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Mediadropping Musings – ch.

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Mediadropping Musings – excerpted from Dropping Out
2006

by Dan Wilson “In these developing times, neologisms and definitions bouncing forth, we change our clothes in the afternoon and panic in the presence of a foreign alphabet. Through diverse channels and calm perseverance, the authorities replace letters with colours. Sniff these hues off the palette and blow them out of your nose into someone else’s” (Paul Westwood, 2005: liner notes to a mediadropping entitled ‘Linguistics Study’) Long gone are the days when music genres would remain in currency for decades and centuries. Styles were continuously overhauled and replaced by slightly different alternatives before these too met obsolescence as new trends superseded them. But the advent of recording technology and mass production has caused to time to speed up – a multitude of genres now pass within the blink of an eye, where in ages yore, one would be lucky to see a couple of stylistic shifts in one’s lifetime; such as the slow transition from the baroque era to classicism, then to romanticism. Mechanised forces of repetition are now fatiguing new musical modes before they are hatched. It is evident that we are headed toward the point of complete stylistic atomization, accompanied by the negation of music retail. Classifying musical modes by likeness of grammars will no longer be feasible so differentiation would consequently bear down on the idiosyncrasies and motivations of the individual composer. We have seen every type of music subsumed by commercial industry, immediately swamping any transcending elements in the music – any antagonistic content is tranquilised in the process. Societal gravity pulls the magic and pervertedness unique to art down into the humdrum of reality. As this is pinned down and duplicated, the osmosis sees its magic otherworldliness seep into the real world where it is devoured. In post-mortem, the devaluation of music is corroborated by the digital filesharing (mp3) phenomenon, where the dead fruits of the music industry are gathered and entombed, to be conveniently re-referred to in spasms of nostalgia. Still, there lies in us a suppressed urge to restore reality transcendence through a kind of nihilistic resensitisation, as we shall see. With the entire history of music ever at our fingertips, the conditions are laid for an entirely new ‘nihilistic’ method of production embracing the ‘singularity’, which contradicts the old passive nihilism of repetition. One

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may carve one’s own sonic reality without adhering to any prefabricated plan, exploiting existing tools and technologies to do so, and even building new tools. I suggest a simple solution: mediadropping. Mediadropping is the random proliferation of self-made music in physical form: on CD, tape or Minidisc. It is determinedly radical, always remaining on the outside thus ensuring it is never diluted and lost in confluence. Contrary to what some people may think – anybody can make a mediadropping, even those who consider themselves ‘uncreative’. Automatic writing can potentially be teased out from anybody, as it is borne of randomness. The stream of consciousness must be tapped into. To obtain entertainment, one would no longer have to purchase it in shops – instead, media could be found under benches, in bushes, sellotaped under tables, etc. Economically, the cost of the blank media would be more or less reciprocated as the give/receive, input/output channels are balanced. Everybody would become a self-contained media industry. At least, that’s the theory – its success depends upon the willingness of the recipient to carry the mantle. Most mediadropping music may initially seem unpleasant on the ear as a repercussion of its hall-of-mirrors momentary dialogue. Decorations such as rhythm, melody or harmony are consigned to the backburner, enabling more challengingly antagonistic elements to take centre stage. Semantic hearing is disrupted by the wilful corruption of codified expressions. What’s more, it can be very cacophonous; the listener may not successfully relate to and understand the music. Free improvisation may play an important role. It could also be truly magical. It all depends on the whim of the mediadropper – no longer held prisoner by convention. Yet true freedom can be disorientating, and this disorientation may indeed manifest itself in the media’s content. Some mediadropping content is ultra-realist, where transcendence is substituted for descendence. Circuit bending is an obvious example of active descendence: a device which is manufactured to buttress transcendental expression is ravaged and illicitly altered to serve the creation of new sounds that perversely undermine the device’s original pretensions. Labels of good art and bad art do not exist in the realms of mediadropping, as its parameters and frameworks are set by the composer, therefore can only be effectively critiqued by the composer. Some mediadropping recipients may find all this wayward awkwardness unpalatable. Such is its hobbledehoy status, the technique may well never make an impact on society. Nevertheless, I will attempt to alert readers to the new possibilities that this new mode could potentially offer.

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If we are to view technological progress as an ongoing strategy to develop universal prostheses able to render every physical interaction with the world as instant and effortless as possible, then in theory our leisure time is slowly increasing in tandem with this evolution. Indeed, as a direct result, most of us on average have more leisure time than in any previous generation. But has this mechanisation freed us from work or imprisoned us in our bubbles of lethargy? The forces that propel mechanisation and technology to spread are the requirements of replication and mass production, which needless to say, neuter joie-de-vivre through their stifling desensitisation; regarding craftsmanship and novelty as glitches to be rectified. This is not to say that there is any immediately obvious alternative to mass production. On the whole, consumers prefer their spades, CD players and kettles to be exact duplicates crafted identically, but do people not also feel a small prang of delight when reading the unique serial numbers of their purchases? I’ve met people whose sole pleasure in life is reading the serial numbers off the back of their appliances, and it makes them feel special as the numbers are the only indicator that their own utilities are different from anybody else’s. On one hand, participators in the ritual of retail consumption are privy to a peace of mind and sense of community that comes with being part of a wider consumer base. The uniformity afforded by the ownership of a commercial commodity engulfs the individual; users of iPods have come to be known as iPodders. On the other hand, there are many complex tensions which arise from having one’s identity masked in this way and these tensions often manifest as ticks: violations upon the product to inflict unique alterations: efforts to reintroduce individual distinctions. The more widely produced an object is, the greater the urge for it to be individuated or resensitised by the individual. So, in an age of repetition those of us who yearn for interestingness try to personalise as much as possible, frantically affixing coloured magnets to our refrigerators; a ritual that has even spawned its own industry: the fridge-magnet industry. Naturally, no sooner has capital opportunistically plumbed its valves onto the economic apparatus of fridge magnet wholesale and standardised their manufacture, we will see the fridge magnets themselves being repersonalised and amended by jittery consumers giving rise to the possible opening of a new market in ‘fridge-magnet-magnets’. The notion of the ‘fridge-magnet-magnet’ (a magnet for fridge magnets) would appeal to the entrepreneurial capital-geared minds so quick off the mark to pounce on new money-making opportunities, but further down the line will inevitably see the materialization of ‘fridge-magnet-magnet-magnets’: new magnets to personalise the fridge-magnet-magnets that attach to the fridge-magnets on the fridge. And so the splintering process of outmanoeuvring entropy continues until atomization is reached. A more

