side a

day in, day out, there is an inarguable pulse to our urbanity which adopts the role of empirical, autonomous agent. towering buildings and the economics they represent manifest not only a dystopic-scenic environment, but the standardization of a mainstreamed interface for an exclusive social landscape. this architecture of compliance, observed from a global scale, 'ceases to be a place of sensible activity and journeying' as social constructionism allows for. instead, the normative invests in an alliance-building hegemony that first caters to capitalist enterprise, then geo-political relations. to echo timothy ingold, "something... must be wrong somewhere, if the only way to understand our own creative involvement in the world is by first taking ourselves out of it." composing community is an exercise in journeying the 'heterogeneous entanglements of social life' as a means towards acknowledging emerging forms of networked action; in the case of this engagement, modern cassette culture in the emergence of a digital epoch.

"we see emerging, piecemeal and with the greatest ambiguity, the seeds of a new noise, one exterior to the institutions and customary sites of political conflict. a noise of festival and freedom, it may create the conditions for a major discontinuity extending far beyond its field. it may be the essential element in a strategy for the emergence of a truly new society."

if demonstration is to actively create a tangible equation proving a true cause then cassette culture has become a variable in representation for the value of a new social equation. arising from the ideology of ray johnson's mail art movement of the 60s and the inspired democratization of an eternal network, the accessibility of the cassette offers "the first truly autonomous underground music culture since the dawn of recording." the early participants of this relationship, exercising creative and economic freedoms offered by the medium, self-organized into "a vast network of self-sufficient and open-minded creators and consumers." it is with appreciation towards this music community that independent [of industry] methods of production and distribution were offered to the lineage of mass culture.

physically linked through an ambiguous network of fanzines and previous artistic interaction, without standard physical space or adhering to 'genrefication', cassette culture continues to operate as an enthusiastic subculture united through the "shared appreciation of an autonomous, creative process and an experimental approach to music-making." complemented by the ease of the mp3 blog and the logic of peer to peer file sharing the internet today provides a convenient, virtual projection of zine aesthetic and intentional networks, repositioning the role of cassette culture as "the forefront of a movement that seeks to reexamine our relationship to musical objects and their creators." with forty plus years of activity one must begin to realize that the philosophy here is larger than the independent production and distribution of sound, and that this alternative economy has been conceived "not as a retro-projection of human-labour onto an object that is nothing in itself but a sturdier, much more reflexive co-production richly invested within a collective practice." cassette culture is a vehicle in the great expression for the potential of what it is to know reality not because we are separate from it, but that we are connected with it.

"exchanging cassettes was like exchanging elaborate cultural calling-cards of information virus rather than consuming empty marketing commodity... we were all privy to a deeper and more personal, private, and inspiring aspect of communication than mere letter writing or phone calling."

before recently signing to animal collective's paw tracks label prince rama was a group who could physically be found nearly entirely on cassette or vinyl. keeping this tradition in mind, accentuated by the reality that the band grew together within a hare krishna commune in florida, member taraka larson's independently published now age manifesto reads as a spiritually-inclined, arts-leaning declaration for the theoretic anarchy embedded in personal sound production. what is the overarching point of this manifesto? for the realization of an "architecture of utopia". citing the study of cymatics and various other states of which sound can create and destroy forms, larson’s thesis states that it is the formlessness of sound that makes it a fundamental building block for this new architecture. as abstract scientific metaphors are not as strong of support beams as they are a stir of passion it becomes john bennet's term, hyparxis, which develops larson's critical analysis.

an adaptation of nietzsche's notion of primordial unity, barthes' observations of paradigm, and deleuze's implication of the virtual, hyparxis is defined as an ableness-to-be, combining what is actual with what is potential, to describe an elemental 'present moment' quality of being. to read hyparxis in the lens of utopia is to acknowledge utopia's singularity as a non-place, "but within this 'no place' exists an infinity of space." this realization of the real, to recognize a connection between real and ideal environments, is the moment of critical consciousness which defines an elemental quality of being. "sound in and of itself is a tangible example of 'no place'. it is pure vibration, a shifting of air particles," and it is within this metaphysical "infinity of space" that the musical environment lives. cassette culture, then, is the reaction to an exploitation of musical environment, a social democratization to emancipate a conscious collective from the constraints of irrational and unjust structures that limit self-development and self-determination.

commenting on recent enthusiasm and cynicism for "cassette revivalism" dwight pavlovic, co-founder of decoder magazine and cassette label crash symbols, immediately addresses the cultural significance of the format. in reflection he critically engages with social accessibility, the mediums' irrelevance to vinyl, and a dismissal of shallow conversation referring to audio quality altogether. without comparison, pavlovic focus' on the cassettes' indifference to a standardized norm.

