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flat cd cover, 1999

FLAT RECORDINGS (1993 - 1995)
2 CD boxset

Published by FLAT INTERNATIONAL, 1999

From the mundane to the profound, many of the interactions at the FLAT Gallery were recorded onto cassette tapes. These documents were subsequently used to produce additional audio experiments and formed the basis for a number of audio installations and performances at the FLAT and beyond. Within the 16 month period, over 40 casettes were produced.

These two compact disks document in part some of the audio experiments, performances and artworks that took place at the gallery. Please note that the equipment and techniques used at the FLAT were exceptionally low-fi, hence the 'quality' of the recording.

The double CD boxset was issued in 1999 at the same time as the publication of the book: The FLAT Gallery (1993 - 1995), a comprehensive 320 page history of the gallery. Page numbers below denote where you can find the entry for the particular cassette in the book. PDF copies of the book can be viewed by clicking on the PDF button below.



December 1993, cassette 1, p. 95
CD 1 Track 1
1;39 min (1.9 MB)

This fragment is taken from the first in a series of audio recordings. During the course of the FLAT, we began to tape our conversations. These became both a document of our ‘brainstorming sessions’ and raw material for later sound work. On this first recording Thomas Barry, Vaughn (our downstairs neighbour) and myself (Siemon Allen) messed around with an antique gramophone. We also discussed possible ideas for recording music. For example we wanted to make “cover-versions” of albums by simply re-recording a playing record simultaneously with our inaudible conversations.


March 1994, cassette 10, p. 123
CD 1 Track 2
5:52 min (6.7 MB)

A conversation at the FLAT between Barry and Samkelo Matoti. They discuss “the man who lived in himself,” a homeless person that was often seen on the Berea.

Barry: In a way the true function is still there. But that doesn’t mean that its not working - that the function isn’t happening. Because even if it were happening, you wouldn’t know. You can take a rugby ball if you don’t know what it is supposed to do. You don’t know what you supposed to do with it and you can use it for the wrong reasons.
Matoti: Thomas, do you know when you are going to get married?
Barry: No, never.
Matoti: Don’t you ever think about that?
Barry: No, I don’t really think about marriage.
Matoti: Do you know when you are going to get what you want - what you have chosen as your destiny?
Barry: Probably after death.
Matoti: Because you seem like this whole certain creature.
Barry: Do you know what “umkundwabenta” means?
Matoti: What?
Barry: Umkundwabena. It’s “dog-face”, “dog hair”. What is that? What is your perception of it?
Matoti: Othlogo genjani
Barry: What is you perception? What does it mean to you? It means “the bare-footed one”. It’s the spirit of the city. It’s the spirit of the city.
Matoti: You can call it like in many ways.
Barry: You can call it anything. I know that but what does it mean to you? It’s the one with the ragged clothes.
Matoti: Ragged clothes?
Barry: Ja.
Matoti: Hay, have you seen that dude.
Barry: name… I’ve given him a name… He’s the man who lives in himself.
Matoti: Have you seen that dude? Have you spoken to him?
Barry: Ja, he keeps a dead cat around. Its so that the lizards don’t crawl into his body when he is sleeping.
Matoti: He eats raw eggs.
Barry: He lives in himself. He doesn’t need the city. He doesn’t need anything. All he needs is himself.
Matoti: It’s strange. The other day I met him and he can’t feel any pain you know. He’s got like this ring stuck onto his finger. And the rest of his finger is swollen. It seems sore, painful. But he’s stuck into that.
Barry: Because it doesn’t matter.
Matoti: But to me, to my eyes…
Barry: Because you are on the one side of reality and he is on the other side of reality. You can’t understand his reality and he can’t understand your reality because you are too removed, you are too far away.
Matoti: But still…
Barry: When he gets hungry and you get hungry, he doesn’t eat food.
Matoti: […] He thinks of himself as these bells above, from the bible…
Barry: He lives in himself.
Matoti: No, I’m talking in terms of how he goes about…
Barry: He’s our shadow.
Matoti: Our shadow. To me he’s like you.
Barry: Yes. But the fact is that you still recognize him apart from everyone else.
Matoti: To me, he is like that dude I saw in Hillbrow. Like something that is not supposed to exist within my circles.
Barry: Because he lives in himself. He is his own entity. He needn’t exist for us. But he also doesn’t need us to exist. He’s removed.


