Conquering America ...

july 02, 2005.

I'm pleasantly surprised by the many reactions that I get, related in one way or another to the Found Tapes Exhibition. Just as I continue to be surprised at the weird variety of things on cassette tape, that I pick up here and there. Each next bit of brownish dusty ribbon that I unknot and wind back into a 'cassette' is like a story unfolding; because of any one of them origin and history of course are unknown to me, each is as a strange text, a fiction, that I try to read ...

Of course the tapes that turn out to contain something other than just music copied from CD or radio are the most intriguing. I still hope that some day I'll be able to find out, for example, who are the band that I found a recording of a rehearsal of, on a messed up clod of tape not far from my home, on january 15th of this year (#111, exhibit nr. 22).


Getting a grip on a tape's (his) story obviously is easier when there is something extra (some 'meta-information') that comes along, other than just what can be gathered from the sounds stored on the ribbon. Such was the case, for instance, with the two tapes that I found lying in the grass at the foot of a tree on the Hobbemakade in Amsterdam, while biking to theatre de Balie to set up for our Raudio event there, on friday april 1st of this year. Both apparently once were part of the same - a musician's - cassettotheque, with type-written labels. One, the cover says, is a demo tape containing tracks recorded in 1988 and 1989. The music is of the funky party sort, partly instrumental, partly with vocals. The 'liner notes' credit Mark Sigterman and Dorian with 'programming synths', Michel van Lindert and Dorian on 'bass', and Joanette on 'vocals'. The second cassette is a live recording, dated june 16th, 1989, and labeled 'TIME OUT'.

Shortly after I added exhibit nr. 27, containing this find (#137), to the exhibition, I got an email (dated may 18th, 2005):

Hi, I'm Mark Sigterman, one of the people mentioned on the tape found in the Hobbemakade. I'm interested in these tapes as you may understand. I've listened the mp3 recording en recognized some parts of the tape. Now I'm interested in the rest of it. Could you help me ?

In the email exchange with Mark that followed, I learned that among the fragments that can be heard in the exhibit, there was part of a recording made in 1988/1989 at Mark's home. At the time, he told me, he ran a small midi studio there, with some synths and modules, and the back then much used 'atari + pgm' ... "On that recording," Mark wrote, "there is Dorian on bass, singer Joanette van Zoelen, a guitar player whose name I have forgotten, and myself. The 'Pinball Studios' mentioned on the cassette's cover were run by a friend of mine, Yarda Vermeulen. The cover also mentions bass player Michel van Lindert, but I do not hear him in these particular fragments." Also Mark, however, has no idea how theses cassettes might have ended up at the foot of a tree on the Amsterdam Hobbemakade. "My guess is," he said, "that they either belonged to Dorian (forgot his last name) or Michel, both of whom are living in Amsterdam ..." Meanwhile I have sent Mark copies of the cassettes, and he promised to get back to me with more detailed information on what's precisely on them ...

In the most recent exhibit, nr. 29, we also encounter 'characters' that come with names: there is a 'Raphael', and there is a 'Tom'. They are the protagonists in a recording that, arguably, is the most curious of my finds to date (#143). The coming about of the finding was pretty strange in itself. It was in april of this year, at a time when my daughter G. had come down with a series of mysterious and pretty frightening health problems (fortunately all again pretty much under control now). She stayed for several weeks at the children's hospital Necker in Paris. On sunday april 24th, she had been given permission of leave from the hospital, to attend her mother's concert in the afternoon, at the 'Regard du Cygne' in Belleville. During the concert G. got unwell, and it looked quite undoable to get her back to the hospital (on the other side of town) by public transport. So a friend proposed to take us all there in her car. Underway G. cheered up again, and we had quite a bit of fun, crammed up as we were and slowly progressing towards our goal, humping from traffic jam to traffic jam (like the one caused by a procession of six or seven large white limousines, containing a wedding party that apparently had planned on 'doing stuff' around the place de Belleville).

Raphaël, Tom

One of these jams was near the place de la Chapelle. It was there that, looking from the car's side window, I spotted a cassette tape lying in the street. As we actually were standing still at the time, I did not think twice, and got out to get it. It was broken, and part of the tape was hanging out. I quickly grabbed most of it (did have to leave a strand, though), and jumped back into the car ... The picture shows the cassette as it became after repair; some of the corners broken, but playable without any problems. As you can see in the picture, it's a 90 minute Philips tape. Most of the tape is empty. There are only ten or so recorded minutes, at the beginning. It is the registration of three telephone calls. The quality of the recording is surprisingly good, and apparently these recordings and the recording set up were well planned beforehand. These are very intentional (as opposed to casual) recordings. On this tape the 'recordist' - we'll have to suppose this to be Raphael - set out to document. What did he want to document? It must be the 'coming about' of a record deal for his music ... We hear Raphael, from Paris, calling Tom in New York - who apparently is a record company executive - about a tape with seven of Raphael's compositions, that, so he says, he "just finished recording" ...

