Danske båndamatører // Danish Tape Amateurs 1959-1976 (2018)
Every once in awhile, a record comes along and rewrites everything you know – your understanding of history, as much as the make up and source of great art. For the second time in less than a year, The Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology (Institut for Dansk Lydarkæologi) has done just that, first with their incredible reissue of the work of Knud Viktor, Ambiances / Images, and now with Danish Tape Amateurs 1959-1976, so far one of my unquestionable favorite records of 2018.
Avant-garde and experimental sound / music offer complex situations and problems to navigate – character, interpretation, and context alike. Widely conceived (at origin) to break historical hierarchies and structures surrounding the notions of high art, making music and sound more accessible to all – the listener as much as the maker, in so many ways, these ambition seemed to almost immediately fail. The sounds of the avant-garde, at least we’ve told, have almost always appeared to be too difficult and unfamiliar for your average listener to approach and understand, or for the average maker to consider themselves capable enough to make. As is often the case, appearances can be deceiving.
There are heralded success stories – free jazz and more experimental forms of rock, Krautrock and post-rock remaining among the most notable, as well as ambitious sounds conceived to accompany the images of television and film, all found fairly substantial audiences within relatively mass cultural / popular realms, but, for the most part, avant-garde and experimental sound / music have remained insular worlds – fans and creators usually defaulting toward being academic or arty types, record geeks, counter-cultural misfits, or, unfortunately all too often, snobs who wear their relationship to “difficult music” as protectionist badge of intellect and pride. The last of these is among this context’s greatest plagues – the undoing of the spirit in which this realm of creativity was first conceived. All too often we accept that avant-garde and experimental sound and music are not for everyone – accessible and rewarding for everyone – that they are only interesting and enjoyable to the few – we educated and indoctrinated elites.
The notions of elitism and exclusivity within avant-garde and experimental sound and music have deep roots, many tracing back to its great spokesperson and popularizer, John Cage, who championed democracy and freedom in sound, but considered it dangerous if placed in uneducated or unfamiliar / sympathetic / rebellious hands. This, for those who often wonder, is the great difference between indeterminacy and improvisation. Like the schisms displayed between a true democracy and an American Capitalist democracy, it is structured to benefit sympathetic and complicit elites, refusing to offer and activate freedom and access for all. It is a conditional freedom with high walls and rules. It is a freedom very different than the one of which the inventors of avant-garde and experimental sound and music dreamed – a beautiful, collaborative, and open freedom – pure democracy realized through sound, to be placed in the hands of all.
Among the greatest tragedies exhibited by the history of avant-garde and experiential music, arguably relates to tape music and musique concrète – widely credited as having been conceived by Halim El-Dabh, Pierre Schaeffer, and Pierre Henry during the years following the Second World War, shortly after magnetic tape became widely available. This music, taking any possible sound source as material – very often those from everyday life, and executed within a medium and technology which quickly became accessible to almost anyone in the world, was intended to entirely reform the notions of what music could be understood to be – to democratize it, taking it from the hands of trained musicians and composers – sounds known by and available to everyone, organized by tools available and easily operated by all.
Tape music and musique concrète, shortly after their appearances, were quickly adopted by many of the most noted composers of the day, from Messiaen and Boulez, to Stockhausen, Varèse, and Xenakis, giving way to an entire new generation, artists like Luc Ferrari, Bernard Parmegiani, Ivo Malec, Beatriz Ferreyra, and François Bayle, most of whom utilized it to catapult themselves into the compositional world. Like most avant-garde and experiential music, the general public seemed to recoil, relegating, once again, one this contexts greatest innovations – an emblem of its spirit, ambitions, and hopes, to the realms and audiences of so called high-art. At least so we’ve been told – a truth which the release of the astounding LP – Danish Tape Amateurs, issued by The Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology (Institut for Dansk Lydarkæologi), a group of previously unheard recordings – a realm of truly experimental sound, made by everyday people in Denmark between 1959-1976, levels to ground, forcing us to rethink everything we presume to know. It turns out, at least for a moment in Denmark, those lofty dreams did come true.
Danish Tape Amateurs 1959-1976 is nothing short of a sonic and creative marvel which pulls the rug from beneath nearly every standard narrative of 20th century avant-garde music. The story begins in the 1950’s, when reel-to-reel tape recorders became commercially available in Denmark. This new innovation, surprisingly gave way to a widespread phenomenon of tape hobbyists and enthusiasts recording, as well as experimenting with cutting and splicing tape, on their own and together in amateur tape clubs, with some delving toward the realms of sound collages and experimental music, exploring the tape recorder as a musical instrument in itself. What is so remarkable about the recording within, is how accomplished, adventurous, and sophisticated they are. In places, the LP offers what might be considered a series powerful challenges to some of the best experimental composers of the day.
The material which makes up the Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology’s release, are all discrete and individual pieces which were contributions submitted to Danish tape amateur contests. None have ever been released to the public before. They offer an overwhelming and paradigm breaking window into a previously overlooked and long forgotten facet of Danish sound and music history, as well as being a revolution into the entirely of this musics place in the global narrative of experimental and avant-garde approaches – the who, when, and where.
A wild, wonderful array of sounds and structures, drawing on an expansive range of source material, I was completely overjoyed and knocked to the floor by nearly every moment unfolding across the LP. An image of what avant-garde and experimental music should be – democratic, ambitions, and totally challenges to our understanding. Incredible and essential on every count. Hats off to the Institut for Dansk Lydarkæologi once again. Keep them coming!You can check out below, pick it up from SoundOhm, the label’s Bandcamp page, or from a record store near you
Danske båndamatører // Danish Tape Amateurs 1959-1976 (2018)