RE: [rumori] mystery tapes, complexity, and meaning (was long-winded intro, etc)

From: Ben McAllister (
Date: Mon Mar 17 2003 - 11:08:32 PST

-----Original Message-----
[]On Behalf Of Steev Hise
Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2003 9:06 AM
Subject: Re: [rumori] mystery tapes, complexity, and meaning (was
long-winded intro, etc)

on Wed, 12 Mar 2003 Ben McAllister told me:

>So I've been really digging into the John Oswald Mystery Tapes (which I
>believe I downloaded from Steve Hise's website - thanks VERY much) lately
>and wonder what documentation, if any, came with them.

Steev:the idea with the Mystery Tapes, originally, was that you could
easily get them, but not get information about exactly what was
on them. now the situation is reversed, you can't easily get them
(from Oswald at least), but Oswald has posted lots of information
about them on his site (

on if i remember right i have a scan of the original
art that came with "Kissing Jesus in the Dark". i have other art,
courtesy of wobbly, from other Mystery Tapes that i have yet to
scan and upload, but plan to whenever (or if) i ever get the
Ben: Yeah, I've read his site, and the mystery tapes page mentions a 'final
mystery tapes etc. newsletter'. Is there anything else there I'm missing?
I just want to get an idea of how they were originally 'disseminated'.
Sold? Given to random stragners on public transit? I missed the orignial
scans you had.

>The tapes got me thinkin. I think that with the internet, mass media, and
>collage thinking/creation, you've got new unprecendented complexity in
>structure. For example, there are gestures that feel like
>points in a 'time based collage piece' (sound or video or static visual
>art), given the context of the piece, which can't exist outside the piece.
>Things like political angle, media source, emotional intensity, lack
>can often be gleaned in less than a second by the average viewer/listener,
>which gives a whole new context given the density of the info.

I'm not sure I totally understand your drift, ben, but this is an
interesting subject. I'm always interested in discussions of the
"inherent nature" of collage work.

Certainly I think increasing complexity is at least *easier* to
achieve via collage and other "intertextual" techniques. This is
because by creating a structure out of chunks of things that
already have structure you are creating a structure of
structures, which seems to be inherently more complex than
something made of simple materials.

However you seem to be equating complexity with "density of
meaning", so to speak, which i would say are 2 different things.
one is formal and one is to do with content. and i don't know if
collage works are inherently more "meaningful" or more "packed
with meaning". and increased structural complexity doesn't equal
increased meaning.

Ben: Well, it's maybe difficult to convey without listening/experiencing a
piece and then drawing pictures (for me at least) but I'm working on it.

What you are saying in response is much more succinct - I agree with
increased complexity != increased meaning. I also agree that structure
created out of smaller structures is inherently more complex than a
structure created from simple 'raw' materials. The bit I wanted to add is
that the added bonus of creating structure from smaller structures is that
you get to play off the audience's relationship to the smaller structures.
This relationship is often stronger than the audience's relationship to the
raw materials you may be using.

In many pieces I write, I create 'chunks of raw materials' and then try to
recontextualize them. To do this, I need to create a context for these
chunks and present this context a few times. Only then can I
recontextualize, based on past events. In music, it's a sort of 'theme and
variations'. The audience all sits through the 'theme' and then,
experiencing the same basic context, hears the bits recontextualized in

Edgar Varese was the first composer I've heard of to have explained his
pieces as collections of sound objects moving through space. After
'stating' his sound objects at the opening of a piece, he would change them
to suggest movement, rotation, change in size/shape. They would be
recontextualized, but would be recognizable as related to the initial
'object' or one of it's new relatives. My favorite piece is Integrales if
you are interested. I think it's easiest to hear what I'm talking about in
that piece. If you have access to it, here's a listening tip: listen to the
opening woodwind gesture, and follow it's mutation throughout the piece.

With a collage piece, the context (theme) is already there, and is different
for each audience member.
Take remixes of the recent State of the Union, for example. Everyone these
days has _basically_ the same take on the context of the piece, given
current events, but there are differences: politcal mindset is different,
and your outlook is maybe different if you are from Texas where he was
governor, if your daughter and his daughter are drinking/driving buddies
etc. For a piece based on the State of the Union to work, you didn't
necessarily have to even see the State of the Union - you recognize the evil
voice! The look of CSpan. The inclination towards war. You can play off
the audience's relationship to Bush as a president without the audience
having heard the original speech. The source material (the 'chunks of
things that already have structure') is richer than anything you could have
come up with AND stated within the confines of a single piece. There is an
openness to the base materials that doesn't exist in the closed setting of
pieces like my hypothetical theme and variations piece.

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