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appropriate solution for end users twitching to resensitise their fridges would be to sidestep these newfangled appendages with all their associated constraints, and instead revert to existing alternatives already in possession; one simple alternative can offer hitherto unimagined freedoms of freeform artistic expression: namely, the dry-wipe marker pen. Or a sharp stone. Evidence of order through replication is obviously not simply seen only in the physical world: in industry or in the layouts of suburbs and office buildings, etc., but it is also apparent in non-tactile forms such as music or in the media infrastructure. Television shows, for instance, are categorised into discrete genres; soap, drama, reality, documentary, and sub-categorised by the age-range of the intended viewing demographic, whilst the viewing figures determine whether a certain show should be axed or not. The formulae of successful shows are replicated until they lose all worth. All of the above is fairly obvious stuff, but I hope it has served to create a worthy argument to encourage mediadropping. In the industrialised world we are bombarded by repetition wherever we turn. However, wherever there is order, there are pastures ripe for subversion. The technology we have, coupled with the accompanying leisure time, can be used for the purposes of creation to disrupt order, rather than colluding with order and consuming its grey fruits in dismal atrophy. Rather than resensitising through making underdeveloped tactile readjustments upon purchased items in privacy, we could funnel our urges to make amendments against order into new larger art forms: new tangible self-made stand-alone anti-products injected back into the channels of commerce. Various self-made media can – and should – be left around shopping precincts for random people to find. Of course, it would be possible to make this mediadropping act a targeted response to the impermeableness of retail and form an ideological mission that foresees a future where mass marketing is ineffectual against fully fragmented self-aware consumer bases. A simple entertaining idea… but could the content of such illicit artdroppings ever become more than just the whimsical ego-trips of a restless minority? Could the unsolicited droppings really become a worthwhile substitute for commercial media products? I certainly hope so! We are led to believe by some that there is stark divide between the listener and the creator. Creative energies seem to be curtailed by the established media who often tar an individual’s creative fruits with the brush of “low art”. Mediadropping is belittled by means of passive vilification – sombre news reports of unattended weird articles among

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other things causing security alerts discredit the mode. Surely to suppress the creative energies of swathes of the population, sentiments and ideological fingerprints are also suppressed along with their accompanying insight? Mediadropping invariably operates under this imposed atmosphere of shame, and I find that the dreams of mediadropping remain most tightly repressed in the presence of unenlightened strangers who frequently mistake the practice for creative diarrhoea caused by a weird rotten diet. The act is customarily discountenanced too by authoritative figures: employers, parents and the police among others, most likely due to the practice representing an abject disengagement of one’s own potential productivity, whilst also generating uncensored distractions for others. During a telephone correspondence I had with shop worker and part-time sonic-doodler Andrew Hayes, I asked him if he’d ever been compelled to exploit his position on the shop floor to leave self-made mediadroppings amongst the products. Whilst he displayed the impulse to make instore interventions in this way, he was loath to actually record any mediadropping music himself on the basis that he had no idea what to say, and that if it were to be traced back to him, he would “feel like a bit of a prick”. His response uncovers a paradox; when presented with an ideal outlet to exercise true creative freedom, the creation process itself becomes stifled by self-consciousness which stems from the very culture it seeks to discredit. Under such a climate it seems appropriate for me to coin the neologism ‘musebashing’ to refer to the creative repression. Even if inspiration is fructified, it is squashed immediately by secrecy. Pablo Picasso was famously quoted as saying “every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain one when he grows up”. With a little determination however, the (perceived) rain of discouragement can be kept at bay under a sturdy umbrella, although the shame may persist. The artist simply discarding work, leaving it to the ravages of urban (or suburban) bustle, is an act of true self-degradation – the denial of one’s productive worth; offering oneself as a sacrificial gimp to be pinioned and ‘used’ in a foreign bedroom, unpaid for his labour (yet taking secret delight in the situation). Additionally, the mediadropper’s work can often display reactionary caustic elements such as barbed deviancy, oppositional waywardness or parody, and these injurious swipes are directed back toward the established customs and societal frameworks that enmesh it – through the listener. Here, mediadropping becomes an agent of catharsis. Here more than ever, music manifests itself as being either a gift, or a subtractive action that can take something from oneself, hence this mediadropping response: “wow, that music really sucks”, i.e. it has suckled. The ‘harm’ exchange is emotio-ideological. This sadomasochistic interplay is a source of discomfiture, especially as it is

