The small world daisychain mail tongue tape

december 31, 2011.

Let me tell you one more story before I pass over into a next year, a tale that links to several of this past year's SoundBlog threads.

For one: the title (that of a modest and simple mail sound art project by Beau bruit's Etienne Noiseau) includes Small World. This, as some of you will know, is also the title of The Young Lions' final work, which I recently wrote about in my upcoming Ultra book. Also, over the year, at several occasions, Peter Mertens and me - in view of things to come - were re-doing & re-interpreting parts of Small World the ookoi way, snippets of which have found their way into my 10-seconds-per-day audio diary for this year, Seventy Seconds.

the lost weekend

For two: the story's protagonist is a cassette tape. Which gives me an excuse to remind you that the online Found Tapes Exhibition will celebrate its tenth anniversary coming spring, while slowly retreating into hibernation. Indeed, as was to be expected, and as I have expressed already several times on these pages, there's ever fewer tapes being cast away in our streets these days, with the cassette tape and cassette players having become obsolete as everyday, as household, audio items. These past four months I picked up no more than two of them. Early september I spotted a wad of tape in Tuscany, somewhere along the road, driving from Pienza to Pisa. The second find, and surely this year's last, I did about one month later.

That one makes for a fine little sub story.

found tape found tape

Early October Valérie Paillé was shooting an item on 'cassette musicians', for Tracks, a program of the French/German television channel Arte. So Valérie came over to my house with an Arte crew to film & interview. I fooled around a bit with tapes and stuff, and showed the awful mess produced by magnetic media when they manage to escape their confines. Obviously we talked a lot about my foundtaping, and I explained to Valérie, that over the years I had developed a sixth sense for magnetic tape roaming out in the open: if it is there, it will not fail to catch my attention, whether I am consciously looking for it, or just doing/thinking about completely different things. Now this is a matter of fact. But difficult to believe for those who never actually where there when it happened. So I proposed Valérie & crew to go out and see whether I'd spot some tape. Given the sparseness of magnetic tape on the loose these day, I warned them that chances that we would indeed hit upon something were slim. The only thing I could guarantee being, that if there was tape around, I would not fail to see it.

We took off in Valérie's car, with camera, sound and all, and I proposed we'd head for some of the less favorized suburbs to maximize the probability of 'street tape'. Well, to cut a long story short ... We had driven less than half mile when, while listening to Valerie going on about permission to use some Russian photographer's pictures, the details of which I forgot, from the corner of my eye I spotted the familiar texture and reflection. An instant hit ... And of course it had been so fast, that we then had to re-enact the finding in order to capture it on film ... :-)

Valérie's report was broadcast on December 15th and 20th. There's some additional footage on the emission's web page: K7eurs - Tape's not dead! Note the fine word 'cassetteurs / K7eurs', that I suggested her to use, and that I introduced as the denomination for (French) tape artists on these here SoundBlog pages. (Now hoping for a national, and next a global, catch-on, of course :-) ...)

Enough side-stepping. Else, you'll never know the real story.

Early February I got an email from Etienne Noiseau, who, among other things, runs the French web site Syntone, dedicated to the radiophonic arts. In Ille-sur-Têt, a small village in the deep south of France, where Etienne lives, recently a nice guy had settled, he wrote me, who was into mail art. André Robèr (that's the nice guy's name) had launched an open call for mail art on the subject of languages, which was to result in an exhibition in his studio in Ille-sur-Têt in July. Etienne wanted to contribute to André's mail art exhibition, by having a cassette tape going around the world from Ille-sur-Têt and back again to Ille-sur-Têt. Each addressee would be asked to record the phrase my tongue speaks my language in his or her language, and then sent the tape on.

I agreed to be part of the chain, and in the process ended up being the one before last link. I had to send the tape to Zoë Irvine, who at the time was staying in France. That is a fine telling detail, as you might know that ten years ago it was Zoë's Magnetic Migration Music project that set me off picking up tape trash in the streets. At the time early this summer, when Etienne's tape was due to reach me, I was in Berlin, where we had just finished a great little Dikta(t)tour. With a bit of luck, from there the tape still could easily pass via Zoë, and get back to its origin & final destination in time for André Robèr's exhibition.

Etienne's cassette arrived sound and safe in Berlin, where I was staying at Rinus van Alebeek's mansion, in Neukölln. Rinus being far more of a tape man Tape Head than I am, I proposed him to join me in adding a message to the tape. That would be fun, I thought, two Dutch tape f(r)iends together sitting at a Berlin kitchen table, staring at a dictaphone. But Rinus decided it was a stupid project, and not up to his artistic standards. Which of course is his good right. So then well, tant pis, I said to myself in French, as after twenty years of French residency part of my inner life has frenchified. No Berlin recording then. I decided to take the tape back with me to Amsterdam, do the recording there, and ship it on to Zoë.

Zoë gezegd, zo gedaan. I recorded the commissioned phrase in Maastricht dialect - Mun tòng sjprik mien taol - and wrapped the tape again. With all envelopes, stamps and stuff that it had accumulated on its way, it was quite a package that on June 27th I had to send on to France from the TNT agency in the Amsterdam Van Woustraat. It was also an expensive package. Cost me almost nine euros.


Now that could have been it. But it was not. I should have known better. A weird looking parcel sent from Amsterdam, the Babylon of the North, to the sunny South of France ... That would surely attract the attention of diligent customs servicemen, who'd open it to check for ... [make an Ed Wood noise here] ... dope!

Thus a few days later, Etienne and I got this email from Zoë:

"Dear Etienne & Harold. The package arrived with me today, but with no cassette inside. I imagine that Harold sent if off with the tape in and it looks like it has been opened by customs but there are no details included, the customs have not indicated that they have removed anything but it is sealed with tape saying 'controle de douanier postal de Roissy'. I can't quite believe this! This is awful..."

All was still inside. All. Except the cassette tape ...


Had it fallen prey to a devious mail art collector working his ass off at the French customs? A tape wanker? A cassette fetishist? Did it fall off some table and got swiped away by cleaning staff? Or, given the fact that cleaning staff most probably will have been of African origins, picked up by one of them and used to record a spoken message to send to their loved ones at home? Would customs simply have forgotten to put it back inside when closing up the package? How could something like this have happened? Would we ever get to see it again?

So! This might have been the end of not-too-bad a story. But! It got even better, when some ten days later Etienne got an email from one of the cassette's earlier addressees, Marjolaine Bourdua, in Montreal, Canada:

"Bonjour Étienne, Une chose étonnante s'est produite, la cassette m'est parvenue à nouveau. Je ne suis pas certaine de bien comprendre ce qui s'est passé... Qu'est-ce que je fais?"

[Hello Etienne. An amazing thing just happened. I received the cassette again. I am not sure that I understand what has happened. What do I do?]

At the French customs they had gotten so confused by all the envelopes, addresses and stuff in my package, that they slipped the cassette tape into one of the other envelopes inside, and then shipped it on, separately ... to Canada. From there it made its way to Zoë, who at the time was back in Edinburgh again, and from Zoë back to Ille-sur-Têt. Too late for André Robèr's mail art exhibition, but leading a fine analogue art story to a glorious finale.

A veritable tape tale... Here is how Etienne pictured the cassette at the very end:

cassette final

You can read Etienne's version of the story at his Beaubruit web site, which includes a nice animation of the tape's trip across the globe. And this is what it sounds like:

The small world daisychain mail tongue tape by Beau bruit

Happy 2012!

tags: mail-art, found tapes, cassette, Diktat, Berlin, Amsterdam, Young Lions, ookoi

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