(What follows, I think I should warn you, willy-nilly developed into a lengthy exercise in 'deduction' and 'description' by 'guessing' and 'searching' and 'theorizing' and 'thinking out aloud' - all related to this ten minute long recording of telephone conversations between 'Raphael' and 'Tom'. It may not be of much interest to anyone except myself. So you might just want to leave it be, and instead first now listen to the about two and a half minutes of edited extracts from the tape that open the exhibit #29 montage ... But if you have the time and the courage, yeah, play the file and then plunge right in there with me ... :-) ...)

[ skip 'moral issues' ... ] Is there voyeurism involved in what is following, which may seem sort of an eavesdropping, a listening in-to someone's private conversations? I do not want to get into discussions about (moral) issues related to 'voyeurism' and 'eavesdropping' here, but would like to note that, whatever one's point of view, I do not consider this to fall in a such category. As far as I am concerned, there is no 'private space' that I could intrude, even if I wanted to. First of all (though not only) because - at this moment - I have no idea whatsoever who are the physical persons that are talking on this tape. They are mere voices, isolated and disembodied sounds; 'images' that originally come to me absolutely 'context free'. There is a 'private' space emerging, though, when one starts listening, but that 'private' space is a purely fictional one, coming into existence only through the 'ears of the listener' ... it is the context that we 'create' or 'imagine', because all we see and hear necessarily gets 'contextualized': we 'place' it, somehow and somewhere, within a certain time and within a certain space ... The 'privacy' that one thus may appear to intrude, in actual fact is one's own. As Virginie Trinquet, a friend of Henrik Henegouw's, once replied when he asked her how on earth she could stand to walk about in her flat stark naked and make love to him with all the lights on and uncovered windows all around, in full sight of anyone caring to look in from across the street: "Oh, but nobody out there >>knows<< me," she said. "That makes me transparent, really. Peeping Toms do not see 'me', nor 'us'; they only see themselves ..." ... Well, but then of course it is not excluded that at some point someone who does know Virginie will be looking in. As it is possible that someone who does know the protagonists will stumble upon this 'private recording made public'. And might consider this to be an (his/hers) 'intrusion' ... So I think I am aware of the potential issues and pitfalls (whose proper discussion of course could easily end up becoming a book-size text - so let's stop here), but I am willing to take the risk, and just approach and present this (and similar 'found objects') the way they appear to me: as anonymous texts, as 'fictions'. That should - and cannot but - be read and enjoyed as such. As fictions. A position, of course, that I might well reconsider as soon as I'd happen to learn more about the origin and history of such recordings and the 'real people' it concerns. For then, indeed, but only then, I would have ventured into someone's 'private space' ... (And partly what follows illustrates the evident, of course: how misty is a such story's contour, how fluid the boundary between its 'fact' and its 'fiction' actually is, and just how little it might take to have it suddenly 'shift' ...)

