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The Laurence Rassel Show, cover image

The Hurdle

    The first major hurdle one encounters when preparing to write about The Laurence Rassel Show is as follows: How does the author of any reasonable critique appropriately review the work in question while properly maneuvering around the fact that one of the main themes within the work being critiqued is the fetishization of the entire concept of authorship to begin with?

Let me take a step back…

    The Laurence Rassel Show is the newest audio release from Public Record, an internet-based record label founded by the activist art organization, Ultra-red. Specifically, The Laurence Rassel Show is a collaboration between cyberfeminist Laurence Rassel and musician/trans-activist Terre Thaemlitz, both, arguably, well-known and un-known masters of their respective fields.

Let me take another step back…

The Context

    Almost as a follow up on our recent discussion, as initiated by Spk.Art.’s own Tempest, regarding the freedom of information available through the use of the internet(s), Public Record is

… the internet-based archive of the Ultra-red organization established for the distribution of work by Ultra-red members and allies. … Born in 2004,…Public Record expands on the group’s mission statement: first, to facilitate cooperation between artists and social movements; second, to occupy the borders between art and organizing; and, third, to radicalize the conventions of electronic music and sound art.

Seems to be right up our alley, eh?

    On the main page of the Public Record website, there is a brief tip o’ the hat to the relevance of artistic expression which attempts to live within the world of social or political subjects. This message, in its succinctness, is the crux of the Ultra-red organization.

[A]rtists who assume the mantle of revolutionaries would do better engaging actual political struggles than promoting their individual artistic careers.

    Public Record and the Ultra-red organization attempt to address social issues not by simply creating obtuse works with vague political titles, they dive in head first and Get Involved with social change. This is seen in the various releases by Ultra-red in the years prior to the inception of Public Record as well as what has been produced since its creation in 2004. (For example, Structural Adjustments (2000) is based on protests that occurred in reaction to the Los Angeles Housing Authority’s attempt to displace 1200 homes in the name of neighborhood reconstruction and BLOK70 (2006) addresses the recent expansion of the European Union into Eastern Europe and the effect this has had on the migrant policies of those countries.)

The Release

    Stepping forward to the topic of The Laurence Rassel Show again, we have the latest release by new collaborators to the Ultra-red organization, Laurence Rassel and Terre Thaemlitz performing the radio-drama, The Laurence Rassel Show. The press release for The Laurence Rassel Show goes a little like this:

Public Record is thrilled to announce the release of Terre Thaemlitz’ sixteenth full-length album, and his first for the free-download online label. THE LAURENCE RASSEL SHOW began as a specially commissioned collaboration with cyberfeminist Laurence Rassel of Belgium’s Constant organization. Commissioned by German public radio in 2005, the Thaemlitz and Rassel collaboration set its sights on the politics of copyright ownership. Critical of both corporate property laws and the copyleft movement, the project ran into an unexpected roadblock when it was pulled from broadcast for being too controversial.

A joint-release with Thaemlitz’ own Comatonse label … and Constant, THE LAURENCE RASSEL SHOW is cabaret for theory-queen revolutionaries. Subtitled “the post-feminist radio drama assassinated before broadcast,” THE LAURENCE RASSEL SHOW weaves together gender-queer analysis, mis-taken identities, liberated citations … [.]

Or rather, in Thaemlitz’s words:

[Laurence and I] wanted to counter this notion of fetishizing the recognized or “authored” body with a story about the corresponding way in which the patriarchal notions of authorship also extend to the fetishization of the invisible, or the non-author.

Laurence Rassel

    In its essence, The Laurence Rassel Show is a 100+ minute audio work which combines conversations between Rassel and Thaemlitz about the previously mentioned topics, historic and practical, as well as various guest voices reading stolen excerpts from select philosophers and authors discussing variations and extrapolations on these topics.

    The project began with Thaemlitz and Rassel spending a week in and around Thaemlitz’s home in Japan recording themselves discussing the project and the guests reading from text. Afterwards, Thaemlitz took control of the audio and interspersed the dialogue with stolen audio clips and layered it all with his signature audio processing techniques, thus giving the piece its final “electro-acoustic” quality.

    The main difference between The Laurence Rassel Show and anything found in Thaemlitz’s previous work is that because it was intended orginally as a radio show, he went to greater lengths than usual to ensure that most of the dialogue remained relatively understandable. The final result being that this is less of a musical release and more of an audio essay covering themes of social norms and history as they relate to the ideas of authorship and feminism.

excerpt :: A Special Message from Joan Smith

The Leap

    So we have enough of the background to take that final step forward and jump the ship specifically addressed by The Laurence Rassel Show. I’m going to go ahead and openly act as author here in order to discuss the piece. Obviously that flies in the face of an issue The Laurence Rassel Show specifically addresses, but shit, thats what I’m going to do.