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enacted within earshot/eyeshot of the modern religion that is consumerism: it could be said that to perform the act of mediadropping in its chapels is the gravest sacrilege. Its ardent followers are everywhere; patrolling sandwich bars, hooked up to listening stations in record stores, roaring down high streets in stylish cars, or sitting at computers perpetuating the commercial media’s hatred of divergence rigmarole (borne of both media’s fear of losing grip on consumer bases and their need to create new trends through engendering similitude) by way of leaving demoralising ‘hater’ comments to strangers online. Bearing all this in mind, all shame must be nonchalantly accepted, before being defiantly cast onto the boiler in order for the creative energies to gain momentum; steamrollering over all formality’s obstacles. Besides, it is worthwhile to bear in mind that a sympathetic audience does exist, and even if one doesn’t exist in some grim locality, it can easily be created, for interestingness is the spice of life! People generally revel in the novelty of making unexpected discoveries, all the more so in this age of immaculate spaces and litter fines, where artful ‘deployments’ are elusive indeed. Finding useful or interesting things is rather romantic as it harks back to earlier times when objects were given more significance (items were less throwaway and more reimplementable), when our environments were richer and altogether more cluttered. I assert that there lies in all of us the latent urge to re-establish our oneness with austere urban environments through interaction with objects and people in places (as vague as that may sound). This indirect ‘trade’ of mediadroppings is one way to realise this urge. Whilst finding things is exciting; the idea of immersing oneself into another’s world uncensored initially seems forbidding! Indeed, the freedoms offered by this mode of distribution may tempt us as creators to bypass traditional obligations to self-censor our ideas – more pertinently, the recipient automatically understands too that the guerrilla proliferator has free reign outside the machinery of retail: which is why finding media outside of commerce exudes these uncertainties. What is the worst that could happen in audio experiences? The acousmatic nature of recorded sound ensures the potential explicitness of mediadroppings is curbed, and the accompanying ambiguities lend a correlational mist thus protecting the senses. Claiming a deployed mediadropping is an act of submitting oneself to the unknown – a leap of faith. Nevertheless, listening is too daunting for some, as this response shows: “Hi You left a tape on a Northern Line Train today. If you want it, let me have an address to mail it to and I’ll send it. John”

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It’s safe to say that almost anybody’s interest (bar the most busiest of businesspeople) would be piqued at the prospect of finding lost objects in public places. Bookcrossing has become very popular: it is the act of leaving books in public with the dropper’s contact information stated on it. There is an established bookcrossing community online at where bookcrossers arrange to drop, pick up books and leave messages in forums. Although creatively bookcrossing is redundant (unless one is dropping books written by oneself) because it is simply reseeding material that has already been published in some form; material that has been endorsed by an overseer and received its official stamp of approval. Bookcrossing’s aim is to be applauded: to restore the human element of media distribution, but it could go so much further. One must compose new original material to truly connect with the audience, in this way taking full advantage of the mediadropping mode of distribution which bypasses the filtering elements that are the board of censors, distributors, publishers and administrators. By comparison, the electronic high density medias are still in their infancy and have yet to enjoy widespread recognition as ‘crossing’ apparatuses. These types of media are perceived as rather dubious. ‘High density media’ potentiality plays host to manifold abstractions and imageries. To clarify the definition slightly; ‘high density media’ includes any format that can store a wealth of information which belies its physical size, such as CDs, cassettes, minidisks or videos. Whilst interest is aroused at the prospect of discovery, the reality of actually taking the media home and playing it in one’s hi-fi is another matter. Having overcome the psychological battle in claiming lost media, it takes yet more bravery to physically place a rogue mediadropping inside a valued piece of personal equipment, as this response from ‘Chuck’ demonstrates: “I have to admit I cheated on one bit. I didn’t put the CD in my player. I used the one on my office PC. Half hoping it would fuck up the system. I found it in a bus, jammed behind the seat. It took me a while to get the thing out of there. Chuck” Recordable CDs (CD-Rs) are often seen as originating from home computers as copies of data. By a primitive game of word association the psychological aversion to homemade media looks clearer: CD-R: copy: bootleg: counterfeit: illegal: murder. Perhaps that is going a little too far(!), but there is certainly a paranoia instilled through technophobia and fear of the unknown. Electronic forms of media are encoded, the content

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is not physically perceivable. CDs, whilst being a non-contact media (a laser reads the audio) where any physical irregularity can be clearly seen, they also have computer connotations bringing viruses to mind. Audio cassettes on the other hand cannot electronically alter the configuration of a tape player, they do not carry machine data, but it is a contact media – the tape head kisses the polymer, and this is also housed in a case; a Pandora’s box potentially hiding threats. Irrational fears aside, there is still a lot of affection for tapes, and there’s a retro fetish aspect which people tend to relish. Meanwhile CDs are cheap and seem more throwaway, they conjure to mind mass market homogeny. With cassettes there’s the definite sense that somebody lovingly recorded it in realtime (or double-speed if hi-speed dubbing is used) and creates a more intimate listening situation. “I found one of your tapes on the Northern Line about a month ago and have finally finished listening to it. There are a few jems on there but a lot of it is pretty self indulgent: But then that is precisely what art is about: I loved the idea of tape dropping, and its been so long since I listened to a tape, and it brought back a load of memories of making compilation tapes for girls and hours in front of my really cool twin-deck ghetto-blaster. Traipsing around the highstreet with that and a square of vynil to breakdance on, and those crappy nike rain jackets with the hood to do head spins with. Tape dropping is such a powerful idea, you should tap into it and create the media for the medium. Andy P.S. Burning CD’s is soooo 90’s” There emerges the opportunity to actively select places where we think our mediadroppings may be greeted with positive reactions. Tangentially, we can strive to engineer a particular type of listening scenario by targeting specific places and buildings hosting agglomerations of similarly minded people (ie. a bank, laundrette, etc). This is where the concept of targeted mediadropping can be experimented with. Some institutions are more worthy of a mediadropping than others. The established institution that is the ‘artworld’ has its own set of customs to which mediadropping cannot officially cohere, yet may be welcomed by individuals working within that sphere. Works must be pinioned, bracketed, mounted and presented in certain ways that mediate the viewer-abstraction process: a framework at odds with the undefined bacterial conveyance of mediadropping. Dropping media undercuts the

