Review of Dear Concerned Employees and Kantoor

Published on No-Wave, written by Andrew O’Keefe

Staaltape’s releases deliberately engineer a personal experience. Handmade packaging, which must be destroyed to be opened, and messages both personal and cryptic, adorn their tapes. Before even putting the tape into the deck, there is a suggestion to savour the moment; be attentive, and be present. In an age of streaming, Staaltape’s presentation attempts to re-teach the value of pricked ears.

The tapes themselves are unique enough to fit the bill. Dear Concerned Employees rises from a murky bog of lo-fi noise, shifting into warped, muzak-style sketches; mutated and muggy pop hits, and some spoken word passages whose words are indefinable.

The tape never takes form, but never feels insubstantial. Instead, it offers a feeling of something bubbling under the surface, a sort of paranoid energy which carries its quieter moments through effortlessly.

The tape’s aim: to calm the nerves of employees of the Duke Energy Building, who found a strange package in late 2018. The package later turned out to be a Journey cassette. While sending a tape to these people might seem arch, the letter accompanying ‘Dear Concerned Employees’ clarifies its intent.

“Not so long ago a tape brought a message of fear…this tape should transmit a message of hope and care.”

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Also released on Staaltape is Kantoor, a tape and accompanying zine. The zine, which draws on an array of contributors is by turns informative, allusory, poetic and humorous. Each contributor to the tape attempts either to explain or complement their section of audio. Some attractive context is added to content which otherwise may require knowledge of a fair few languages.

There is enough content here to carry through even the most staunch single-language listeners, though. We open on a cockerel, and some mysterious bowls and chimes, and this mystery is a throughrun of the tape. Even the speech itself is fascinating to listen to, shrouded in format-fog. And it never seems to run on very long before music interrupts.

The sounds are drawn from a wide pool of sources — some immediately recognisable, some mystical, vague and puzzling. Their incorporation feels invariably natural. We are treated to choirs, solo vocalists, the sounds of vehicles, animals, instruments. All combined to suggest a vast world in constant motion.

Kantoor has that unsettling, ghostly quality that appealed to, and was repurposed by, the likes of Boards of Canada. It even features some eerie analogue synthesiser work. Its sounds have more clarity than those on Dear Concerned Employees, but no less intrigue.

These packages feel delightful, unique and homegrown. The urge to track down all their samples and sources is irresistible. But they stand alone, too, woven lovingly together into coherent, fascinating wholes.

Dear Concerned Employees and Kantoor are available at the staaltape shop

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Sincere Words

A more thematic approach can be found on the compilation ‘Kantoor’, which is the Dutch word for office. I am not sure how that is related to the theme, but the four artists here all work with found tapes and it works out quite differently. When the cassette was first developed, in the early sixties, it was not to
record LPs and in that process kill the music industry, but more for audio letters or recording one’s doodles at the organ and other homely activities. The people of this cassette actively seek out where to get these old tapes (thrift stores, flea markets and on the street and use them for their musical work. Jeroen Diepenmaat, for instance, crafted a great radio-play like piece (all pieces are about twenty-two minutes) of spoken word, music, and conversations taped by accident along with some religious chanting. Some of it is in Dutch; so knowing the language works in one’s advantage. Wassily Bosch concentrates entirely on a bunch of tapes from Russia, so there is some language barrier there and it takes less the format of a collage, fading from one bit to the next, but more a documentary. The excellent booklet tells us the story (for Diepenmaat actually translations!) of all pieces. Ezio Piermanttei does the same with tapes found in Italy, but somehow it seems that most of them are played too fast, which gives it an occasional (yet unintentional?) effect. Ben Roberts is the last one and he has just one long tape, a recording of a conference by a Kreuzberg church from 1974 and we hear the voice of Mr Janani Luwum, the archbishop of Uganda’s Anglican church (under Idi Amin), speaking about immigration and displacement. He was critical of Amin and died in 1977 in a car crash (actually on February 17, the day I’m writing this in 2019 – odd little coincidence). His words about immigration still make sense. This you have to hear for yourself. Three more or less different approaches to the world of found tapes, and four times fascinating stuff to hear. (FdW)

You can order your copy here

K A N T O O R, meanwhile in Deventer

Uitgeverij Petrichor is a small independent publishing house in Deventer, in the east of the Netherlands. K A N T O O R, staaltape’s new series of releases on found tapes and found sounds collectors will be published together with a zine. Petrichor takes care of the zine. Well, they are taking care, right now.

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KANTOOR – Almost there

The first copies of the upcoming release of K A N T O O R, the first in a series dedicated to found sounds and their collectors, are almost ready to be shipped. Destination Deventer, where the independent publishing house Petrichor will attach the tape to the zine.

You might become the proud owner of one of these tapes. The zines will all look the same of course. More on the content of both tape and zine will follow.