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Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Doctrines Of Tom Furgas

Cassettes are his business. Music his life. Tom Furgas, a cassette-culture artist who resides in Ohio, relentlessly creates unique atmospheres with a passion for stabbing pop culture in the eye. Unscathed by the power of major record labels and the never ending tides of easily forgotten top 40 hits, Tom remains steadfast in his duty to make music. He is the creator of a large catalog of solo material, collaborative projects, and one of a kind tapes. All of his work that has come my way has been refreshing and spontaneous. He has created many works on cassette which he refers to as OneOfAKind. Tom's idea is imaginative. Produce an original piece of music of which only one copy exists and then mail it to someone, somewhere far away. I was intrigued by this concept and wanted to know more about Tom's work. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Furgas and he graciously included a personal Manifesto. His Manifesto sets the stage for understanding the man behind the music.


Item I - Art is not for money, art is for life. Artists must price their goods and services to match the lowest income levels, not the highest, and to be willing to provide these goods and services free of charge when possible (for the artist) or necessary (for the consumer).

Item II - We declare that 90% or better of all commercial music (both advertising and entertainment) is as nourishing as toxic waste and is to be avoided, ridiculed, appropriated (for distortive purposes) and mocked at all costs. Consumers who are unaware of the damaging effects of most commercial music must be freely educated of their error by any means (spoken dialog, free alternative music gifts, suggestions for further listening and reading) and we deem this educative process as a vital public service to help raise the floundering intellectual and cultural milieu that currently exists in the 1990s.

Item III - Television has been inexorably distorted from its original function of disseminator of culture and information to a capitalist tool geared to create frustration and anger in the general populace by wafting the scent of luxury items and self-servicing lifestyles under the noses of consumer-idiots who can ill afford to possess them. Therefore we say television (as with most commercial music) must be avoided, ridiculed, appropriated (for distortive purposes), and mocked at all costs.

Item IV - True art is not easy to make or absorb, nor should it ever be. The mind is the same as any muscle as it must be exercised regularly to avoid atrophy and subsequent loss. Vigorous cognitive work-outs cannot be had at your local commercial music outlet: seek out difficult music from difficult sources to make the most of your mental aerobics.

Item V - Don't let the bastards get you down. Use any available local free media in your area (bulletin boards, public access radio/TV, restroom walls, whatever) to laugh in their faces.

Item VI - We face horrendous global collapse in all sectors of life (financial, ecological, sociological, medical, cultural) during the next decade and it now behooves us to fight against these trends by producing the highest quality art possible, since art is the loftiest achievement of our species and to quote Zappa, "Music is the best."


AC- Please tell me about your musical background (schooling, interests), and when you first started composing your own material.
TF- I became interested in music around age 5 when I attended kindergarten and the teacher would play the piano for our singalongs. I loved watching her play and my parents took note of my interest. I began piano lessons with a wonderful old lady named Mrs. Schwartz. I didn't really think to try my hand at composing until I was 12. That's when I began to jot down little ditties in a spiral bound music book. My first serious compositions date from 1973. I began a large collection of short piano pieces after I started formal academic studies at Youngstown State University. These studies only lasted 2 quarters, but by that time I had plenty of incentive and taste for composition.

AC- What other groups or collaborations have you been involved with besides your solo work?
TF- Well, there have been numerous collaborations by mail with Richard Franecki, Ken Clinger, Zan Hoffman, Dino Dimuro, Mark Hanley, John Oswald, etc. etc. There is direct involvement with my band Courtesy Patrol (myself with Bill Lehman, Rick Arkwright, Barrett Sinclair), and we've had a number of auxiliary members. Collaborating is exciting in as much as I get chances to explore other facets of my musical personality that I normally would not.

AC- How does one go about creating music through a collaboration by mail? Isn't that more difficult to do, than by doing it in person?
TF- Actually, it's very simple. Either I send a tape of material to a collaborator to add to, manipulate, rearrange, whatever, or they send a tape of material to me. We then work with the other's material, rather like it's plastic, malleable material that can be modified, added to, etc. Technically, if I get a tape from someone I'll dub it onto my four track (perhaps not in the order the material originally is) and then modify it if necessary (EQ, effects, reverb, noise gate), then add to it by overdubbing extra parts. From there it's mastered while being mixed down, sometimes edited in the same process. Really, it's easier to do than in person. With the collaborator there in person, a lot of time is usually taken up with discussions and bad takes.