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all-important classification process that firebrands art as being legitimate. In the emplacement of this bureaucracy sieve the more coarsely factured artworks are denied inauguration and it then becomes a struggle for the would-be artist to refine his/her work in accordance with the grade required for appropriation, simultaneously imposing entropy through every artefact being fashioned in competitive aspiration of the same mutual objectives. Every now and then true outsider art is hypocritically appropriated but only to be converted to insider art where competition operates. Under the thrall of a central governing body, art becomes dull and stale as the bureaucracy machine invariably inflicts a universal flatlining; the zombification of free expression and the accompanying abhorrence to glitches in the system. This can be seen in the bureaucracy of big business too: (from personal observations) departments in high-tech companies are often predisposed to ignore hand-written letters, let alone to scrutinise the logic-neutrality levels of the language – hence dumbly, jocular and coarsely worded enquiries are also binned without even endorsing the sender with an automated reply. Wanting to know a simple thing becomes a struggle because the enquiry must accord to the standard formal pathos-neutral sensibilities. This is subverted to hysterical effect in Robert Popper’s popular book ‘The Timewaster Letters’ in which he adopts a pseudonym and hectors companies, political parties, institutions, magazines and archbishops by post in a characteristically naïve, affected aspirational pseudo-formality until correspondence is severed by the organisation (usually when the absurdity threshold is breached). In the shadow of such a system, potential artisans are dissuaded from embarking on any creative ventures because the struggle to appease higher forces would outweigh the possible benefits: people tend to choose paths of least resistance. In mediadropping however, the whole aspirational/competitive dualism may be ignored or utterly rejected – success needn’t be measured by popularity or social standing, but by the degree of the feeling of oneness with the universe resulting from a mediadropping. People undoubtedly possess the technology to record anything they want – a world of sounds await them, but they have been conditioned to believe that anything they create must be crafted in aspiration of a prevailing trend before submitting to higher forces above atop skyscrapers rather than directly sideways; to the neighbours, to co-workers, to people you sit next to on busses, to the milkmen, to the fat lady in the cake shop, to double-glazing salepeople, to the local county council, to the highway maintenance engineers, or the local bowls club. “On Wednesday 22nd August a cassette was posted to ourbox which seems to bear no relation to our

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establishment. It was of distressing character, and we have no interest in this. If you wish to apply for conditional membership, please submit your name,address and telephone number in an envelope clearly marked for Denny Cartwright. I am not Denny Cartwright, I am Reg Chambers. Thank you. Stortbowls/Havenfields” Elsewhere, another response to a targeted mediadropping toward a local youth club shows that recipients can get very riled. “William Pearson here Re: your tape. I assume this is supposed to be funny? Does it come as any surprise that my partner and I were shaken? Well done. You have had your fun. Listening to the sound of your voice you are presumably a grown man. Why don’t you just grow up and get a job. My wife and I have run this social club for thirty years and together we have endured drunken abuse and all sorts of high jinks including excreta through our letterbox/ but neverbefore have we heard such childi calculated crap as your audio tape. Yes we were investigated which you refer to but we were acquitted. We have been completely absolved of any responsibility for the indecent assaults on our premises. This more a problem with general attitudes in these modern times and heathen natures. If people like you were out doing something PRODUCTIVE rather than rattling the cages of innocents we would not be in such a sorry state. Honestly.” The tape submitted to “William Pearson” was rather a tame targeted tapedropping affair of elastic bands and close miked vocals, although an ‘incident’ was referred to in passing: the local newspaper had reported an alleged indecent assault in which the proprietor stood watching and did not summon the police. This had been appropriated and used as lyrical material. Incidentally, the word ‘childi’ is most likely not a neologism, it may be the start of the word ‘childish’. Inevitably, there comes a moment in the life of any given human brain when the buzz of paranoia sets the neurones aquiver. For a few minutes, the mind may be wracked with crackpotty questions (that should always be kept to oneself!): “are we being controlled by a higher force?”, “are there aliens or robots living among us?”, “if so, do they guide our mortal lives along a pre-defined thread?”. Moments of existential

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dysphoria are not surprising given that we live in an industrial society so infused with order and repetition where, meanwhile, our qualms are gently deflated by a steady diet of escapist imageries; distorted mirrorings of reality dressed up as fact. These questions rooted in iffy wobbliness give us excuses to make gestures towards the community whereby we can gauge the humanness of the repercussions, and perhaps follow up the results with yet more prodding. If one questions a roomful of people whether anybody present is a robot, without fail, a few people will always go very quiet and nervous. It is clear that some questions are simply not supposed to be voiced. Such questions which yield muted answers disintegrate loudly in mid-air, creating splendid vacuums of melodrama, gagged histrionics, awkward reassessment and introspection which can be drawn upon to form the syntax of many a skewed mediadropping. People are so inured to having published peripheral renderings of reality override their own wits that this can be played upon through either colluding with this artificial-reality propagation thereby aggravating existential dysphoria toward the absurd (e.g. a mocked-up audio recording that claims to document an alien autopsy: emphasis on special effects, drills and slowed down cat meowing), or reactionarily, a bombardment of burlesque deconstructions upon so-called “reality extending” media traditions by showcasing uncommonly unadulterated super-realist themes to reinstate sober acknowledgement of authentic-mundane (e.g. smacking a sock on a biscuit tin, elastic bands stretched over baking trays, lyrical accounts of embarrassing incidents: misunderstandings, pratfalls and wet farts). It is important to note that mediadroppings I have deployed that display super-realist tendencies yield the most congratulatory responses, presumably due to their directness, but perhaps also due to the content aping popular music tendencies of appropriating the banal. Of course, in the instance of mediadropping, the emphasis on the mundane need not be limited by the falsities of such obligations to fuse it to the lovely. Moreover, super-realism may be pushed to the extreme. Whilst depicting the ‘perceived’ truths of the authentic-mundane is wholly a subjective creative process on the part of the individual mediadropper, one thing is certain: that the resultant mediadropping, annulled of any lovely illusory pelt, will inhabit a newfound plausibility potentially inspiring certain degrees of fear, suspicion or uncomfortability in the recipient largely accustomed to safe media-approved material. Negative receptions are symptomatic of every new musical form that tries to uproot the ostentatiousness it precedes, to substitute it for a purer realism. Blues, grunge, grime, illbient and punk are all genres that pursue explicitly realist outlooks, yet whose titles bear negative associations. Most notably, punk, originally a word meaning either ‘fungus’ or ‘strumpet’, and blues are both styles that have been commandeered by industry to be industrially

