Bill Talsma started hoarding the black and brown tangles of audiotape he found strewn on sidewalks and snagged in shrubs, but he wasn’t sure what to do with them.
“I thought a lot about the fact that they really look like intestines, like this cassette was disemboweled and left on the street,” says Talsma, an artist who has played in and recorded bands since he was 13. “But I also got into the fact that these are probably the collective worst of what the community listens to. Because people aren’t throwing out their favorite tapes unless they get eaten or damaged. I’ve never witnessed anybody actually discarding a tape. I’m trying to think, ‘Have I ever done that on my own?’ I’m sure I have and I couldn’t even tell you why.”
This urban tinsel is so ubiquitous that it’s practically invisible. Once he began wondering about it, Talsma started seeing it everywhere. In two and half years he collected about a thousand ribbons of varying lengths and conditions. He was fascinated by the idea that their undigested appearance implied that they had been vomited, like so many plates of spoiled linguine.
Curious about what was causing such an epidemic of sonic disgorgement, he cracked open an old boom box and hand-fed some of the tapes through the rollers. The first one was a recording of a preacher delivering an impassioned sermon on the Antichrist, but most of the tapes ran the gamut of pop, Latin, rap, techno, and R & B. “There was a lot of classic rock,” he says.
Last spring Talsma applied for and was awarded 40 hours of studio time at Andersonville’s Experimental Sound Studio through their Artists’ Residency Program. He proposed to create a composition made up of sounds salvaged from the tapes that would be reintroduced or “re-regurgitated” back to the community in the form of a radio broadcast.
Meanwhile, friends had begun to salvage tape for him, but he didn’t want it. “I appreciated the fact that people were also starting to see the stuff and not overlook it, and pick it up and think about what I was doing,” he says. “But I wanted the tapes to come from my own travels and reference one person walking around and seeing these things.”
He selected about 30 arm’s-length snippets of tape at random and began the tedious process of feeding them into his boom box to determine the direction of the tape and the side the sound was recorded on. Then he spliced the pieces together and respooled them on empty cassette cartridges–rejects from his personal collection.
In the studio he played the tapes into a computer, then manipulated the sounds with his sampler, creating discrete movements or musical gestures. He arranged those to segue effortlessly into a 28-minute piece; Detritus: Radio Regurgitation shifts from slow, ominous, eerie-sounding atmospherics to breakneck techno beats and the comic bleating of tubas, and goes out on a melancholy organ. If you listen carefully, at one point you can hear Boy George singing “Time won’t give me time,” but Talsma says he didn’t want anything to sound recognizable–the preacher’s sermon has been so distorted that he sounds something like a dispatcher in a cavernous train station announcing schedules over a jaunty German brass band.
Talsma plans to sell Detritus in record stores–on cassette, of course. He’s also thinking of a way to present the recording and his three boxes of tape in an installation. “I think this could be an ongoing project,” he says. “Just because the stuff is everywhere and I can’t get away from it.”
Detritus: Radio Regurgitation will be broadcast on Something Else, an experimental-music program on WLUW, 88.7 FM, Sunday night at 10 PM and then on War Bride, Monday at midnight on WHPK, 88.5 FM. –Mike Sula
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.