THE MIRACLE FILTER (compilation, tracks 3 -9)
December 1993 - May 1994

SIEMON ALLEN - microphone
May 1994, cassette 12, p. 190
CD 1 Track 3
53 sec (1 MB)

The FLAT recordings until now had all been straightforward unaltered audio-cassettes documenting social interactions at the gallery. There was little, if no manipulation of either the tape (physically) or the content being recorded, until the recording of the MIRACLE FILTERseries.

“Miracle Filter”, was a phrase taken from a box of Peter Styvesant cigarettes which described the quality of their filters. The choosing of this phrase was in a sense, a word play on the notion of the ‘filter’. The tape-deck used for our recordings was then referred to as the ‘miracle filter’, in that it ‘filtered’ out all our ‘jargon’. 

On the evening of this first recording, Barry, Jay Horsburgh, and myself were sitting around at the FLAT. I mentioned a game that a friend, Kearn Bamber and I used to play. We would take a text and read it in a tone or voice that was divorced from the content of the text. For example – one would adopt an angry voice while describing the mechanics of a car engine. In this way the signifying voice would be out of phase with the signifying text. The secret to the game was to try and sound as serious as possible; to make one’s words seem believable.
With what, for me, had been a rather arbitrary reference to the game; Horsburgh hurriedly got the tape-recorder and a pile of books. We passed out the books randomly and began to read arbitrarily in a ‘conversational tone’. As Horsburgh had trained to be an actor, he slipped into the mode with greatest ease, sounding authentic yet irrational. But all three of us participated, and as each individual spoke, our readings began to develop into ‘conversations’. Amoung us, an audio exquisite corpse materialized.

The next seven tracks on this disk feature five examples from the MIRACLE FILTER process. Though track 3 and track 9 are not stricktly part of the series, they were made around the same time and with the "miracle filter" equipment. Track 3 is described below.

On the FLAT tapes, a formal experimentation with the use of recordings not connected to language, followed our multi-voiced MIRACLE FILTER series, and led to the creation of abstract noise compositions. Though it was, of course, created from the recording of what would not be ‘conventional instruments’. Examples included the manipulation of electronic feed-back, the placement of a microphone into a fan, the slowing of a tape to half speed, and the recording of an ordinary clock-alarm. The idea was to ‘compose’ by creating sounds through a variety of means. The work that followed marked the introduction and manipulation of ‘found sounds’ hence a kind of musique concréte was employed.



April 1994, cassette 11, p. 119
CD 1 Track 4
1:12 min (1.4 MB)

“In all intensity to the light that prevailed […] Those who believe in the Most Radical Gesture, who believe that it is a writing - a book – a series of pages contained within belief, expanding themselves outside of the confines of the lines which originally conceived them. Like a continuous writing […], traveling through looking at the bus, crying at the fact that your mother was left behind […] because there was no room for her, like there was no room for her plants in the house you used to live in. You can’t escape what you don’t know. You don’t know who she is. You don’t know who she is or why she was left behind or what it means the fact that you are here in this bus traveling through gestures like its some kind of praxis to try and exterminate you.”



March 1994, cassette 10, p. 123
CD 1 Track 5

1:09 min (1.3 MB)

Horsburgh: I had to get rid of that idea that haunted me all the time. Why didn’t I kill Bed-bur the very day that we had doubts about that ugly game he was playing. Starting from that point I argued with myself: why do you have the right to kill? My conclusion was that end justified means. My end was to make a successful break. Stretched out between the bow and the mast and I slept and slept and slept and slept and slept and slept and slept and slept and slept.
Barry: Isn’t anything more important?
Horsburgh: I slept and slept and slept towards the sea under my fingers. I slept and slept and slept and slept on the surface where the river met. And I slept in the middle and it was strong and I slept like a big bruise.
Barry: Shoot low with the matches. Pushing them idly into powerful patterns with their long fingers and watched a beautiful mouth pushed up…
Horsburgh: And I slept and slept and slept and slept and slept into a stiff quart of rum and a sky sail in a jib. And I slept into the bows in the name of God. And I slept and slept and slept and slept and slept.
Barry: Not savagely?
Horsburgh: No, the flood tide lasted six hours.