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reproduced, thus they have undergone extensive recuperation to the extent that the words ‘punk’ and ‘blues’ have lost their negative connotations entirely. Subsequently, in their present state they are no longer truly realist, but merry simulacra of their former selves. Negative auras surrounding dropped media can be alleviated somewhat at the first hurdle by tailoring the DIY packaging to inform, orientate and prepare the recipient, although in most cases it is desirable to ignore this ‘guilt’ and retain the mysteriousness; leaving the media unmarked (with the exception of an email address to harvest possible responses). Since the product is not being sold, the artist has no responsibility to hook and flirt with the recipient to romance them to buy more. It is a one-off experience unique to that momentary collision between the proliferator and the recipient. On the other hand, packaging is an important factor to consider as it broadly affects the perception of the music therein. It is profoundly jarring to chance upon lost media detached from barcoded retail, devoid of classificatory labels, stripped of all glossy promotional appurtenances, simplified signs and seals of officialdom. Such legitimising accessories serve to conciliate and refine our expectations of a product’s content by narrowing the range of specifics that can be abstracted from it, ultimately guiding our purchases. With the absence of these glitzy indicators to invoke pre-emptory conjecture as to what kind of sounds or sentiments media artefact offers, the doors of possibility are flung wide open. The prospect of listening to an unmarked found recording becomes a truly exhilarating prospect; a journey into the unknown. What’s more, through the opening of the listener’s ears in these curious circumstances, I assert that the mind is more vulnerable, malleable and perceptive to the gestures contained therein as the task of judging the content falls to the listener. When walking outside I had often observed streams of cassette tape strewn about, evidence of sacrificial disembowellings; lengths of tape blowing in the wind, trailing along the gutter, looped around lampposts or tangled in bushes, and I felt frustrated not knowing what these tapes contained. Was it Pavarotti I glimpsed nestled around a drain? Is that Ella Fitzgerald draped over a junction box? What kind of sound recording can possibly be deemed so charmless, so devoid of meaning, that it is not enough to simply discard the tape, but its material construct warrants absolute reimplementation as a frivolous ‘party streamer’? Sacrificed in the name of fun. On the basis of these observations it can be assumed that music is headed toward a point of total bankruptcy; it has evidently become ineffectual as a means of enlightenment, to certain individuals at least. Disowned media appearing on the streets (CDs and somewhat less commonly; cassettes) as fragmented litterings seem to be ever more commonplace, and of course this is logical as the industry

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continuously generates more and more material: our wares will overflow at some point with our most worthless items being the first to spill. It is also fair to say that an article loses its value exponentially with the number of times it is reproduced. Therefore it can be surmised that a found media, presumably disposed of due to its perceived non-value and associated meaninglessness, would simply take the form of a unit belonging to a very sizeable batch of existing duplicates; i.e. popular music; music rendered inauthentic by its over-duplication. I decided to build a hand-held device that could skim over discarded ‘streamed’ cassette tape and read the audio, in order to ascertain whether this assumption was correct and if the content was interesting enough to merit reclaiming. Inside the casing of an old pricing gun (the kind used in small shops to label prices on goods) I incorporated part of a dictation machine and fitted a headphone socket. By winding the end of some loose tape around the gun’s spindle it enabled the user to automatically respool the tape into an empty ‘host’ cassette body by pressing the trigger whilst monitoring the contents simultaneously (with the possibility of switching between side A or B of the tape). Countless days were spent with this device suckling on discarded tape by roadsides and hedgerows, listening intently through the headphones at the tapes’ secrets. I had anticipated that most salvaged tape would consist primarily of beat-driven electronic music so beloved by modern youngsters, since the very act of dismembering or ‘streaming’ the cassette with such blithe insouciance suggests the work of lively youth (possibly enjoying their first car: experimenting with the novelty of vehicular motion by unravelling the tape out the window during transit). However, the results were startlingly diverse. A few tapes of unidentified classical music were found along with a spoken recording which appeared to be a Conservative party propaganda tape. A recording of a pirate radio station, some Bollywood themes and various compilations of mainstream popular music were also found. Despite this diversity of genres, their over-familiar resonances reeked of chartbound massproduced homogeny confirming the aforementioned theory: that found medias will invariably just be spillages (spilt pop) caused by market saturation through over-duplication and consequential devaluation. However, something seemed different about these recordings – obviously they displayed degraded sound quality having been left outside to rot, but there was something else. Something altogether harder to pin down. The fact that these recordings had been completely removed from their original contexts, their host bodies and packagings lent them exciting, ominous, enthralling and even spine-chilling aspects. For instance, one of the orchestral tapes seemed particularly poignant, as I had subconsciously allowed myself to be acutely aware of the intervals between notes, the

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tonal shifts and the timbre. The tune was unknown to me. These enhanced listening scenarios are only made possible through the unfamiliarity of the material and also the absence of any supplementary information or packaging, so consequently the task of judging the mood, tone and intention behind it rests solely on the listener. The disembodiment of this resurrected acousmata and the accompanying sense of triumph at unearthing forgotten artefacts seemed to vastly intensify the listening experience, affecting me on a much deeper level than if I had purchased the pre-packaged cassette commercially. It became apparent that I was virtually hearing the recordings as they were originally intended to be heard. Ghosted meanings were now discernible in the music, meanings that had previously been wholly obscured and suffocated by wrappings applied during mass reproduction. Perhaps part of this new listening state is due to the fact that one would always expect the very worst from scavenged music rubbished so bluntly, and this pessimistic attitude would always reap pleasant surprises. The fact remains that the perception of the audio is greatly transformed in this revitalised acousmatic listening scenario. The Bollywood themes proved to be gloriously entertaining, the classical music stirred me, the gangsta rap seemed that much more intimidating, the upbeat garage music imparted a great sense of urgency and I even found myself concentrating avidly on what the Conservative party propaganda tape had to say for itself. However, whereas the aforementioned disembodied ‘Lazarus’ tapes displayed renewed entertainment faculties it seemed also that the resensitivising clout of the decontextualised content could potentially make the listener feel very ill at ease indeed. Take for example one rotted portion of tape rescued from a bush. This tape contained Hi-NRG music that in its natural contextual habitat, should theoretically incite happiness and act as a superb channeller of energy, hence the name. Yet the sound content was so hideously garbled that it took on a whole new aura, one of menace and uncertainty. Its transcending faculties, moreover, its efforts to transcend had been utterly thwarted through the destructive actions of natural weathering. Subdued, Burlesque and Wayward At the risk of tyrannising the mode of distribution, I have identified three strains of mediadropping music which all exhibit correlational sonic ambiguity to some degree. This genrefication does not serve to group sonically similar types by any means – this, I believe, is impossible. Each mediadropper will have a unique individual sonic fingerprint, but even that may undergo further metamorphosis as motivation shifts depending on

