The Tape-Beatles
Music With Sound




The Tape-Beatles are an audio collage and mash-up band from Iowa City. The band is still recording albums occasionally, but also ventures into the territory of cinema performances and audio seminars. In 1991 the band lineup consisted of Lloyd Dunn, John Heck, Ralph Johnson, Paul Neff and a few appearances of Linda Morgan Brown. When they released Music With Sound in the same year, it became an underground hit, its ripples still being perceptible to this day. A long list of 31 collages, lasting from 11 seconds over 6 minutes has been assembled by the band. The collages are most often tongue-in-cheek, sometimes even mind-blowing and sapient and contain spoken word samples and texts by the band as well as samples of 60‘s Big Band numbers, vintage TV advertisements and weird radiophonic noises.


The album became a benchmark for a variety of electronic Musicians, with Ambient bands like The Orb leading the way and sampling the hell out of Music With Sound in order to use it in albums and live settings. One question remains: what does this have to do with the genre of Exotica? Wouldn‘t it be better if I didn‘t overstate it and stayed true to the genre‘s roots? Sure, but the album still evokes the feeling of Exotica, obscurity and Space-Age lifestyle, if only on a few selected vignettes – and then only as a by-product – with the help of voices and samples. The band didn‘t specifically target the Exotica fanbase, and yet the results are highly interesting, slightly tropical, frequently obscure and could hence please listeners just because of their obscure nature alone. Don‘t expect me to describe all of the album‘s 31 collages; I will rather present the most exotic and vintage ones.


The first track already proves my admittedly farfetched connection of this album to the Exotica genre: Beautiful State starts with deliberate vinyl crackles, a gorgeous loop of a metallic something, possibly a bell or an exotic (there!) instrument. Oscillating strings are added, while one of the band members talks about a tranquilizing experience and quips sentences like »You won‘t feel anything from this point on,« bringing to mind the shedloads of self-help and meditation tapes of the 60‘s and 70‘s. Green, Blue Beautiful Place is next and shares a lot of peculiarities with Beautiful State, that‘s why both tracks merge. A man talks about the beauty of green-blueish water, the atmosphere is soothing, but then jazzy percussion sets in with a guy and a woman talking about spectacular views and happiness. However, they only seem to interact with each other, but were in fact sampled from different sources. The collage ends how the first track Beautiful State started, with the clanging, metallic bell.


Do You Think It‘s An Accident? features another meditational speech about what makes us all different and in what we should believe in to cope with life‘s surprises. All the time, emphatically looped violin melodies are added and stress the importance and depth of the remarks. This track works well on a meta-level, for you cannot take the talking guys seriously, and yet the melody pushes your thoughts into that direction. So what should you believe? The track gives the answer. Or does it? Desire lists the, well, desires of our society while a trilling flute is constantly playing in the background. Far Eastern melodic interludes leave room for thoughts, but afterwards a spacey, theremin-like tone dialing melody is heard and amplifies the urge further. A willfully eerie element is the permanent stress of the term desire, that is spoken in a pressing, creepy voice which is often doubled or tripled; this is the aural representation of our success-oriented society.


I Can't Help You At All; Sorry and I Can‘t Do It feature the same scheme, presenting 60‘s jingles and fanfares next to several situations where people regret the impossibility of helping others, even though there are no excuses. I Can‘t Do It is definitely a funny spoof with a tremendously catchy tune that will remain stuck in your head. A classic!


Another Blue Night is for the Space-Age fans: different samples of vintage saxophones, Jazz orchestrations and piano melodies swirl by – and a short section of Les Baxter‘s Quiet Village song is among them. This is an instrumental, so no voices will distract you from this mash-up. I‘m Waiting is 52 seconds of someone waiting on the phone, tiredly inhaling while a beautiful Far Eastern melody is played. Since the audio quality is deliberately bad and full of static noises, the melody is barely audible, and yet our brains are able to decipher the style and the used instruments of it. Waves Of Waves merges directly with the static noises and contains a chopped-up report full of stereo panning effects about a guy talking about messages, technology, waves and vibrating bodies while an eerie string slowly fades in.


Coma presents a gorgeously relaxing pre-Emergency Room melody with the frightening pulses of hospital machinery and a woman who hopes that the comatose person can hear her. Tracks like these definitely question the real meaning or overarching theme of Music With Sounds. It works on different layers, which I find all the more interesting. Creditwise is the matching foil of Desire: A man asks himself what would happen if he just stopped paying his bills that pile up due to his various desires. A definite solution is not at hand, but the weird Jazz music and clichéd voices of dumb secretaries adds a humorous element to the rather serious topic.


From The Tide Or The Wind features two pumping Jazz tunes that are altered with electronic effects and filters. It is about traveling to the moon as well as it is about water, heat and electricity. There is no golden thread in this song and the topics vary heavily. Scientists Are Working is absolutely beautiful and yet hilarious, as it is a spoof of a 60‘s image campaign for the duties and creative powers of scientists. A Michael Jackson-esque singer sings soothingly about his job. The spoof is perfectly made and really resurrects the TV camapigns of the long-gone decades … and all these collages I just described don‘t even make up one third of the album!


I‘m dead serious: you can learn something from this album! No, nothing of utter importance or eternal perpetualness. But I caught myself scrutinizing over the meaning of each track, whether it‘s a parody, a cynical anecdote, a media-related spoof or just random gibberish mixed together. The album takes you on a journey of hundreds of voice snippets, statements, allegations that are all juxtaposed with advertisement jingles, 60‘s music and truly beautiful strings and moments of reflectiveness and clarity. It‘s this melange of miscellanea that makes this album a masterful entry in the genre of comedic stand-up albums that the Tape-Beatles took to the next level.


Depending on how you interpret Exotica for yourself – is it just the music that‘s important to you, or also the feeling, the lifestyle and the projected thoughts of nostalgia? –, this album will either be an utter affront to you or a nice insight into the trains of thoughts of the 90‘s which reach as far back as to the late 50‘s. What I cannot deny is the album‘s potential of irritation, for 31 audio collages with shedloads of samples, music interludes and jingles cannot be easily digested. The concentration simply wanes after a certain time. This isn‘t the album‘s fault, and while sometimes less is more, the consistent quality of The Tape-Beatles‘ Music With Sound is only beaten by the quantity of tracks. I keep coming back to this album often, as I find it very fascinating and thought-provoking, at times even outright funny, but don‘t expect marimba-laden exotic tunes, classical comedic moments or cogitations of Aristotelian dimensions.


Exotica Review 034: The Tape-Beatles – Music With Sound (1991). Originally published on Feb. 11, 2012 at