[with “Tanzanian and Kenyan Witchcraft Music”, Nonesuch, 1972]
March 1994, cassette 10, p. 123
CD 1 Track 6
1:26 min (1.7 MB)

Barry: In the morning, the uninitiated are shown the girl's “remains”, which are simply bones that the elders have thrown out during the night after feasting. Thus is the mystery of the ceremony kept alive through generations. The "animal" is very realistic: as “secret” songs are sung, an elder, dressed up in skins and chained to a man, crawls along the ground and approaches the terrified girl. An instrument, which is supposed to sound like the hungry animal thirsting after the flesh of the initiate, is played by another elder hidden behind a blanket in the gloom of the hut. The elder rubs his fingers up and down a stick resting upon a pot which has a skin drawn tightly across it: the vibrations that result produce a sinister tone. The Mwari rite has now almost entirely died out.
Horsburgh: Thomas, where is that from?



February 1994, cassette 7, p. 122
CD 1 Track 7
49 sec (1 MB)

Horsburgh: Look! Ok, listen. To be naked is to be oneself.
Barry: That’s a personal thing.
Horsburgh: No, to be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not be recognizable.
Barry: It’s a personal thing.
Horsburgh: It’s a naked body!
Barry: I like to go with four people at once.
Horsburgh: You also like to go with a painting that has been sent as a present from the Grand Duke of Florence to the King of France.
Barry: Who I know can handle the element of danger.
Horsburgh: Thomas, compare the expressions of these two women. Compare the expressions of these women.
Barry: I’m always hoping that I am making things look better. I never set out to destroy anything.
Allen: What about your zealous representations... of King James?
Barry: What about it?
Horsburgh: Siemon!
Barry: What about it?
Allen: Well, you tell me!
Horsburgh: Well the absurdity of this male flattery reached its peak in the public academic art of the nineteenth century. Many state of business discussed in paintings like this.
Barry: Ja, but they don’t meet the stereotype of a drop-out.
Horsburgh: Because when one of them felt he had been unwitted he looked up in consolation. No thanks!



April 1994, cassette 11, p. 124
CD 1 Track 8
42 sec (836 KB)

Horsburgh: Look at Plato. Look at Socrates. They all talked about the primacy of speech, you know. Self present speech. That’s what we are about. We are about talking. We are about people talking. You know, people getting in touch. We want a better standard of living for the entire planet, OK. And you could not pass that off with your piddley little voice.



December 1993, cassette 2, p. 95
CD 1 Track 9
30 sec (596 KB)

These are recordings of conversations on New Years Eve, and featured voices that included Barry, Vaughn, Moonlight, and myself. Moonlight, a grounds-keeper at the Natal Technikon, had recently become a frequent visitor to the FLAT, when he and Barry became friends. The recordings on this particular evening captured what was not uncommon under these circumstances. We four men, Vaughn, Moonlight, Thomas and myself, were drinking and talking about ‘women’.

Though several hours of tapes were made, it was a particular set of phrases spoken by Moonlight that asserted themselves as highlights from the tape and were later used by me to create a looped sound work. The phrases that were extracted are from some point in the evening when Moonlight revealed his thoughts on prostitution. He said:

“Now we are here in Sud Africa to talk da truth. Nobody getsuffishus. We are going to talk our aims... what dey we are concentrated… eh...

Black Ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
White Ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
Indian Ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
Eh… Coloured Ladies, just stopping to sell your body!

We are not allowed to selling dat. Accept da spirit of God!”


