‘Ranch, Stories from the West Coast’ reviewed and revisited

There’s a very pleasant side to sending out a tape for review to Ed Pinsent of the Sound Projector. It links the adventures of Treasure Island to modern-day unmanned spacecrafts that set out for a journey into outer space. Thus I bring the packet to the post and I mark it with an X. I go home, weeks pass by, and slowly I forget about it. Then, one day, the internet goes bleep. And this is what I read.

“First item is Ranch. This is a solo tape by Rinus Van Alebeek. As you can see it’s housed in one of those nice chipboard folding wallets that are all the rage for cassette tapes just now. So much better than a plastic shell. The cover is hand decorated with a pencil rubbing, revealing a silhouette of a dapper fellow in profile wearing a Trilby hat or such. He might be Joseph Beuys, or an allusion to that artist and his important works. The subtitle of Ranch is “Stories From The West Coast”, and the A side so far does indeed convey an episodic sensation redolent of fractured story-telling.”

“I used to have dreams in my younger days when I was able to wake up in the middle of an exciting adventure, then fall back asleep and continue the next instalment. Dream-continuity. Could be that Rinus approximates this state by his use of mixed sources: recorded sounds, tapes found in old tape players, or tapes simply given to him by others. I can well believe that when your life revolves around recorded sound, many people – including complete strangers – will hand you a cassette tape at the drop of a hat. This semi-random method (but in fact directed by the hand of God) used by Rinus has resulted in a rich, textured tapestry of information, at times startling in its rough collisions of sonic collage.”

“For example, the creator plays hob with tape speeds (or someone else does), scrambling tapes of pop songs, including the music of The Beach Boys, into processed mayhem. Then the next moment we’ll be sitting besides the waters of a peaceful babbling brook or invited to observe the loud humming of a bumblebee nearby. Through multiple artifices and devices, this is a tape that arrives at a much more “real” reality than many field recordists can manage. My desire for instant gratification in the playback was delayed even further with this item because I had to remove a sticking plaster from the cassette to play the A side.”

“For some reason this reminds me of a dirty joke where the husband can’t afford to buy a chastity belt for his wife. (Use your imagination for the punchline to this). Maybe this could, in some abstruse manner, tie us back in to the “history behind a French pin-up girl” which Van Alebeek mentions in his hand-written notes.”

“The B side is another layered and fascinating audio jumble, though not as noticeably emphatic with its use of weird, mixed sources. The stress here is laid on the editing method, or sound assemblage, which required several pieces of equipment to be brought into play. Perhaps a Walkman gives notably different textural results to a Marantz or a four-track recorder, in which case Rinus may be throwing out an oblique reference back to Brian Wilson (whose songs appear on the A side) and his growing obsession, in 1966, of picking various Hollywood sound recorders based on the diverse aural nuances they would lend to the singing voices of the Beach Boys.”

“The sounds here of, for example, rainfall, sad and slow piano music, distant radio voices, spoken word fragments, and more rainfall, are edited and juxtaposed with a grace and sympathy that’s bordering on the mystical. Most creators would have to hypnotise themselves in a mirror before they could arrive at the state of omniscience which Van Alebeek is apparently able to summon at will.”

“Furthermore, Ranch is released in a tiny edition – only 20 copies, of which I hold #8 before me – and each of these 20 is “differently mixed” to some degree. This probably means that you won’t undergo the exact same experience as this listener, which is a fascinating proposal. It raises questions about the subjectivity of listening to sound or music and what information or emotions we will derive from it at any given time.”

I can tell you that it is a very big joy to read these words, simply because they show the same intensity and care that I put into my work. There is a lot of critics and reviewers out there, far more then I know of, and far too many to get an idea who would value or even consider the tapes I get out, be they mine or staaltape’s; few of them will actually find out, I arrive pretty fast at the conclusion that some actions are useless, one of them is to send out tapes into the blue. My experience is that these tapes seem to disappear in a black hole, or get dug out by some pirate on the way. So I stick to Ed. And to Frans, about whom a bit further down.