First conversation. The first of the three calls we hear on find nr. 143 is not complete. The missing part is surely on the strand of tape that I left at the time of my (hurried) picking it up. While making this first call, Raphael is not alone. In the beginning, when waiting for the company's secretary to connect him with Tom, we hear him talk (in french) to another person that is there with him.
[The other person probably (voice color) is a woman. Is it his girlfriend? His mother?]
Raphael is nervous; we hear him breathing heavily. He asks if he can "speak to Tom Dr..per?"
[He does say the last name, but, at first hearing I could not really make it out ... however, while writing this, and listening again to the tape, and again, I think I actually now do know Tom's full name; what's more, by doing some googling with contexts I even came up with a not unlikely candidate for who this 'Tom' is ...]
The secretary asks twice "Who's calling?", and Raphael replies by saying that he calls from France, that he is trying to reach Tom and that he had called already last week.
[Why did he not record that earlier call? Or did he erase it, it not being successful?]
The secretary says: "Oh, is this Raphael?" and tells him to "hold on ..."
[There must be something funny about her saying "Raphael", for, while waiting for the connection, it becomes the subject of the exchange between him and 'the other'; it is very soft and difficult to hear clearly, but they laugh, and he repeats the name (his? or maybe is it not?) softly to himself: "Raphael ...", dreamily ...]
The tape then continues with Tom speaking.
[This must be where the 'missing strand' would have fitted in. As it is, we skip the first part of Raphael and Tom's conversation. This, I do think, adds somewhat to 'the mystery' of it all ...]
Tom says that he is "planning to be in Washington that week" ... I presume that Raphael told him - in the missing part - that he will be visiting the United States, and asked Tom whether it would be possible to meet him?
Raphael explains that he will arrive in New York on february 6th, and stay for "twelve days ... maybe more ..."
Tom is thinking ...
"Okay ... okay ...," he says. "Why don't we plan then ... tentatively ... to meet on ... february 7th?"
[Getting that easily a personal appointment with someone apparently important at a big record company's - we learn shortly after that the meeting will be in the 'Warner Communication Building' - does seem highly improbable if one were just calling 'out of the blue'. So had Raphael someone introducing him to Tom? Was this a call 'de la part de', as they say in France?]
Understandably, Raphael is very pleased with the appointment.
He tells Tom that he has "just finished to record [his] songs ... there are seven songs ... different compositions: classic jazz, and very, very modern ..."
Then he asks Tom a [curious, I think] question: should he put his voice on the tape, or just the music?
"Aha ... ehhh ...," Tom replies, "... I think you should do vocals as well ... because ... ehh, you are a singer? ... You know, people are gonna wanna hear your voice ..."
Tom asks Raphael what would be a good time to contact him, "in the event I have to change ... the appointment?" Raphael in reply gives him the address where he will be staying in New York, and a telephone number there. When you call, he tells him, "you can ask mr. Hahn ..."
"What's your number there in Paris?" Tom asks.
Raphael gives him his (home) number ...
"Okay," says Tom, "if there is a change, I will try to get to you before you leave ..."
[In all of this, we note Raphael's eagerness, in contrast with the somewhat reserved replies of Tom. Is it that 'meeting Tom' is one of or maybe even the main reason of Raphael's trip to New York? Thus 'trying to get to him before he leaves' might be Tom's way of keeping a 'way out' while giving Raphael the opportunity, if such were the case, to cancel or postpone his trip ...]
They continue to chat.
Tom asks Raphael whether he will be staying in France, to which Raphael replies: "Yeah, eh ... for a little time, because eh ... I just finished my studies, and I work to get money to buy my [... I can't understand what Raphael says he wants to buy. Does he say 'my own instruments'? It might be, but I am not sure of it ...], eh ... it costs a lot of money ..." [he giggles]
[Here we learn things, and may wonder about others. First, having 'just finished his studies', Raphael probably will be relatively young. As he says that 'he is working', he doesn't seem to be (yet) a 'working, professional musician' ... or is he working as a musician? ... And what did Raphael study? ... Was he a music student? From his earlier remarks it seems to follow that his 'style' is 'jazz', of some sort ... We hear on the tape that Raphael has a good command of english, but he is speaking with a typical, and heavy, french accent. He most surely is a native french speaker. But that, apparently, he will stay on in France just 'for a little time', might indicate that his 'roots' are rather outside of France itself. African, perhaps?]
"I record all my songs on a four track recorder," Raphael tells Tom, and he wonders whether this will be "a problem to listen ... in New York?"
Tom asks him whether he can transfer the tape to cassette?
"The cassette is really better," he tells him, "so I would suggest that you bring at least two cassettes with you ..."
"Do you think it is better to pro-tect the songs?" Raphael asks next.
"To ... protect ... the songs?"
"Yeah, about ... the rights ...," Raphael says.
"Oh, yes, yes, yes," Tom now understands, "copyright?"
"Yeah, copyright ..."
"Yes," Tom tells him, "because people will not listen to your material if it's not copyrighted..."
After some more talk about 'song protection', they end this first conversation, 'hoping to see each other soon'.
"Bye now ..." Tom says.

[ back ... ] 'Tom' might be Tom Draper. 'Draper' is closest to what I can make of Raphael's pronunciation of Tom's last name, and googling taught me that Tom Draper was the head of the Black Music Department at Warner Brothers, "during its heyday [...] including the breaking of Madonna". I came across this particular bit of info on a web site dedicated to 'Exploded', a book about the history of the Warner Music Group. The site comes complete with a 'WB Alumni Address Book' ... and I actually did find a 'Tom Draper' listed there, together with a (Florida) home address and email. Having gotten that far, I could not but also take the next step. And even though of course this might well be a different 'Tom Draper', I decided to send (and did so on july 1st) an email to the AOL-address linked to the name in the list, and attached a short sample taken from #143, asking 'Tom Draper' whether, by any chance, this is his voice ? ...