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
May 1994, cassette 17, p. 213
CD 1 Track 10
51 sec (1 MB)


May 1994, cassette 17 – 19, p. 201
CD1 Track 11
7:04 min (8.1 MB)

The philosophy that “anyone could do anything” was the guiding principal at the FLAT, and this was reflected in the audience-participation-performance, THE FIRST INTERNOTIONAL THEATRE OF COMMUNICATION. This call for all to participate began with the printing and distribution of an open invitation from Horsburgh and Barry and embraced in a single night a broad and all encompassing range of FLAT activities. It was conceived by them to “allow anyone to do anything in the space”, and evolved with very little plan, except to bring people together with the catalysts of an open microphone, two tape recorders, some provocative wall texts and a space to interact. The only goal was to allow for open expression and to ‘see what would happen’.

In the beginning much of the audience came with the expectation of ‘watching’ a performance and stood waiting to be ‘entertained’, not realizing perhaps they were in fact the ones who were ‘performing’.  In a sense, this kind of ‘passive viewer as consumer’ was the very thing that Horsburgh and Barry were seeking to explode in such an event. The INTERNOTIONAL was an attack on the passive ‘watching’, letting others do the work, and not getting involved with one’s own cultural exploration of life.

The audience at first acted on the old habits of gallery going, reading the texts on the wall as if they were paintings at an exhibition, and waiting to ‘see’ the performance. Urged by Horsburgh and Barry to speak, people slowly began to approach the open microphones. Those who came to express themselves on various topics, interestingly included comments on the event itself, as well. As the evening evolved, more came and went, performing, conversing, looking at the text on the wall, occasionally coming to speak into one of the two tape recorders. Rhett Martyn, who spoke almost continuously into one of the portable recorders, made free association poetics through soliloquy, citation and exchanges.

What was perhaps most significant about the evening was the odd simultaneous occurrence of so many actions. Though this was reminiscent of the SWANS performance, here the events were even more random and un-scripted; the ‘collaboration’ more open ended. Some, like Walker Paterson who worked in his sketchbook, sat quietly throughout the evening. Others engaged in conversation, read from texts or bantered with non sequiturs. Much was made about those who had not attended, Martyn criticized the gallery for being elitist, and Barry spoke at length to university English lecturer, Rob Amato, about his philosophy around both the event and the FLAT (track 6).

Not all of the events were completely spontaneous, and the Internotional included a number of ‘performances’ with “prior preparation”. Elmin and I performed CONVERSATION, which was a work in which we silently faced each other on opposite sides of the room with a large speaker above each of our heads. A prerecorded stereo conversation played through the speakers while we stood there. Brendon Bussy came early, played his viola for a short time and left for another ‘gig’ across town (track 4). Tione Scholtz played recordings of some of his experimental electronic compositions. These were as he says on one of the tapes “based on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange data converted into real time midi data and put into a computer and played back through a synthesizer.”

Many of these recordings which took up about four and a half hours of tape have been jammed and overlapped into the seven minute track on this CD.


May 1994, cassette 17, p. 209
CD 1 Track 12
2:56 min (3.4 MB)

A discussion between Barry and Rob Amato at the INTERNOTIONAL.

Barry: Basically what we are gonna do with anything that happens tonight is we are going to be compiling it into one… kind of generalised… set of information and re-disseminating it to anyone who is interested…and fax it out internationally or where ever. On tape in terms of the information people bring…in terms of… Basically what we are doing is recording anything that people are saying or doing and we are going to be compiling that or just keeping it as some kind of record and…
Amato: Storytelling?
Barry: Yes.
Amato: Events and histories.
Barry: And we haven’t really tried to define what will be taking place. In that way people will shape what does happen. But at the same time we are trying to create some kind of break in… communication. A shift!
Amato: A communication break is deeply desired. Give us a break in communication. Ja, I can see that's lovely stuff but what I am most intrigued by is the degree to which we could have a theatre which frees itself of Sneddonism...of Sneddonism! Which has had a thirty-year scurge in this area.  And then there are all sorts of other deaths in the town. It’s very strange… Why does the town have a bad acting style, for instance? Why? It’s nothing to do with the teachers. It’s got to do with something else. It’s something else.
Barry: Something obscure?
Amato: Something obscure. Something terribly obscure! That nobody has defined. Maybe that’s why you need breaks.
Barry: Jay is a good person to speak to in terms of that. I think he’s got a lot of ideas but… not necessarily the resources. That’s also true…
Amato: But that’s a… This Space was run on… It works well on the blood of the actors…
the old space in Cape Town. There was some money coming in for things like adds in the paper. Actually I’ve reminded Kenyan about 250 000 [Rand], the period that I was there. About 200 000, 180 000 [Rand] went into the Argus Company for advertising shows. It’s one of the biggest expenses. It was the one thing we could not by-pass.
Barry: Ja, I think our aim is largely to create some kind of space. A kind of free open experimental space… and we don t necessarily have the resources to provide […]. What we are trying to do is… well we trying to disregard money… as well… to some extent because… as soon as we start worrying to seriously about that… we are gonna basically…
Amato: How’ve you covered the rent?
Barry: Beg your pardon.
Amato: How have you covered the rent?
Barry: To a large extent we basically… through ourselves but we have received sponsorship for this room. However…
Amato: What s your name?
Barry: Its Thomas, I’m Thomas
Amato: Rob, Rob Amato.
Barry: … We really just want anything to happen, you know.