Long story short: The Laurence Rassel Show is brilliant.

    Fair warning for those of you inclined to discourage against or shake your head at heavy-handed theoretical discussions: The Laurence Rassel Show is extremely heavy handed. Its thick in theory and certainly way over the top when it comes to in-depth discussion of the causes and effects of underlying social issues in the realm of feminism and patriarchy, authorship and copyright. But lets be honest here; thats what we all came for. In addition to Thaemlitz’s numerous socially charged audio releases, he also has written a number of articles which address the same or similar issues in much greater detail (mostly because he uses ‘words’ in the articles instead of that pesky confusion-inducing medium, ‘sound’). Certainly then, the topics discussed in The Laurence Rassel Show should come as no surprise, but the degree to which they are dealt with is impressive.

excerpt :: Fetishism as a Means of Authoring the Invisible

The Subjects

    Most of The Laurence Rassel Show is structured around monologues or the back-and-forth banter between Thaemlitz and Rassel, in which they both casually run away with the conversation depending on the subject. I think what intrigues me about these heavily theoretical discussions is the fact that whether or not I agree with their conclusions, or even if I think they may be taking the analysis too far, or are becoming too abstract, I find I am always left affected by the discussion. There is always something to take away from a discussion of this magnitude.

    Also of note is the fact that along with the audio available for download at Public Record, a complete transcript of the show can be downloaded. This is essential. I can imagine no way that this work could simply be listened to in order to fully grasp everything contained in it, if for no other reason than I do not speak fluent French and therefore the monologues spoken in French happen to slide right by me…

Terre Thaemlitz, c.2000

The Sound

    Anyone who writes about a work which involves Terre Thaemlitz must, of course, discuss the actual audio within the work. That’s what the man is famous for, right? Similar to Ultra-red, Thaemlitz’s work lives in that slippery realm of ‘electro-acoustic’ social commentary which straddles the line between abstract, arrhythmic sound collage and ‘minimalist electronic music’. If you are expecting this from The Laurence Rassel Show you will, like me, (at least initially) be disappointed. Although there is a great deal of audio processing occurring under the surface of this work, almost none of it is structured into the form of songs which occasionally pop up on his albums. This was a major turn-off when, about 20 minutes in, I came to the realization that this work was something altogether new for Thaemlitz. Luckily, by then The Laurence Rassel Show had grabbed me and I just didn’t care about the past anymore.

    The Laurence Rassel Show is a radio-drama first and foremost; leave your favorite ‘minimalist electronic music’ hat at the door. Rest assured though, there are plenty of moments in The Laurence Rassel Show in which Thaemlitz employs wonderful acts of sabotage on the somewhat straightforward dialogue by confusing the audio and layering too much at one time or mixing beyond comprehension. As expected, those moments work beautifully in the context of the show’s theory and in its practice. Thaemlitz uses these processes to audibly reduce the spoken words to abstract sounds, thus robbing the words themselves of any distinguishable origin, or author.

    In this specific process can be found the genius of The Laurence Rassel Show. It is a grand work that, by using multiple layers of form and function, both discusses revolutionary social issues while at the same time it becomes an example of those very acts being discussed.

excerpt :: A Special Message from Roland Barthes

The Conclusion

    The Laurence Rassel Show is a phenomenal new work by Laurence Rassel and Terre Thaemlitz. Anyone interested in the previous work of Thaemlitz, Ultra-red, or the subjects of patriarchy, feminism, gender, authorship or copyright would be well served to give it a listen. And hell, its free to download; what do you have to lose?

As the original Public Record press release states: “Listen for a change.”


    • lifecreativitycoach
    • Posted August 18, 2007 at 8:22 pm
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    • Reply

    Your blog is informative and interesting.


  1. thanks for the kind words, Terri. glad to hear from you

    – c.

  2. An artist who is working along similar lines is D.J. Shadow. Primarily a sound artist, he uses sampled work almost exclusively. But, he uses it to make commentary on social and political movements. I saw him play and he cut, live, a movie that glorified the South and contemplated what would have happened if slavery had continued. (Coincidentally the first movie shown in the white house…but that’s another story.) It was quite interesting, sampled music combined with sampled video, all cut and pieced together to make an original piece of art. Anyway, similar idea.

  3. That’s interesting, T. I’ve never known Shadow to do much work that is overtly political like that. He is certainly very well known among the ‘socially-conscious’ hip-hop genre, but his albums and those released by his label, Quannum Projects, or the original Solesides group, don’t often go out of their way to be as overt as what you’ve mentioned.