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the mediadropper’s target. The three strains of tapedropping fodder are specifically derived from the intention behind the mediadropping, these are namely: subdued, wayward and burlesque. Actual substance of a mediadropping can adopt any form, whether pretentious or naked, fantastical or ultra-realist, abstract or concrete definite, regardless of its purpose. Subdued is the friendliest type, displaying self-discipline and doesn’t tend to deviate too far from decipherability. Burlesque takes the form of tongue-in-cheek piss-takery, but not necessarily foolish, it includes radical overhaulings, wild juxtapositions, improvisations and rerenderings of prevailing musical templates. Wayward, meanwhile, could be seen as the most cruellest, employing deception (sonically or thematically), chaos, horror or extreme cacophony. Random mediadroppings usually fall somewhere between burlesque and wayward insofar as they will exhibit burlesque proddings, capped with a waywardness that teases the enquiring nature of the recipient. Subdued The subdued type of mediadropping music is the most innocent and unambiguous: it tries to appease its recipient, albeit subtly, through bombardment of familiarities. Frequently, it unintentionally entertains if certain figments are recognised by the listener. Subdued can encompass the plunderphonic style – a style incorporating snatches taken from commercial music. It operates mainly on tame acousmatic correlational trickery and sonic ambiguities. There isn’t much room for thematic ambiguities – such a quality would push it closer toward the burlesque. The subdued style sees that the listener is orientated fairly comfortably. Its oppositional nature is clearly signposted and so the attempts to subvert are understood and recognised. By harmoniously dropping the media in places relevant to the content, any responses are generally warm and positive: “good work on the cd my friend! makes the velvet underground sound like brian adams” [response from a subdued mediadropping dropping in a record store] This low-grade easily digestible form of subversion is easily compatible with the artworld. In April 2005, a man named Justin Wiggan was awarded the first “Barry Anderson Bursary” (affiliated with the Sonic Arts Network). Wiggan’s project proposal involved a “walk to Leicester city museum from his house in Birmingham, documenting sound

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in certain locations and leaving cassettes along the way. He describes it as audio graffiti, which is then photographed and documented. Inside the envelope with the cassette is a card questioning the finder and an address where the tape can be sent”1. The questionnaire is a typical appeasing device used mainly in the subdued mode. It is also worth noting that even graffiti has its disciplines. Burlesque Burlesque mediadroppings are quite bemusing for the unsuspecting recipients. This is where mediadropping becomes a creative playground. Here, attention to production is not so concentrated – and to some snooty clients the noise may seem beneath contempt. “In these developing times, neologisms and definitions bouncing forth, we change our clothes in the afternoon and panic in the presence of a foreign alphabet. Through diverse channels and calm perseverance, the authorities replace letters with colours. Sniff these hues off the palette and blow them out of your nose into someone else’s” (Paul Westwood, liner notes to a mediadropping entitled ‘Linguistics Study’) In 2005, a London-based mediadropper enigmatically known as ‘Westwyrd the Bard’ (aka Paul Westwood) recorded a CD-dropping using only a homemade cracklebox (a kind of malformed amplifier circuit destabilised to make it responsive to human touch – originally developed by Michel Waisvisz), a found length of scrap metal and, most importantly, a found book of lyrics. The use-value of found objects is typically well observed in mediadropping, and efforts are often made to revitalise their exchange-value. The book of lyrics seemed to belong to a frontwoman (named “Gypsy”) of an unknown rock band called Scantily Clad. ‘Westwyrd the Bard’ realised the content of the lost lyric book in ways that would seem unimaginable to its writer, as he improvised, intoning every syrupy lyric in a rather gentle hushed voice over a disorderly backdrop of spasmic clanging metal and the non-melodic non-percussive electro-organic squelches of the cracklebox whose timbre sometimes becomes altered by the application of mouth on speaker. In a correspondence I received from the artist himself, he explained “I thought I should sing (or speak) the entire contents of the book (split up into sections)… songs in progress, notes left for flatmates, a pop music essay written in Italian etc. I then recorded instrumental backing tracks using the electronic gadget and by banging the scrap metal”. The resulting

