Tellus Audio Cassette MagazineADDPMP394
Launched from the Lower East Side, Manhattan, in 1983 as a subscription only bimonthly publication, the Tellus cassette series took full advantage of the popular cassette medium to promote cutting-edge downtown music, documenting the New York scene and advancing experimental composers of the time – the first 2 issues being devoted to NY artists from the downtown no wave scene. The series was financially supported along the years by funding from the New York State Council of the Arts, Colab and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tellus publishers - visual artist and noise music composer Joseph Nechvatal, curator, former director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia and current director of The Jewish Museum (New York) Claudia Gould and new music composer Carol Parkinson, director of Harvestworks from 1987 on - never considered running an underground culture audio publication, rather envisaging the compact cassette medium as a no wave fluxus art form in itself. This was quite a unique point of view at a time (the early 1980s), when many self-released cassettes blossomed through mail order and trade between audio artists, mail art folks and hardcore punk bands who were promoting a mostly minimalism punk inspired DIY technique of more-or-less anti-art nihilism. But Nechvatal and Parkinson had met in the mid-1970s dancing as a performance art / minimal art dance trio (with Cid Collins) influenced by the post Merce Cunningham postmodern dance/choreography of Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer and Carolee Schneemann (with whom they toured Europe in 1978). And they continued to see each other in the art music milieu of the rigorous downtown minimal music scene as they worked for the Dia Art Foundation as assistants to La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Pandit Pran Nath. So by contrast to a lax attitude, the Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine never indulged in rank amateurism. Their audio releases were always tightly focused, well researched and aptly curated.
Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine was in activity for the ten years of 1983-1993, thus witnessing and participating in the digital revolution taking place in new media arts. Some points of comparison can be established with the Toronto-based MusicWorks Journal cassette series (launched in 1978) and with the ROIR cassette-only releases of various musical styles (from Flipper to Lee Perry to Einstürzende Neubauten) launched in 1981.
Tellus published audio art, new music, poetry and drama, exploring musical spheres as diverse as avant-garde composition, post-industrial music, NY no wave, Fluxus sounds, noise music, heirs to Harry Partch, avant rock, sound poetry, radio plays, tango, electroacoustic music, sound collage etc.
The series included some landmark sound works now regarded as historical: Louise Lawler’s “Birdcalls” (Tellus #5-6), Christian Marclay’s “Groove” (Tellus #8), Lee Ranaldo’s “The Bridge” (Tellus #10) and Alison Knowles’s “Nivea Cream Piece” (Tellus #24); among others.
Tellus championed the audio work of women and gay artists, something that was very much needed at the time in the machismo-tinged experimental music scene. Their curatorial policy was efficient, as well, as the editorial trio sometimes asked outside specialists to compile a program in their own field. This policy ensured state-of-the-art programming.