Rinus van Alebeek, The Gracious Depression and How to Forget

19/11/2017

Rinus van Alebeek is a Dutch artist and author, formerly of Berlin, who has lived in various places in Poland in the last year or so. He recently sent me two works of his on cassette tape, The Gracious Depression and How to Forget. I’ve had occasional correspondence with Rinus over the years. I’ve also kept up with his activities and writings because although I’ve yet to meet him I like everything about the man and his work. He doesn’t mince his words and he honours certain traditions of audio art which, as artists should know, will always make your own work stronger. Looking at the current trend for the cassette tape medium you’d think it was invented in the last three years. Rinus, and indeed many others, has been working with tape for longer than some, who would seem to have invented the medium, have been alive. The links below will help position his work as well as give details of where to buy the tapes.

Listening therefore on my very own AIWA TX481 (Super Bass) and thus proving my cassette credentials, I could tell before long that The Gracious Depression is a work of mature and sophisticated radio art. I’m thinking here of radio art as defined by writers such as Allen S. Weiss* who speaks of radiophony’s history and current forms in terms of transmission, disarticulation, metamorphosis and mutation rather than communication and closure.

Although the dislocations arise out of the variety of sound sources and the structuring of non-linear narratives, something of the pace and flow of the sections are nonetheless consistent with the narrative arts of literature and film. Overall the narrative doesn’t co-incide with the music or what we might call incidental, superfield, location or foley sound. Commentary is fragmented, music intrudes and recedes forcefully at times, the cuts and pastes of experimental broadcast set the tone.

This work in its richness is something of a semiological feeding frenzy. The plethora of signs excludes musical understanding sof the work allowing us to focus on unravelling the important cues and clues of the story, though at times, and essentially so, we never really know what’s going on. For example we have allusions to psychoanalytic readings and techniques, consistent with the titles, read from some sort of manual in an authoritative voiceover. I might also at one point have heard the voices of inmates. The use of music is entirely consistent with the traditions of experimental radiophonic use of music, nowadays more associated with film music, and is particularly powerful in realising some sort of psychodrama within the wider narrative. Again consistent with the history of radiophony, the reliable old school techniques of musique concrète, – harsh cuts, collage, timestreching and so forth – are employed to good effect in gluing the bits together.

Side B is again a very accomplished radio work, a kind of audio cubism where we are challenged to listen to something from different angles (more like psychological points of audition) simultaneously, or in very close conjunction. Finally the reading from an erotic novel ensured my full attention.

———————-

How to forget

The author himself says of this work:-

The sounds on this tape stress the importance of forgetting. I used many every day objects, simple objects, to record the source material directly on magnetic tape. These were objects that we encounter…bricks, wood, stairs. The objects I chose had an extra historic layer; they were made and used before the war, in a part of Poland that belonged to the German Reich. I mixed these sounds with music and speech from found tapes. Those were relics of a (Polish) past that ceased to exist. On side 2 I added an encounter with life – real and imagined – in the former Jewish  neighbourhood Podgórze in Kraków. Obviously also that era came to an end. To remember everything in detail is impossible; it would hurt too much and make life unbearable.

That is why we tell stories.

Again in this work we have a strong radiophonic approach. The material is similar to the previous work – certainly original, well paced, manifesting a superior grasp of the art of collage. However the narrative plays out it is always going to be elusive and at times inscrutable.

Side A, long ago, in addition to treating us to the techniques of tape manipulation, offers an old piano, plangent, establishing atmosphere and mood. Texts, reflections on postmodernism, are read or improvised, then peppered by short sketch-like passages. The piano returns, a hint of arch form.

Both the locations of the recordings and the use of found tapes on Side B, not so long ago, are acknowledged in the cassette sleeve notes. A lengthy passage provides us with historical information on 18th and 19th century Krakow, serving both as a prelude and contrasting with the oncoming street narrative, radio on the hoof. What sounds like tourist tape audio clashes with recursive commentary on the ‘diegetic’ recordings. Then we swerve into more modified, transformed and layered audio, finishing with what sounds like an urban drone with birds – this could be either a composed section or a straight soundscape of the city.

These works require close attention and repeat listenings. I’d recommend them to anyone with an interest in contemporary audio art.

References

http://rinusvanalebeek.com

https://staalplaat.com/staalzine/fifty-years-of-tape

https://zstereo.co.uk/2013/04/24/sony-walkman-pro/

*Allen S. Weiss, Phantasmic Radio, Duke University Press; Durham and London, 1995.

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