Cassettes didn’t exist in the 19th century, although the idea had been planted by Oberlin Smith in 1888. The recorded tape was introduced in 1962, galloped strong for a few decades, descended into near-obscurity, was revived by cultists and today finds itself enjoying an underground renaissance. The 19th Century is in part a tribute to an earlier time, and in part a reflection of its own time. Loud, brash, and seemingly chaotic, the tape takes a while to reveal its form. It stops, it starts, it stares, and eventually it inspires a begrudging awe.
When squinting, one may misread the description of Rinus Van Alebeek as “the poet of loft recordings” rather than “the poet of lofi recordings” ~ and yet this accidental reading may be just as accurate. The diverse sources may have been found deserted in a loft, their relationship lost along with their owner’s forwarding address. These odd noises don’t seem to have much in common, but Van Alebeek smashes their triangular forms into rectangular holes, splintering the corners until they fit. The recording volume is turned way up, as if to amplify their distress.
A public service announcement is stuttered while a television band attempts to puncture the reverie. People attempt to talk or cry, but their attempts are thwarted via r.p.m. interruptus. World music is looped and embedded. The most recognizable sample seems to be “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”; everything else is warble and woof. In the end, the sounds trip over the edge of a waterfall, and field recordings rush in like surging water seeking a void. Kid Koala would be proud. No map contains these territories, which makes them all the more alluring. While one might not exactly trust the tour guide, there’s no other way to encounter these hidden sonic environments. Those who prefer to wander off beaten paths will find The 19th Century a worthwhile expedition. (Richard Allen)