    In fact, thats always been an issue I’ve had with this group of musician/artists. Their releases seem to lack any substantial meaning beyond the feel-good nature of the music and the relatively general themes of uplifting community. Not to say that I discourage that in any way, of course, it just felt like more could be said.

    Its encouraging to know that they are finding outlets to bring more message to their fans. Thanks for the info…

  4. The matter of ‘outlet’, or ‘venue’ seems to be an important one. D.J. Shadow cut music and movie together for the Time Based Arts festival. Possibly, he would not have had an engaged audience if he had done that for his regular crowd. (the TBA crowd having paid an absurd amount of money to be ‘challenged’ intellectually). The same could be true for The Laurence Rassel Show–in that if it were not put on the internet for free, it would not survive. So, making the work is important, but choosing where and when and how to present and distribute it is, arguably, more important than the work itself.

  5. damn good point, T.

    I certainly agree that Shadow’s piece at TBA is set perfectly for the audience on hand and it is, therefore, entirely effective. I have seen him mix live video in with audio at concerts, although the chosen videos melded with my aforementioned themes of the moment. I definitely can see how he would allow his underlying politics to shine through at events such as TBA. I hope I can poke around the internet(s) and maybe find a YouTube of the event…

    I will have to disagree a bit, though, when it comes to the Laurence Rassel Show; simply because it has been produced by artists who, over the last decade or so, have done nothing but create work exclusively within this overtly political genre; both for sale and for free (the major historical influence of the Mille Platueax record label on ‘minimal electronic music’ being of note in this context). Thaemlitz, Rassel and Ultra-red, among many others, have individually and collectively worked tirelessly within the confines of the political/social/electro-acoustic/activist forms of expression and have carved out an appropriate base in which to continue their existence.

    I see what you mean, though, and I completely agree. When it comes to works like what we both have mentioned, its a very delicate act of simply knowing your audience and being able to weather the storm of how exactly to release it into the public realm. That, I think, is an infinitely interesting topic of discussion for all artistic media, and one which I dwell on often, as I can imagine you do as well…

  6. i’m pretty sure tempest did not mean dj shadow, but dj spooky who did a performance “soundtrack” to d.w. griffith’s “birth of a nation.” in either case, i think the comparisson to thaemlitz is tenuous at best. just because they both use “big words” doesn’t mean they have anything in common ideologically.

  7. Well, as that was phrased as an attack I must point out that I never used the phrase “big words” (as would be indicated by the quotes). That was never factored into any comparison.
    However, I do apologize for my mistake in the name. I was going off memory, and as that isn’t much of an excuse, there it is. I think the discussion was more one of discovery than one of absolute statements. I was referencing experiences that I had been through, not things that I believe to be irrevocable truth.
    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on both Spooky and Thaemlitz in more detail, so that I could respond more specifically.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, anon, albeit somewhat back-handed as it was.

    This makes much more sense to me now; I actually would have expected Spooky to be the one to do that at TBA rather than Shadow, based on their history. But again, based on his history, I would have to agree that Spooky, although having some vague policital ideals come forth in his music and writings. It always seemed that he was specifically going for that vague political arena, rather than trying to push forward specific ideas. Whereas, at least from my perspective, Thaemlitz and others are very definitely trying to move ahead certain, very specific, ideas.

    I guess, more specifically, I think the main difference between the works of DJ Spooky and Terre Thaemlitz is this: Spooky works mostly within the realm of a 21st-century philosophical analysis as it relates to things such as the influence of the digital revolution on social and cultural issues and he uses the medium of digital art (mostly audio) to speak on these topics. Thaemlitz works in the realm of the political (specifically political activism), mostly on gender-based issues and how they evolve in the present moment within the current social climate. The fact that Thaemlitz’ work tends to be within the digital audio world is not a reflection on the digital influence of these issues, it seems to merely be the tool he uses. Spooky’s roots are in the hip-hop movement, whereas Thaemlitz comes from the early techno/dance movement. I think these points of view can help to show what direction their work has moved over the years.

    So, while I would agree that they do not have much to share in artistic ideology, as Anon said, I certainly appreciate that Tempest was sharing another artist who is trying to incorporate various ideas into their specific artisitc voice.

    (… and personally, although I’ve been a fan of Spooky for a long time, I never really have bought into any of his hyper-philosophical ideas because, honestly, I do kind of think they sound like throwing around ‘big words’. His general point-of-view, as it informs his work is, of course, one I can generally agree with. I do think he has an interesting creativity with sound, regardless of the philosophy behind it.)

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