Tellus #20 ‘Media Myth’


01 Randy Greif ‘The Rift In The Earth’ (8:15)
02 Pierre Perret ‘Gaïa, La Terre (excerpt)’ (3:45)
03 The Psychic Workshop ‘Apocalypse from Transmissions of Decadence’ (2:26)
04 Social Interiors ‘Russian Around’ (2:32)
05 If, Bwana ‘The Sound Of…’ (2:55)
06 Crawling With Tarts ‘Plowing And Tilling’ (5:21)
07 Violence and The Sacred ‘Teddy Bear Stinks Real Bad Now (Excerpt)’ (2:47)
08 Art Interface ‘Music For Fans #1’ (5:17)
09 Minoy ‘Tango’ (5:34)
10 Nicolas Collins ‘Devil’s Music 1 (Excerpt)’ (3:15)
11 Silent, But Deadly ‘What’s New Pussy?’ (3:42)
12 JPM Studios ‘#5’ (2:41)
13 Joseph Nechvatal ‘Psychedelic Hermeneutic’ (1:37)
14 A Place To Pray ‘Thelema (excerpt)’ (5:13)
15 Maurice Methot ‘Overture From La Dolarosa’ (2:08)
16 Michael Chockolak ‘Skomorokhi’ (2:59)
17 Dance ‘Nagasaki’ (4:20)
Total time: 64:38
Published 1988. Curated by Joseph Nechvatal.

After he curated ‘Power Electronics’ (Tellus#13) back in 1986, Joseph Nechvatal was back 2 years later with a more ear-friendly but no less challenging compilation tape in the Tellus series. A founding member of Tellus (and Harverstworks?) he also contributed artwork to issue #4 and, as a composer, appeared several times on various Tellus issues. ‘Media Myth’ is devoted to composers using mass-media quotations and audio-samples, and favoring sound-surgery as a composing method, that is: sampling, collage or concrete music.

The Michael Chockolak track (actually ‘Chocholak’) is a beautiful sampler lullaby using ethnic chant as source material, a bit like a slowed-down version of Roberto Musci & Giovanni Venosta. There’s another beautiful electronic instrumental melody by Californian Minoy, a kind of valse. Several composers like Art Interface, Crawling With Tarts or Pierre Perret [+] choose soothing sounds to achieve their de-construction of our sonic environment, the latter delivering his personal take on concrete music out of field-recordings. Wether concrete music is collage music or social commentary is open to discussion, though. More often than not on this tape, composers will unceremoniously sample from pop songs, famous operas, preachermen, porn material or public announcements (Maurice Methot, A Place To Pray (Rune Brøndbo and Olav Hagen from Germany, see their homepage). I assume the goal is to put everything into perspective, to create ironical conflagrations of nonsensical sound bits – especially in the Silent, But Deadly track, a risqué play on ‘What’s New Pussycat’. The name of the band says it all, I guess. The band included the famous NY dj Special Ed, worth checking out on WFMU. The Nicolas Collins’ sound concatenation is even more cruel, where the needle-like precision samples are so short as to erase any meaning the sound excerpts might have for the listener, and you’re left with pure meaningless aural stimulus – arguably what the composer think of mass media muzzak. Canadian collective Violence And The Sacred use Maoist-era chinese samples to good effect, in a juxtaposition with media idle chatter. Aussies Social Interior achieve similar surreal effects with russian language – the most exhilarating track on Tellus #20. It seems participants consider language as something to de-construct, to reduce to bits, to pulverize anyhow.

On his blog, Joseph Nechvatal posted this article called ‘Towards a Sound Ecstatic Electronica’, written 2000, including theoretical afterthoughts on the two Tellus cassettes he curated. He starts with describing the political and moral context of the Reagan era (1981-89), the so-called ‘reaganomics’. A time of media hysteria and massive information overload where huge amounts of phantasmagorical data are flooding from every possible medium. At the heart of his theory is the assumption that artists politically react to this media overload with ‘anti-social phantasmagoria’, at best ultimately reducing the information to its bare ‘nerve energy’. Nechvatal assume electronic technology can be an antithesis to the controlling technical world. It is thus the electronic composer’s responsibility to be aware of his environment and to make us conscious of its wickedness. We’re talking here about the 1986-88 period, while Reagan was still in charge. This was also the time when Lloyd Dunn’s ‘Photostatic’ magazine (1983-93) was published in Iowa, advocating xerography as a political graphic weapon ; supreme ironist Negativland released their ‘Escape from Noise’ LP in California in 1987 ; John Oswald released his Plunderphonics’ EP in 1988. So this was definitely a time for cultural terrorism in the US. Nechvatal’s writing is infused with french theory. We find echoes from Baudrillard’s excess of signs theory and the copy-replacing-the-original motto. Jacques Attali’s ‘Noise’ (translated in the US in 1985) comes to mind as well, where he considers music as a mere industrial sector but still pop music as a strain of subversion. These ambitious post-structuralist references enhance the impact of the 2 cassettes Joseph Nechvatal curated (Tellus #13 & 20), and I have yet to read a more challenging piece of writing on humble cassette releases.