AC- Do you consider your work to be Musique Concrete?
TF- Actually, no. Though I have experimented with that genre as well as used ideas from it in my other work.

AC- In your opinion, what is Musique Concrete, and how do you define it?
TF- I'd define Musique Concrete as the construction of musical compositions using sounds from any sources (including but not limited to traditionally non-musical sources such as home appliances, non-singing voices, water, fire, etc.) which are subjected to various manipulations like tape speed change, reversals, filtering and editing. To me, the traditional French school of Musique Concrete dating from the 1950's is the basis for a lot of our current experimental music, if only due to the liberating nature of its materials and concepts.

AC- I have always thought of Musique Concrete as the birth of Industrial music. Maybe even Industrial music in its purest form. Do you think that there are strong links between these two genres of music, enough for one of them to have evolved into the other over such a length of time?
TF- Yes, I'd say so. Considering that both Industrial and Musique Concrete use non-traditional sound sources and manipulations thereof. Now, I'm not sure if, say, Throbbing Gristle ever listened to any Musique Concrete as such, but I'm sure some of the early Industrial bands had to have some awareness of Musique Concrete to attempt the things they've done.

AC- Please compare/contrast Industrial vs. Musique Concrete. What do you think some of the differences are between them?
TF- Well, of course you have to remember that Musique Concrete began as a purely aesthetic experiment, a desire to create a new kind of music using a new tool which at that time was the tape recorder. They didn't have any kind of ideological program unless you contrast the Paris school (pure Musique Concrete, no electronic sources) and the Koln school (electronics almost exclusively). Now, with Industrial music the artists involved were aiming at an expression of Industrial (actually post-industrial) angst, and using the means pioneered by Musique Concrete to achieve that end.

AC- How have you tried to incorporate Musique Concrete into your own work?
TF- I have often used the techniques of Musique Concrete on my tapes, though it's never been my central concern. Largely it has been done as collage techniques with some occasional manipulation as well. "Catenative Assemblage" was pure Musique Concrete, the enduration tape "MCMXC" uses lots of manipulations (in this case with specifically requested submissions from the other contributors). Lately though, I've used very little Musique Concrete as I've been exclusively using the Yamaha SY-55 workstation as my only sound source.

AC- Do you listen to much Industrial music?
TF- Not really, unless you would describe Zan Hoffman or Minoy as "Industrial."

AC- What do you consider to be "Industrial" music today?
TF- Industrial could probably be any music that is harsh or uncompromisingly noisy, today. The originators of Industrial are either long gone or have mutated (like Einstruzende Neubauten) in such ways that they really no longer fit the genre, strictly.

AC- How and when did you first come in contact with Musique Concrete?
TF- Back in 1973 I was attending YSU and they had a music library at the Dana school of music. I found a copy of an LP called "Musique Concrete" on Vox records and listened to it and was fascinated.

AC- Who are some of your favorite Musique Concrete composers, and what do they mean to you creatively?TF- Favorites? I don't know... Todd Dockstader, Schaeffer, Roland Kayn, Stockhausen, and Cage. All of them have done excellent and exciting work in that field when it was still fresh and vital. Not much being done in that field today except by home tapers, notably Aaron Windsor, John Oswald, and a few others. Minoy and Zan Hoffman could be placed in that category as well as the Industrial area.

AC- Are they a source of inspiration for your own work?
TF- Inspiration? Anything and everything inspires me to some degree or another. Depends on my focus at the time.

AC- I'm at a loss for words to ask this of you, but what is it that you try to construct with your music?
TF- Music is nothing less than the decoration of time. As such, I feel an awesome responsibility to decorate time wisely, to give that time as much range and depth as possible. Time decorated poorly is time wasted. Thus, I continually ask myself about the validity and importance of the music I'm working on at any given time. Does it have the necessary elements of good time decor? Structure, balance, cohesion, tension-and-release, poetry, drama; all these factors must be sorted, weighed, examined, and acted upon. Music is too often taken so lightly these days, and that's akin to taking time lightly, and it must never be: time is all we have!

AC- Why do you think music is being taken lightly today?
TF- Too many people... today music is largely taken for granted, it's just so much wallpaper, a nice background noise. Most people have lost touch with the spiritual essence of music, indeed with the spiritual essences of all things, due to their amazing self-centered striving towards sensual pleasures and materialistic emblems of success. It's the same reason why libraries and art galleries have lots of elbow room at any given time, why poetry never attains best-seller status, why great composers have to prostitute themselves teaching at universities to make a living.