MANDLA BLOSE - penny whistle
June 1994, cassette 26, p. 236
CD 1 Track 13
1:53 min (2.2 MB)

This was recorded at the opening of Walker Paterson’s exhibition. It was common that a tape recorder be left recording during such events at the FLAT. Mandla Blose came to the exhibition with a penny whistle and during the course of the evening began to play. It is worth noting that when he noticed that we were recording his music, he told us in jest not to sell any of it, before he would continue playing.


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations, voice
July 7, 1994, cassette 30, p. 242
CD 1 Track 14
1:23 min (1.6 MB)

In the days leading up to AURAL HYGEINE, Brendon Bussy brought to the FLAT a CD of Steve Reich’s early work, which consisted of “It’s gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966). This made a great impression on Horsburgh, Barry and myself, and its influence was immediately evident in the experimental audio work that would soon follow. From here on, audio works/experiments would include not only recordings and collaged sound, but also composite overdubs that were abstract, noisy, repetitive and/or ambient.

I was most interested in the way that Reich manipulated found sounds, and I attempted many low-tech experiments with similar techniques at this time. In “It's Gonna Rain” and “Come Out”, Reich created a cyclical 'wash', which he described as a kind of "controlled chaos" by superimposing repeated samples. In many of his works, sampled words were looped until the pattern of interference rendered the meaning of the words unintelligible.

With “Nina/Paul/Paul/Nina” I returned to my explorations of the male/female relationship that I started with my work with Elmin at the INTERNOTIONAL. Again, the theme was communication, and the banalities of conventional social exchange.

The idea came to me in a brief second while introducing Samkelo (Paul) Matoti to Nina Saunders, a reporter who was collecting information on the FLAT. I thought about the phrase of short hand introduction - "Nina...Paul, Paul...Nina" and I repeated over and over initially as a joke. Later I thought about what it would be like to be caught in a perpetual introductory phase in a relationship; never getting any closer, mentally or physically. I kept the phrase in my head. Inspired by Reich and my own nightmarish imagined scenario, I decided to record it and to loop it over and over.

This initial experiment lead to a whole day of reworking old FLAT material, particularly my recordings of Elmin and resulted in work that for me was quite psychologically charged. These experiments recorded in successive takes became the basis of the next tape – ESPECIALLY THE FACT THAT I DON’T HAVE A CAR (Tape 30A, p. 243) – of which a small excerpt also appears on this track. Elmin’s phrases from CONVERSATION – “It’s really convenient” and “Just change the state of mind and soul” – are caught in a numbing loop.


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
July 1994, cassette 31, p. 247
CD 1 Track 15
4:03 min (4.7 MB)

This audio-visual performance, AURAL HYGEINE, was conceived by Brendon Bussy, a viola player and fine art graduate of Pietermaritzburg University. Bussy approached the FLAT to present some experiments with sound in the gallery. He and I planned the sound evening with the idea of working together to create a complex layering of sound. In a sense, we were revisiting techniques from the influential "early work" of Steve Reich (mentioned above.) Nina/Paul/Paul/Nina was in many ways my preparation for this collaborative performance.
Bussy played his viola and I played the 'The Miracle Filter' (tape-deck), 'jamming' with our two respective 'instruments'. He first played a repetitive 'tune' live, which I sampled and then re-played on another tape-deck, while he still played live in the room. We then recorded those together and replayed that. This process continued until an excessive amount of layers had nullified the original sound into a cacophonic drone (track 9).