Second conversation. Raphael again is calling Tom. He asks how Tom is doing, but then gets straight to the heart of the matter ...
"So ..., what's going on for the tape?" he asks.
... "The ... eh ... tape that you sent me?"
[Tom hesitates (there is this silence before he replies), and then - in view of the first conversation - him asking whether Raphael is referring to the tape that he sent him is surprising of course. Does this mean that in fact they did not meet in New York after all ...?]
"It is ... eh, I sent it to the A&R department. Let me follow up with them and find out ..."
"Oh ... okay ..." Raphael says. "So ... did you enjoy the tape?"
"Ehm ... it was very good," Tom says.
[One then actually hears in Raphael's voice how these few words spoken by Tom make him jump for joy ... though to me Tom's saying sounds merely as a 'stop', spoken without much conviction nor enthusiasm, really, making one wonder whether he actually had heard the tape - or remembered it ... but Raphael of course clings to this, can at that particular moment hear it but as the 'good news' that he has been longing so much to hear...]
"Okay! ... So! ... ehhmm... I'm happy!" he exclaims ... Raphael is in very high spirits now. "And ... I would like to congratulate you for Clinton," he goes on.
"Ho, ho, ho, ho ..." we hear Tom saying. "Yes, I think he is gonna be great!"
"Because I think," Raphael adds, "that Europe is going to, to crash ... so I hope that United States is going to ... hup, hup, hup ...! ... you know ..."
Tom replies [thoughtful, with some hesitation]: "... Yes ... yes ..."
It is already then that Raphael seeks to end the conversation, as if now quickly wanting to enjoy his 'good feeling' in private ...
"I don't want to take a lot of your time, because I think you are very busy ..." he says.
"Let me ... eh ... call you in about a week," Tom tells him.
"O-kay ... okay ... alright, Tom! So, eh ... see you soon," Raphael says, and adds [with a chuckle]: "I think so!"
"Bye now," says Tom.

Raphael congratulates Tom with Clinton ... there are, of course, other possibilities, but the most likely is that here Raphael is referring to Bill Clinton's (first) election as 42nd president of the United States. (Also because of Tom's remark that he thinks Clinton 'is gonna be great', which isn't the kind of remark someone is likely to make on the occasion of a re-election.) Clinton beat Bush to the White House on november 4th, 1992 (and came into office on january 20th, 1993). If indeed Raphael is referring to Clinton's election, his enthusiastic 'congratulations' mean we cannot but date this conversation as occurring shortly after Clinton's victory. Early november 1992, that is. On the other hand, in the first telephone call Raphael tells Tom he will be visiting New York early february ... Now I do think the conversations on the tape are in chronological order. Which leads me to guessing the date of the first call as being sometime between late 1991 and early 1992 ... So then quite probably - Raphael did go to New York. And maybe he did play his seven songs there for Tom. And is he referring to a different tape here, that he sent to Tom later that year, after having met him at the Warner Communication Building ...

Third (and last) conversation. This time it is not Tom talking to Raphael, but a (Tom's?) secretary. (It does sound like the same person that connects Raphael to Tom in the first conversation.)
"Raphael?" she asks.
"Yeah ..."
"How are you?"
"Fine ..."
"Okay ... I'm afraid we don't have good news ..."
"Aha ..."
"At this point they're passing on it ..."
[She really seems to be sorry for him ...]

"So ehhh ... they are not interested?"
"Not at this point, no ..."
"Hu, hmmm ... okay ..."
[Heartfelt:] "... Sorry ..."
"... So ... thank you for your help and eh ..."
"Oh, you're welcome ... and good luck!"
"Thank you..."
"Okay .."
"Bye bye ..."
"Bye bye ..."

The rest of the cassette has been left blank. Here is where the recording ends. And with it the 'little story' that it tells. The 'story' that itself is left unspoken, but that anyone listening to this 'found tape' will hear. Of a young musician, his ambitions, and his dreams. Which in the end of course is not such 'a big deal' ... and similar to 'stories' that pretty much any musician/writer/artist could tell. But then again: isn't it just that which makes it special? And isn't it amazing to find such a 'story' in a parisian street on a late sunday afternoon, cast away, but still written onto an old cassette?

A while ago at the movies, at the end of a film we had watched together, my daughter turned to me and said: "... mais il y a encore toute la vie après ...!" And how right she was! Maybe Tom Draper will reply to my email. Maybe one day I will dial the parisian telephone number that is on the tape and ask for 'Raphael' ... Maybe.

[ Next related SB entry: tape busters and coordinates :: earlier related SB entry: Low-fi: the new Readymades ]

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