First I have to tell a bit about Ranch, stories from the West Coast. The tape was made in the last days of my residency at the Warnecke Ranch in Sonoma County, California. Most of the time I spent on writing the book ‘Stop the Music.’ When I finished it I had a bit over a week left. I decided to work on sounds.

I had made some recordings during my hikes: the -epic- Russian River and the sounds of the Warnecke ranch, the wind in the trees, the old detuned piano in the barn, the frogs, bees under the blossoming trees, the rain on the porch, the fence, and the planes flying over it (like some Snoopy fighting the Red Baron impersonator in a vintage propeller driven flying machine – in fact, the Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz lived a bit more south of the Ranch). But I also had found some tapes in old tape players: the recording of a radio show from 1999, a telephone conversation and a kind of interview. Tapes by Joan Baez and the Beach Boys appeared from nothing, Waylon Jennings, Judy Collins. And I bought some at a nineteenth century mansion, turned into a thrift store by the Salvation Army, where old cars were for ever parked on a field, sunk into the earth up to the level of the rear windows: a lecture on Bodhidharma, a talk on reaganomics and a speech delivered at an annual meeting of wine growers in Sonoma County.

Those tapes became my source material. I used a minimal set up in which I could play three tapes simultaneously at the maximum. The four-track, the Marantz and an ordinary Sony walkman added their specific qualities, like pitch variation, handmade loops and playing backward.

As you can read in Ed’s account, I made twenty different editions. Why? It was just too much fun to fill both sides of the first tape in two sessions of fifteen minutes each. When listening back I also realised that the source material was pure gold. I decided to go for the experiment and make each tape sound the same but still different, akin to the days I had spent while working on my book, also they were all the same and also very different from one another. The real difference was in the details. Those details got magnified, every day again. Twenty tapes means forty sessions of fifteen minutes each. I started in California and I finished in a grim and freezing cold culture shock loaden Berlin Neukölln. Ed got a Californian tape. Frans got a Berlin tape, a reissue of a copy I had sent to Michele Mazzani who released it on his label Lonktaar.

And Frans is fast. The moment he gets it, he listens to it, makes notes, or rides his bike and after writes down his impressions. His reviews are very much like the wave of sober realism that hit Dutch art in the seventies. He sticks to what he hears and describes it. And, when he can tell a bit more about the artist, he does so.

This is what Frans de Waard wrote in his Vital Weekly.

“Since getting back into the world of self-released cassettes, Rinus van Alebeek has made quite a name for himself as a musician as well as re-launching Staaltape, once the cassette division of Staalplaat, but in hibernation for many years. Many of the current releases are handmade and highly limited. One of those Van Alebeek tapes that was previously released in an edition of twenty copies is now re-issued in an edition of thirty.”

“”Ranch” deals with stories from the West Coast, and has been recorded in California and Berlin. Van Alebeek not only releases cassettes, it’s also his main instrument of choice. Either cheap walkman, old four track machines or the better (but older) models from years ago. These machines are fed with field recordings of his own making – traveling is something Van Alebeek always seems to do a lot – or cassettes he found on the street during these travels, or which were in the machines as he bought them in a thrift shop or simply cassettes given to him by friends. He combines all of these in quite an interesting collage of sound.”

“Here on Side A it’s all the more vivid kind of stuff, with rapid cuts and changes, making this almost like lo-fi version of Nurse With Wound; field recordings, voices and chopped up music: it’s all to be found in here. The other side is more curious. Maybe also a collage of some kind, but most of the time very quiet, with very few sound information. It’s more alike a microphone picking up hardly any signals in an empty room. It’s more curious than great this side, but in the world of Van Alebeek it probably makes perfect sense: silence is a rhythm too. Probably Van Alebeek doesn’t call it music but a narration. Quite rightly so, I think.”

There are still some copies left of the original twenty at the staalplaat shop in Berlin. Mine have finished. I also gave away or traded the copies I got from the lonktaar edition. You should be able to get one of those at the source.

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