Although the evening began with the audience passively watching, at some point in the performance, the noise evoked a remarkable outburst that arose from the viewers - most notably Rhett Marytn, who launched into expressive free form verbal jargon (track 11). Whereas at the INTERNOTIONAL, we had self-consciously 'asked' viewers to perform, here they seemed to respond spontaneously to the barrage of chaotic energized 'noise'.
After Bussy and I finished, others joined in to experiment with the process. Horsburgh repetitively recorded the phrase "Silver Chameleons” and played it back on a loop into the room as he then dueled with his own recorded voice saying "Duel Squids" (track 10).



SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
July 1994, cassette 31, p. 247
CD 1 Track 16
2:28 min (2.8 MB)


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
July 1994, cassette 31, p. 247
CD 1 Track 17
2:58 min (3.4 MB)


October 1994, cassettes 33, p. 274
CD 1 Track 18
2:59 min (3.4 MB)

Organized by Matthias Schneider-Hollek, Melissa Marrins and John Roome; this was a collaboration between composition students from the University of Natal (UND) and Fine Art students from Technikon Natal. Though this was not at all a FLAT project, many of the people involved in this event were or had been part of the FLAT ‘experience’, including Paterson, Marrins, Barry, Piers Mansfield and Martyn from the Technikon Fine Art department; and UND composition student Tione Scholtz. These students proposed a collaborative performance on the campus of the University of Natal, at the Howard College Theater. The evening was conceived as a ‘multiple happening’, with many activities and performances occurring simultaneously throughout the building. During the event, pre-recorded and augmented sound bytes, composed by Paterson and Schneider-Hollek, filtered throughout the entire space. Paterson’s work, which was composed with a number of texts, was recorded by Schneider-Hollek. Comprised of words sampled from mathematical or philosophical concepts, these compositions are intended to be highly minimal and only slightly suggestive. The voices in the actual recordings are not that of Paterson, but rather other people including some music students and Horsburgh.

“ Continuity / Order…”

“Qualitivity, functionality, relation, proportion, symmetry, correspondence, opposite number, symmetry, proportion, interaction, mutualism, interdependence, interconnection, interplay, alternation, interaction, symmetry, proportion, relation, functionality, qualitivity, symmetry, proportion, correspondence, mutuality, alternation, mutuality, interplay, symmetry, symmetry, mutualism, interdependence, relation, functionality, qualitivity, proportion, interrelation, mutuality, turn and turn about, opposite number, alternation, symmetry, proportion, symmetry, correspondence, qualitivity, functionality, interdependence, symmetry, relation, symmetry, proportion, interconnection, mutualism, functionality, interdependence, symmetry, proportion, correspondence, interplay, interaction, alternation, mutuality, symmetry, proportion, mutualism, relation, proportion, symmetry, interdependence, interrelation, qualitivity, interconnection, functionality, symmetry, correspondence, interplay, alternation, opposite number, turn and turn about, mutuality, interrelation, interplay, symmetry, proportion, relation, functionality, qualitivity, turn and turn about, alternation, interplay, interaction, mutualism, interdependence, interconnection, qualitivity, functionality, relation, proportion, symmetry, correspondence, opposite number, mutuality, interrelation.”


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
May 1994, cassette 16, p. 198
CD 1 Track 19
2:47 min (3.2 MB)

This is an extract from the conversation that I recorded between Elmin Engelbrecht, a well-known fashion-designer, and myself; which was used in our performance CONVERSATION at the INTERNOTIONAL (described above). The original recording also provided raw material for many future audio experiments including ESPECIALLY THE FACT THAT I DON’T HAVE A CAR, CONVERSATION II and my audio performance at the FLAT: SONGS FOR NELLA. In CONVERSATION II, my voice is edited out to create the impression that Elmin is talking to herself.