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morass of tuneless ditties were consigned to CD-Rs labelled ‘Scantily Clad’ and mediadropped in haunts favoured by the indie-rock ilk, and also posted to gig promoters. Asked about his main pseudonym, he says: “Westwyrd The Bard is a name of faux-Celtic ridiculousness to point out the historical thread of improvisation in the folk genre (submerged by U.S. singer-songwriters and alt-folk)”. His ‘Scantily Clad’ rerendering typifies the burlesque style especially in its use of mirroring popular trends, subverting them whilst also incorporating improvisation. That is, an improvisation which is driven more by an autistic randomness governed by the nervous system rather than cranial gestures of hard intention and aspiration. The cracklebox brings this uncontrollable biological spasticity to the fore. An interesting detail about the origin of the cracklebox reveals that the device itself was born of a conscious motivation to introduce agitations, to play and tamper with the apparatus of prescribed popular entertainment: in Nic Collins’ book Handmade Electronic Music it is stated that the idea for the cracklebox stemmed from Michel Waisvisz’s out-of-body experience after he tried to ‘play’ the innards of his father’s radio by placing his hands on its 240 volt-powered circuits. Burlesque mediadroppings initiate affected feedback loops between culture and the character, and tackles culture’s suppression of certain aspects of the character by reversing the process: making alterations to the ‘character’ of culture. A most blatant example of this feedbacking technique can be seen in a supermarket-based interventionist work called “Framed Art” by American artist Michael Durham (otherwise known as Packard Jennings). In “Framed Art” an image of the Walmart framed art display was framed, packaged and placed covertly back into the store’s ‘framed art’ display stand. In another project Durham employed targeted mediadropping, producing a batch of CDs entitled “From Waterfall to Shopping Mall: The Sounds of American Progress”, and these contained interpretations of musak “interspersed with advertising jargon to simulate the experience of chain-retail shopping”2. Lowering the listener’s guard is an important device of the burlesque mode. This mode opens the door to unashamedly lyrical or vocal content too. As a rather tenuous example; one would reject a typically pseudosublimated line such as David Bowie’s “I wish I could swim like the dolphins” and favour an antagonistically untranscendent, realist unsublimated replacement which could read: “I slipped and nearly fell into the canal yesterday evening”. Realism can be exploited too, in many ways – for instance, self-made acoustic instruments can be used, whose tunings need not yield to tradition (equal temperament) or science (harmonic series) but more to convenience and the physical practicalities of the instrument’s material construct.

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Wayward The wayward mediadroppings wallow in a bastardised alienation. Their content possesses latent malign and benign qualities that can often be puzzling or disturbing for the recipient. Sometimes the wayward ambiguity is extreme, taboos may be tackled and the theme may be knowingly ‘in the wrong’ to generate panicky listening situations. But the term can also encompass non-malicious hyper-eccentric character driven scenarios where an impenetrable cacophony is produced. Overall, the wayward droppings tend to be formulated as convulsive responses toward existing alienations inherent in mass culture. Perhaps the most edifying aspect of wayward mediadropping is its hoax-like quality. The correlational acousmatic scenario itself is a trickery, coercing recipients to ‘create’ the final impression themselves. In fact, hoaxing plays such a substantial part in the wayward mode that it is questionable whether any solid ‘art’ remains at all, as most of the presented ideas will be far from fully formed or simply too distorted to ascertain definite meaning, handing the burden to the client whose perception gives them colour. In many ways the wayward mode is the art of constructing riddles. In theory, this mode is vulnerable in succumbing to a “reduced listening” audio freakshow situation – that is; crazed sounds for the sake of crazed sound, but the fact alone that it is conveyed from a mediadropped source is an incentive enough for the listener to force meaning out from the sounds through wilful expansive listening. If the recipient has succeeded in picking up the media and playing it, he will without doubt actively seek meaning (and ultimately closure), even if there is none. In April 2006, an artist named Monica Saieva deposited unsolicited artworks around London, in the proximity of various Tube stations. The works included cardboard boxes with cuddly toys inside, shoes with nails attached (resembling nailbombs) and a funereal altar made of polystyrene and cardboard. These items caused widespread alarm, but her works were marked by a doomed effort to allay and transcend the inevitable alarm. On the altar piece, Saieva had rested flowers along with a note which mourned the loss of Pelagius. It contained the message: “your absence has gone through us like thread through a needle. Everything we do is stitched with its colour”3. Pelagius was an obscure ascetic Christian monk believed to have been born sometime during the early 350s. Throughout history he has been reviled by the Christian establishment and deemed a heretic due to his belief that Adam’s original sin in the Garden of Eden applied solely to Adam and nobody else. The conventional Christian teaching is that Adam’s sin was transferred on to his offspring,

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so the ‘sin’ is carried by the souls of all humans forever and indebts us to the grace of God. Pelagius on the other hand did not accept this, believing strongly in the free will of the individual and the human capacity to better oneself as a spiritual being. Modern liberalism can be seen to echo Pelagian teachings. Likewise, through her artdroppings Saieva had evidently attempted to make a statement about how the climate of mistrust in London in the wake of the terror attacks had eclipsed the Pelagian message of moral self-sufficiency, tainting all creative expression as a result. We have somehow inherited the guilt derived from the abominable murderous ‘sin’ committed by the terrorist bombers, and in penitence we humble ourselves before government, observing a certain servitude in their thrall – God and government become interchangeable. Behaviours are normalised in these circumstances, and in return we are granted absolution as a proviso. Consequently, the upgraded implements of musebashing undergo renewed prominence. Commuters caught up in the ensuing panic were not so understanding: “Due to that stupid cow, a so called artist, all the Central, District and Piccadilly Lines tubes were shut down at 9.30 am Wednesday 26th April, nothing in or out of Hammersmith. (…) Some of the packages looked like nail BOMBS! How fucking stupid. I ended up missing my train at Kings cross I had pre booked the previous day and had to pay my again, the full travel on the day rate £61, on top of the £14 original pre booked fair, to say im pissed off would be putting it mildly, any one else want to sue that BITCH. That is, if she’s not locked for a few years (some hope) up. (…) I want her address to take her to the small claims court.”4 This message, posted on the Gumtree internet forum, obviously shows signs of resentment, whilst single-handedly verifying that Saieva’s artdroppings are indeed wayward: dragging the audience into areas they adamantly do not wish to go. Another indicator of the wayward mode is its antagonistic cacophony, virally infecting its client who parrots the cacophony propelling it to resonate further, and so the cacophony spreads. As a result, wayward mediadroppings often permeate popular culture in spite of (and due to) their discordance. Cacophony is noise we do not comprehend. Both the art establishment and the media outrightly condemned Saieva’s actions and suppressed insight into the works, so the perceived abstruseness of her artdropping was upheld. Art (as manifestation of personal expression) is allowed, even encouraged, to be deceptive if it is serves to transcendentally sublimate, but it is widely considered deeply offensive and upsetting if art deceives by way of

