text operates from spoken word. What separates and makes them distinct from each other – and what happens when one is translated into the other?

A longer version of the text for ‘There Must Be Something Wrong With This, Sally’ first appeared in volume 19 issue 4 of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac: ‘Without Sin: Freedom and Taboo in Digital Media’ edited by Lanfranco Aceti and Donna Leishman. It, in turn, is a reworking and expansion of some themes that occur in my book The Bright Labyrinth: Sex, Death and Design in Digital Regime (Strange Attractor Press, 2014). These particular themes and their development were occasioned by my fascination with a homemade record, identified on the label only as ‘Sal Boo’, featuring two drunk teachers trying to get their recording device to work properly. This piece of mechanized circular madness remains for me one of the most remarkable recordings ever made – I still listen repeatedly to ‘Sal Boo’ and find new things in it each time. You can download a PDF of my original essay here. The reading is in several sections, with electronic backgrounds and interludes supplied by Mark O. Pilkington, to whom I am indebted for his patience and care in the final production of this piece.

‘Ideas Are One Thing, And What Happens Is Another’ was commissioned in 2012 to be read as part of a performance to celebrate the centenary of John Cage’s birth. Subtitled ‘A Neatly Ordered Sequence of Texts’, its ten parts contain personal memories of my time with Cage, together with thoughts on what constitutes ‘an idea’. The actual title is a line from the Cage’s 1961 lecture ‘Where Are We Going? And What Are We Doing?’. At my request, Graham Massey supplied the backgrounds for this reading: the sounds of a needle stuck in the runoff grooves of various records to be selected by him – the one brief moment of ‘silence’ certain to be on every release. Graham also very kindly agreed to do the final mix and edit of the track, making its basic components sound more elegant and informal than I could have managed on my own.

The readings for both of these tracks were recorded by Simon James of the Simonsound at the old BBC radio studios in Brighton. This cramped and darkened space might seem too small to be haunted; but the old green baize-covered desk set up with a mike and lectern, together with the thick glass screen separating it from the control room, were definitely speaking from another age. More up-to-date was the language school located immediately above where I was to do my reading; as a result we had to pause frequently as students clattered up and down the stairwell just on the other side of the studio wall. Simon did a fantastic job of editing the various takes together into a smooth whole.

‘Parasitic Infestation’ was originally written as an introduction to The Art of Worms, The Bookworm’s debut publication documenting the cover art for The Tapeworm’s first twenty-five audiocassette releases. The book was launched at a special event, ‘Worm Eats Bear’, on October 20, 2011 at the Bear Pit in London, where this reading of my essay was recorded live. I love the raw immediacy of this recording and am very happy to include the track as it is – in memory of a remarkable evening. The Art of Worms is currently out of print, but you can find the complete text here.

I decided to call this collection Works for Magnetic Tape primarily for nostalgic reasons. When, as a teenager, I first started exploring avant-garde music, I quickly discovered that listings on albums or in catalogues of a twentieth-century composer’s ‘works for magnetic tape’ – as opposed to ones for string quartet or piano trio – usually contained the weirdest and most interesting stuff to my untrained sensibilities. It is a shame that the category appears to have fallen out of favour. The title also refers directly to the audiocassette medium itself and is an expression of my pleasure in contributing to The Tapeworm’s grand designs.

‘Works for Magnetic Tape’ is a Project Thrust Production
‘Project Thrust – The Name You Can Trust’

Cover art by Savage Pencil


Mr. Primate said...

Hi Ken. Will there be a wider release for this material by any chance? It's weird, I seem to buy more new pre-recorded cassettes now than ever before. I picked up a top-of-the-line (for the early '90's) Technics tape deck from a Cash Converters type shop for under a tenner a couple of years ago and never looked back since.

Ken Hollings said...

Hi Mr Primate,

I would not expect such a highly evolved creature to ever look back. You can order the release direct from the Touch/Tapeworm shop at Thanks for getting in touch.

mindstarforklift said...

Hi Ken. I'd like to talk to you regarding a music documentary, I believe you might be able to help me with.
What is the best way to contact you privately.
Best David