May I conjecture, though, the 1980s material abundance served to hide the increasing formidable US debt under Reagan. Might one then not ask what the accordingly excessive information overload of the 1980s served to hide? I think this would be a valid question, and the answer might come as an inflatable hollow structure holding nothing but its own lack of substance – this is the Myth from the cassette title, after all, and myths are created by artists. Jacques Attali again: ‘Music runs parallel to human society, is structured like it, and changes when it does.’ The media frenzy opening on total intellectual void, I suspect addressing the media overload is like addressing a mirage. My point is this: the artists on ‘Media Myth’ were more taking part in the media overload than reacting against it. Just because you use a sampler doesn’t make a cultural theorist out of you, at least not much more than the use of a banjo. But admittedly on ‘Media Myth’, unlike the media dumkopfs they vilipended, composers delivered exciting and engaging music.


9 Responses to “Tellus #20 ‘Media Myth’”

  1. 1 Alexéi Luthor March 31, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Thank you SOOOOO much for your TELLUS posts. i had been looking for years for TELLUS 13, which i bought from an ad in Option magazine in the 80s by mail order. No one has ever known what i was talking about when I mention it, and you have so many up here!

  2. 2 vaubu April 1, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Boy, I’m glad I found your blog. It’s my new favourite! I was reminded tonight how much I appreciated your brief stint over at skafunkrastapunk so I travelled over here. I have alot of the tellus series but this one I was missing. I’m loving your cassette rips. They remind me of how I came to appreciate active listening. Keep on keeping on and I will check back in soon. Thank you!

  3. 3 continuo April 1, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Thank you both for your kind comments. Tellus is history in the making and will be taught at school one day.

  4. 4 Joseph Nechvatal April 2, 2008 at 5:07 am

    The specific link to the Towards a Sound Ecstatic Electronica : the Rational Behind Tellus Issues “Power Electronics” and “Media Myth” essay mentioned above is at:

    Joseph Nechvatal

  5. 5 Black Sifichi April 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

    thanks so much for your site and the fantastic archiving of very difficult to find material. Great texts and info. I dove in and have hours of listening to enjoy now. Tellus K7s. When I lived in NYC I was a great fan of this series. It opened my mind when I was young(er) and was looking for something different. Also- I couldn’t make it to Charlemagne Palestine’s concert nor Matmos at GRM – though I did catch Chion, Vejvoda, Niblock and Ratkje on the last night.
    Mister Nechvatal introduced me to your site. Thanks to both of you.

    Black Sifichi

  6. 6 continuo April 2, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks, Black Sifichi. I’m familiar with your late night radio mixes of some years ago on Paris independent radio stations. I’m flattered you made your way to this blog, thanks to the Nechvatal connection.

  7. 7 Black Sifichi April 2, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Continuo it is still going better than ever
    here is the info below .
    also you can download the special Icarus
    here is the link on line for a day or two more.

    Black Sifichi Audiometric
    FM Radio in France broadcast on :

    ‘Aligre FM’ – 93.1 Paris (samedi / Saturday 22:30 – 00:30 heure)

    realplayer on line

    Jet FM – 91.2 FM – Nantes (samedi / Saturday 20h – 22h)

    ‘Eko Des Garrigues’ – 88.5 FM – Montpellier (lundi / Monday 19h – 21h)

    ‘RTF’ – 95.4 FM – Limoges (dimanche / Sunday 22h – Midnight)

  8. 8 otto parts April 3, 2008 at 3:35 am


    thanks for the Tellus posts! I really enjoy them. A favorite of mine was the previous one which included Richard McGuire and the rare Liquid Liquid tracks. I can’t wait to hear this one.

    love your blog. stay cool.

  9. 9 continuo April 3, 2008 at 7:35 am

    You’re welcome, Otto.

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