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disguising itself concretely as real. Terrorism and murder are both ‘real’, and they are also the two things the established media fetishise the most, and with graphic abandon. To have artists producing work that undermines the efficiency of the sensational is not beneficial for the integrity of their medium; the news reports defended their territory by denigrating her as devoid of common sense. As a side-effect of the artist’s original message being masked, its waywardness is perpetuated. Art historian Harriet Riches of Warwick University was reported to have said Saieva’s actions were “beyond the bounds of common sense”5. In the eyes of the public the cacophony persisted, hence not one single news report referred to, nor attempted to explain, the significance of Pelagius. Incidentally, it is worth noting that a US art student named Clinton Boisvert, in 2002, performed a similarly outrageous stunt for his university project, leaving black boxes with “fear” written on them in the New York subway. Wayward mediadroppings breach the line between art and reality – generating misunderstandings through partial obscuration or incomplete information. Whether Saieva’s or Boisvert’s work can be classed as ‘art’ is debatable, as entertainment has always been art’s fundamental raison d’être. Here, the only parties benefiting from any gratification in the moment are the artists themselves and perhaps a loose handful of other sympathetic interventionists. Any entertainment a thirdparty could potentially derive is blocked by the unavailability of the meanings, which is the fault of mainstream media’s reportage rather than the artist. Sometimes the meanings are stifled from the very outset, deliberately by the proliferator! The acousmatic properties of audio recordings make this especially realisable. In the summer of 1979 an unemployed man called John Humble sent an audio cassette to the police purporting to be the Yorkshire ripper – driven apparently by “boredom”, want of “notoriety”6, and a personal grudge he had harboured against the police. At this time, the identity of the actual Yorkshire ripper remained a mystery and an intense investigation was in progress. A dismal vacancy had opened, and with it, the opportunity to insert a character from the recesses of one’s imagination; to which Humble chose to apply. The disillusioned, bored Humble had created a spectacle which proved extremely chilling to the British public, who believed it to be the voice of a murderer. Humble’s tape ended with the line “Hope you like the catchy tune at the end. Ha Ha”, before a snippet of the pop song “Thank You For Being A Friend” by Andrew Gold kicked in7. Another case; in 1987, during “routine investigations” the police obtained a video anonymously. The homemade video depicted genuine sado-masochistic violence involving consenting homosexual men; ranging from “beating to branding to the forcing of a nail through someone’s

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foreskin. The acts took place in various private houses, often in rooms equipped as torture chambers”8. “The actors ran about, dressing variously as schoolboys and officers in the SS. A dog was sodomised. All of this was set to a soundtrack of Gregorian plainchant”9. From these extreme images the police had seen, they had wrongly assumed that a murder must have taken place. The Metropolitan police started an investigation under the codename Operation Spanner, the name itself derived from the phrase ‘to throw a spanner in the works’. Videos were seized from the group, who had been distributing the films amongst themselves through the post, and arrests were made followed by arduous trials. It is disputable who had actually thrown the “spanner” in the works. Apparently, “£16 million of public money”8 was spent on the investigation and subsequent court hearings. In fairness, the first video was never intended to get into the hands of unsuspecting people, it was a clandestine affair; only a select few were to be privy. Even so, it appears that the content was fashioned to such an extremity that it endeavoured to challenge the resolve of even the most hardened gay S&M connoisseur. This destructive drive is very close to the endstone of wayward mediadropping; a hoax, where shock fetish elements are pitted against banalities, in attempts to destroy the banality. There is the very real danger that the unregulated nature of mediadropping will see it go the way of the Internet – it could play host to some rather unsavoury ideological themes indeed including hate crime, hardcore hoaxing and threats made toward specific individuals, all embellished with aggrandising sonic flourishes. Thankfully, in the wake of music’s mass recuperative tranquilisation that saw its messages destroyed in lieu of advertising jargon, we are more technically aware of its acousmatic nature and its distance. Through making our own mediadroppings, we have cast ourselves in the exact mindstate of the esteemed maestros of yore, with even more tools! Therefore we no longer humble ourselves toward music, we glance upon it sideways. Some may argue this is a bad thing, but it has subsequently rendered us impervious to any brainwashing maliciousness conveyed to us through sound. Overtly pernicious music is no longer threatening. Besides, harassing the listener with definite articles is rather tiring, and has been inflicted upon us for far too long already. There is much more enjoyment to be had making deliberately obscure mediadroppings (therefore completely inoffensive and depoliticised), leaving the listeners to fill in the void with their own imaginings, and perhaps triggering inspiration. If we observe Pelagius’ teachings, there is more moral self-sufficiency in humanity than we often give it credit for, except that it is often drowned out by the loud noises of others. Through mediadropping, it is the thoughtful people, the

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underdogs, that one should aim to appease, since they are the ones most likely to take up the mediadropping mantle. However, mediadropping is also a brilliant means of antagonising!

References (some of these are now obsolete) 1. http://www.sonicartsnetwork.org/diffusion/diffusion_08_02_06.htm Justin Wiggan’s proposal for the ‘Barry Anderson Bursary’ (thanks to S. Crosby) 2. http://www.centennialsociety.com/or-cd.html Packard Jennings’ mediadropping 3. http://news.scotsman.com/entertainment.cfm?id=628272006 News of Monica Saieva’s art 4. http://www.gumtree.com/london/52/4532452.html 5. http://news.scotsman.com/entertainment.cfm?id=628272006 6. http://www.execulink.com/~kbrannen/wearside.htm The Hunt for Wearside Jack 7. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/4360026.stm News concerning John Humble 8. Furlong, A. 1993 Reflections on the Case of R v Brown (article) Free Life journal, London, May 1993 No. 18, p.4-6 9. Furlong, A. 1991 Sadomasochism and the Law: Consent Versus Paternalism, Legal Notes No. 12, Libertarian Alliance London