AC- What else do you seek through music?
TF- Aside from the supreme importance of time decoration, music must also lift us out of time as well. To transport us to a timeless inner space where we can seek out harmony from all the chaos that swirls about us. Music has that ability, though sadly many people are too busy to seek out that level of awareness. Musicians must provide music on such a level of sublimity that it can encourage people to do so.

AC- One of the things that I found to be very interesting about you, is the fact that you make OneOf AKind tapes of original work and just send them off through the mail. Are those tapes so different from your other material that they deem being sent away?
TF- Music is the most important activity I have, and I work at it every day. As such I find that I could easily create two or three tapes per week. But to add all those tapes to my general release catalog would quickly overburden my resources as well as add too much to the enormous number of recordings available all over the world, not only my own, but all others as well. The OneOfAKind tapes are a way of getting some of my music out without worrying about how many people will hear it. One listener, an audience of one, is enough. I like the idea of OneOfAKind tapes as unique art objects, not from an elitist standpoint, but as a way of enhancing the preciousness of the art-object. OneOfAKind tapes also allow me to feel completely free from obligations of tailoring music for a wide audience. Actually, the whole cassette culture allows for this, but OneOfAKind tapes are even more of a refinement.

AC- What do you think of "cassette culture" as a whole?
TF- Aside from freeing us from the desires and obligations of garnering a mass market it (cassette culture) allows everyone to create exactly what they want, how, when, and where they want. I'm thrilled to be an active part of it; it provides me (and other musicians like me) an outlet we normally would never have. Interest in it is growing daily. We avoid the corruptions and compromises of the music business and create a pure, unadulterated kind of music straight from the heart and mind. A new, electronic, kind of folk music as it were... people music, not money music.

AC- Have you actively pursued getting your work signed to a record label?
TF- Like any artist I naturally seek out as large an audience as possible even though I am aware that an audience of one is sufficient to communicate (or at least attempt it). I did record and press a 7" EP record as a promotional tool and sent it aggressively to as many labels as possible, with no response though. I'd have no problem with a big label releasing my music, but it would have to be my music as it is, and I would have to have complete control over its presentation. No large record label would be willing to give me that much control, I think. The state of record labels today is appalling; strictly bottom line profits. In the 60's and 70's labels were willing to experiment and lots of great alternative music was available then. Many of those artists wouldn't have a prayer today.

AC- Maybe one of those reasons large record labels won't experiment anymore is because they learned from that time period, that experiments don't sell.
TF- It sells, but why should record companies invest time and money in something that may only break even or make a small profit when they all want to be big enough (like Sony) to be able to pay someone like Michael Jackson a billion dollars (no exaggeration, folks!) to make a few records and videos with no real lasting value, only immediate surface appeal?

AC- A long time ago I think you told me you didn't send promos out anymore, because people wouldn't like the material you sent, or you'd get bad reviews. Has that changed for you?
TF- It's not that they wouldn't like it, it's that they wouldn't understand it. Recently I sent 2 tapes to Factsheet Five for review, and one of the two was reviewed by someone without the slightest understanding of what I attempted. I will still occasionally send tapes out for review, but not as many or as often as I once did.

AC- What do you expect from your listeners, on a minimum level, for them to understand or perceive your material as you do?
TF- A little honest concentration should do it. If they listen while reading a magazine or cleaning the house they can't hope to absorb more than the immediate surface. That goes for any music, not just mine.

AC- What are some of the new things you have been working on?
TF- I seem to be most interested in contemporary "classical" styles and have been working on using my Yamaha SY-55 as an orchestra-in-a-box, creating chamber and orchestral works in the style of the avant-garde of the 50's and 60's, which is an area I feel was never sufficiently explored before it was generally abandoned in favor of minimalism (which I like also). I'm also still doing collaborations, currently with Courtesy Patrol (garage-rock) and John M. Rennet (poetry with music).

AC- How has your work been growing over the last few years?
TF- Well, I'm always trying to refine my ideas in one area while seeking out new territory for other ideas. It's an ongoing process and will continue as long as I can draw breath.


This interview originally appeared in Antocularis issue #1, August 1992.


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