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Tape Works

by Anla Courtis
Pogus Productions, Chester, NY, 2006
Audio CD, 8 tracks, Pogus P21040-2, $14.00
Distributor’s website: http://www.pogus.com/.

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent


Anla Courtis (originally Alan Courtis, but renamed to Anla by a band member) has been experimenting with tape music since the early 1990's. Apparently he could lay his hands on a computer only in 1999, a fact he blames on the backward situation of his native Argentina with respect to technology in general. There is however a kind of justification for using tape and cassette. It allows using effects that are very difficult to produce in the digital world (try mimicking the physical pulling on a tape for example), and it calls for a kind of creative ingenuity or technical creativity that gets easily lost otherwise.

Courtis has used very different source material for the tracks on this CD. The squeaking of his kitchen door, a CD by an obscure Argentinean rock band and an old tape recording of a radio commercial for baby clothes of an unknown brand. In each case, he processes the material with whatever analog or pre-digital means available: guitar distortion pedals, a micromoog, and even a walkie-talkie. Mixing, overdubbing, and recombining the original and the distorted sounds results in pieces that take the overall appearance of electro-acoustic explorations. The final result is interesting rather than enjoyable, intellectual rather than expressive. It reminds one of course of the tape music one could hear at the Bourges Electro-Acoustical Competition in the early years, but it has a recognisable Courtis signature, and that is no mean feat in this realm. Generally speaking, the tracks, or compositions, are constructed of superpositions of different versions of the same basic material, much like a classical fugue or canon. While each piece progresses, it shows different aspects of the construction rather than working towards a climax or some cheap big bang-effect. The unexpected is not to be found in contraposition, antagonism, or discordance, but in showing different angles of the same architecture. Fortunately, no new-agey slow and boring pseudo-meditative gravy is poured over, nor does the composer add the kind of beat or bass riff that so-called cross-over musicians would use for the sake of better sales figures. Courtis limits himself to what is possible from within the sound itself. The logic of the pieces is dictated by the qualities — irritating or pleasing or simply ludicrous — of the original material. A fine example and also my favourite piece on the CD is 'Respiré un cordero', a piece that starts from the radio commercial I mentioned above. The repetition of voices, re-worked by adding layers of voice with reverb and delay, uncovers the absurdity of the original text and the plainly moronish quality of its execution.

Courtis has been a member of a prolific band called 'Reynols' [sic] with Roberto Conlazo, Christian Dergarabedian and Miguel Tomasin. The driving force behind this group was the idiosyncratic musical appetite of the drummer, Mr. Tomasin. Having been born with Down syndrome, he brought a surprisingly fresh and uncensored quality to the experimental Reynols music. The other members of the group had the good sense of recognising his abilities and 'letting him be who he is' instead of trying to impose on him some kind of superficial polishing (read: academic training or commercial standards). Apart from his work with Reynols, Courtis has published a few more solo CD's on various labels. He lives and works in Buenos Aires.



Updated 1st December 2006

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