Memories: Viral Communications and the Cassette Underground

I'm delving lately into boxes full of old cassette tapes I've been carefully storing. Some are over 20 years old.  So far they still sound okay.  old cassettes - 4These tapes contain some of my very early forays into making music as a self-identified "composer" and "fine art" or "experimental" musician.  Some of them I released to the public, under the aegis of a cassette label called Viral Communications, which I operated from approximately 1992 to 1996 (the name inspired by William S. Burroughs and his writings that "language is a virus from outer space"). With this label I produced seven albums, which included my work, recordings by some bands I was in, as well as a compilation of music by various fringe Ann Arbor artists and an album by an avant-jazz group some friends were in. With the founding of VirComm, I launched myself into a thriving, pre-internet long-distance community known as the zine and cassette underground.  I published a zine called Synergy (which I will be scanning and re-releasing soon), and sent that and my tapes out to dozens of other zines that reviewed them, and a handful of people ordered stuff and wrote me letters and sent me their stuff.  In this age of digital recording and instant mass distribution, those days seem like a bizarre and clunky primitive world, but there was a certain exciting, rewarding aura to those odd hand-packaged cassettes and booklets that in some ways for me has still never been matched.

I will be re-releasing at least 6 of those Viral Communications tapes, with scans of their original covers, one at a time over the next few weeks as internet-only albums on Bandcamp (which I've just recently started using and which just recently created something they call "fan accounts," which I think is a good idea, making Bandcamp a more social network kind of site). 

The first re-release in this series is the first cassette that VirComm put out, a collection of my solo compositions called This Is An Attempt to Collect A Debt.  (The title refers to frequent letters I was getting from bill collectors at the time.) You can download this on a pay-what-you-want basis, or just listen to it streaming.

The album certainly shows the limitations of the medium (cassette tape, mastered from a cassette 4-track), the tools (cheap microphones, analog recording), and the location (most of the pieces were made in a tiny, chilly, stone-walled basement room that used to be for storing heating coal and was full of garbage when I first moved into the house, in Ann Arbor. I cleaned it up and turned it into my music studio). It also demonstrates some of my youthful inexperience, clumsiness,  enthusiasm, and also some obvious inspirations (you can hear in certain tracks very distinct influences, from Elliot Sharp, The Hafler Trio, John Oswald, and John Cage to Einzterzende Neubauten and Detroit-area avant-folk-noise band Only A Mother). Still, none of them are pieces I'm embarrassed about, and I'm happy to bring them back into the public ear again after so long.   I hope you enjoy them, and if you are one of the few who also partipated in the cassette underground and heard this tape back in the day, I enourage you to get in touch again.


(I can say, by the way, that in those boxes of old tapes there are some projects I'm less likely to be proud of and am less likely to re-release, like my very first tape, called Lurking With Intent To Loom, a collection of songs I produced in the summer of 1988, in what I'd call my "pre-artistic" phase, before I started becoming aware of music that went beyond pop.)