"...but what tapes have actually sidestepped is the commercial concerns of the mainstream media culture that continues to fail miserably at projecting positive paradigms for its occupants - when has the mainstream music industry ever been touted for its inclusiveness?"

though cassette culture has been an active practice since the dawn of the medium, the modern movement provides an aural home for those who feel disenfranchised by an abusive cultural economy. this tight-knit global community, able to self-advocate and sustain internal development due largely in part to digital communication, has displayed constructivist maturity over the last decade as a shift has occurred from a philosophical affinity for the diy punk ethos towards an even further inclusive dit (do it together) attitude that presents an active alternative to global capitalist networks. anchoring pavlovic’s position is his observation that "tapes are a new currency for a new culture," in which he discusses as a non-authoritative, democratized economy of sound and music free of ties to the decay of mainstream industry. clearly pavlovic, larson, and composing community have independently arrived at a familiar intersection, that is, a resistance to sameness in the codification of ideas in symbols which orbit 'capitalocentrism'.

side b

the creative counterpoint to this document focuses on the social geographies and organizational forms employed to establish alternatives to conventional economies, and engages directly with optimistic geographies of exchange. understanding cassette culture to be a 'space of hope' as an alternative organizational economy composing community demonstrates that 'the alternative', as a new model for restoring community and democratic participation, is in truth the unconscious normative method of being. to re-embed the exchange in social relations is to reconnect producer and consumer both socially and politically, and this action in the relation of cassette culture in a digital era imply a transnational moral economy unlike any civilization have experienced.

to elaborate upon this present potential composing community offers the concept of 'relations of regard', relationships based on reciprocity and trust between producers and consumers that emphasize non-authoritative, decentralized, horizontal relationships within a network. speaking towards the values of such a network french conventions theory "reconceptualizes modes of ordering as 'repertoires of justification' and proposes that repertoires have arisen historically to evaluate actions taken in the name of a 'common' or 'collective' good." the setting that my project encounters is the music festival, namely total bummer, florida’s third annual community festival celebrating the aural camaraderie of independent, primarily cassette-based musicians. total bummer is one of the few festivals in the world to encourage such a spiritual diaspora, with participants flying in from throughout the continent to take part in this thrilling multilogue.

acknowledging the hurdles, or complete absence, of local arts communities throughout the world it is of little surprise to come across thousands of blogs dedicated to documentation of modern bedroom recording projects. these devoted websites exist worldwide, cover worldwide sounds, and provide an infinite, foreign audience endless content from foreign producers. the web’s support for the catharsis of diverse sound projects is reciprocated, and communities of appreciators inhabit these forums for discussion. total bummer is a sampling of various communities virtually linked by a shared ethos, and physically connected in the formats of split tapes, label mates, support for one another’s efforts, and an unrealized deep understanding for the universal language that is noise.

the accompanying cassette is a collage of interviews with liz pelly from the boston phoenix paper and dreamhaus collective, jordan lee of the band mutual benefit and founder of the kassette klub label, jheri evans of decoder magazine and co-founder of the crash symbols label, dwight pavlovic of decoder magazine and the other co-founder of crash symbols, cameron potter of the band little spoon, steve head of the band dark sea of awareness and orlando dit pioneers tiny waves, and george awwad of the blog awd castles and blog collective portals. complementing their speech is a mix of recordings released on cassette from many mansions, ricky eat acid, the spookfish, truman peyote, and sky stadium. together i hope to provide a narrative for why someone would ever be inspired to share their sounds on cassette, the implications of the action, the perspective of intentional non-musicians who take an actively supportive role, and how the emergence of digital networks nurture the communication of this global community. my criticism of this draft of composing community is that the project is grounded in western practice and focused on an overarching theme of potential for geographic unity primarily in the united states. though this was an enlightening first step in observation and research, i hope to continue this project in examining the emergence of geographical cassette networks on a global scale. although ideological homes in geographic separation and the tacit interaction of music upon space is the dominant theme of this project i do not feel that it became as directly addressed as i intended. this is an issue that for the purpose of this project i feel comfortable with, and will engage more straightforward as i realize further models to incorporate.

i have not reached a conclusion with composing community, but that is positive in the sense that i have tugged a thread of which there is little record of. i view this project as an opportunity for introductory research, a chance to argue for the permanent socio-geographical validity of the cassette, and with further research and insight from participators hope to illuminate cassette culture as a prominent vehicle in the development of an expressive, political geography more real than the prescribed institutions of geo-politics.


timothy ingold's the perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling & skill // sarah whatmore's hybrid geographies // jacques attali's noise: the political economy of music // ian staub's redubbing the underground: cassette culture in transition // taraka larson's the now age // liz pelly's the music world is flat: for young artists, the internet is the new local // bruno latour's a few steps towards the anthropology of the iconoclastic gesture // marshall scott's long live the humble audio cassette: a eulogy // dwight pavlovic's commenting on the cassette revival // murdoch and miele's culinary networks and cultural connections: a conventions perspective // alex hughes' geographies of exchange and circulation: alternative trading spaces // make records (image credit)