Much like Negativland and John Oswald before them, Tape-Beatles (not to confuse with the fab four) chose to be active observants/critics of popular culture, rather than passive participants. Through the use of samples of political speech, TV news and pop music samples, they assembled entirely new songs out of fragments of work done by others. Outside of music, they also released printed media and videos and when Tape-Beatles ceased to exist, its former members Ralph Jonson and Lloyd Dunn continued their activity as Public Works.
Thanks to UbuWeb Sound archive, most of the material produced by Tape-Beatles/Public Works is now available for download. You can see/download the entire catalog here.
Here’s the breakdown of T-B/Public Works back catalogue:
Their debut was 1988 “A Subtle Buoyancy Of Pulse” – originally, a cassette-only creation which came out on band’s own label Plagiarism, it was reissued by Dutch label Staalplaat in 1998. In his review of the album, Lang Thompson from Option magazine wrote that “The Tape-beatles don’t just go after easy targets or use a shotgun approach hoping something will work. Their focus and sense of purpose make it worth the attention paid to their dense, associative mix. Like early Firesign Theater, you can’t catch everything in just one listening. Especially insightful are the pieces dealing with politically-oriented artists and trendy esthetic theories, because the Tape-beatles are too smart to just ridicule them.”
Next was 1990 “Salt This Lick” album, which came out on Pittsburgh,PA-based SSS Productions. Although its the only T-B album that didn’t get a digital reissue, some of the songs that appear on this release can be heard on their other records.
1991 “Music With Sound” came out on Canadian label DOV (Death Of Vinyl) in digital format. DOV, however, disappeared fromt the face of the earth in the early 90s and most of their releases turned into hard-to-find/collector items.The record is now available as mp3 download thanks to UbuWeb Sound archive and (for some time, Earlabs e-‘zine was also offering a download of the album). In his review of the record, Dave Suzuki from Option magazine wrote “Forget that David Byrne and Brian Eno paved the way in the realm of ‘popular’ music with ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’. You don’t have to be the first to prove yourself.”
Much like “Subtle Buyoancy…” 1992 “Grand Delusion” was originally available only as a cassete, but was reissued by Staalplaat label in 1993. Sounds Celebrating Resistance magazine characterized the record as “A very powerful audio collage put together around the time of the Gulf War in 1991.” and SCR review of the album pointed out that “celebrating plagiarism and the manipulation of sounds” Tape-Beatles “have put together a riveting study of mass psychology in the midst of a slaughter.”
Outside of their work as Tape-Beatles, group’s key members Ralph Johnson and Lloyd Dunn also recorded few releases under the name Public Works. UbuWeb offers a download of their 1996 album “Matter” (which originally came out on Staalplaat label) and 2001 EP “Numbers” (which originally came out on Elevator Bath label). Dream Magazine described “Matter” as “More cultural sound soup a la Tape-beatles identity.”, while Freq webzine described “Numbers” as “an uncanny, impressionistic collage, choosing neither to present much explicitly for easy digestion, nor seeming entirely randomized and affectless either.”
Finally, the band also appeared under their original name on 1999 “Good Times” and 2001 “Minneapolis Summit” (both on Staalplaat) – latter, a self-described “studio improvisation by Steev Hise, Escape Mechanism, Wobbly and T-B, recorded October 2001 in Minneapolis”.
Also of note are few Tape-Beatles compilation tracks scattered across various issues of Phonostatic magazine (founded by T-B own Llloyd Dunn) and now also available for download via UbuWeb Sound Archive. Phonostatic compilations contain works by both Tape-Beatles and many of its past and present members, including Paul Neff and Lloyd Dunn. You can see/download the Phonostatic Magazine catalogue here.
The Grand Delusion Pt.1
The Grand Delusion Pt.2