“Ja, got three brothers. My brothers are great. It was so strange when I was a little girl I always thought you had to choose to have a favorite brother. But my favourite brother’s my oldest brother cause he always read me stories.
Cause he read me stories. I always took out children’s books and then he would read them to me. But I always thought it’s because he’s being nice to read it to me but actually he… actually liked the stories. He enjoyed reading them for himself. [Laughter]

That’s my youngest brother. Anyway so my oldest brother was my favouritest brother and I thought he is the most intelligent person in the world and there’s nothing that he doesn’t know and he can answer anything. Whenever I read a book and I didn’t understand a word, I would go and ask him and he would always know. He would always know what… what the answer is. What it means. And I, I don't know, I guess he was like my hero. But then one day… one day I wanted him to read a story to me and I think he was tired. He was in Angola [Border War] at that time in the army and he came home for the weekend and he hadn’t slept for two days. So he was home and I... I was very young I think about five or six years old. And I wanted him to read a story to me… and he was so irritable with me and I kept on asking him and I guess I was being irritating. And then he slapped me. And from that day on he was not my favourite brother anymore.”


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
July 1994, cassette 32, p. 259
CD 1 Track 20
10:34 min (12.1 MB)

QUASI-STELLAR OBJECTS, a multi-media collaborative performance at Jam & Co Jazz Club was orchestrated by Bussy, Martyn, Horsburgh, Barry and myself. Jam ‘n Co (previously Jam & Sons) was an Afro-Jazz cross-over club that we frequented. Hannalie Coetzee, the manager had been organizing some interesting programming for the club and approached us at the FLAT about doing a performance evening that incorporated all of our recent experiments. Loosely inspired by a disk that we had found documenting the US space programmes of the 60s, we agreed with the general concept of the US lunar landing, and came up with the title “Quasi-Stellar Objects.” Throughout the entire evening, the performance was perforated with comments from “Houston”. It was noisy attempt at poetry, on stage.

The first action at the event was the playing of a pre-recorded audio piece based on my “Nina/Paul/Paul/Nina” experiment with looping phrases. Here, I recorded Barry and Horsburgh dueling, in stereo, the words ‘hand’ and ‘craft’. This was repeated and overlaid ad-infinitum until the words became unrecognizable. While this was playing, Barry laid down a huge sheet of paper in front of the stage and drew in the audience’s space. HAND/CRAFT went on for 12 minutes.

The oddity of our presenting such a performance at this Afro-Jazz club was immediately evident to us when we arrived to see that a professional ‘sound engineer’ had been hired. Our obvious displacement was further heightened when a black Englishman, who had come to the bar looking for authentic ‘ethnic music’, was confronted with us. He shouted throughout the entire performance, that he did not come all this way to see “racist white people perform this western crap”.


[with Brian Eno's, Music for Airports, Editions EG, 1978]
March 1994, cassette 10, p. 122
CD 1 Track 21
2:39 min (3 MB)

This is an extract from the MIRACLE FILTER series. Here Barry, Aliza Levi, Samkelo Matoti, Tamlyn Martin and Horsburgh discuss going through keyholes in time with Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” as a backdrop.

Barry: …what each song means though because the whole tradition is really being lost. As much as the recording is actually capturing the tradition, it actually signifies the…
Horsburgh: ...disintegration.
Barry: Ja, the disintegration.
Matoti: Fuck. Did you hear stories about black magic?
Horsburgh: Tell us about some.
Levi: Ja, tell us some stories.
Matoti: You know things about witchcraft? It is very strange that people can […].
Martin: What kind of things are you thinking of?
Matoti: Well like… actual realities that people can go through holes. Keyholes.
Horsburgh: Ja, I’ve heard of that.
Matoti: You know, like vanish…vanish in front of the eyes of the people.
Levi: So do you believe them?


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
January 1995, cassette 35
CD 2 Track 1
15.59 min (18.3 MB)

This work was one of my more abstract interpretations of the Steve Reich looping process described earlier. Here I recorded the ringer from an army telephone of Barry’s and augmented it with looping and manipulation into this somewhat ambient piece.


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
July 1994, cassette 30A, p. 243
CD 2 Track 2
7:24 min (8.5 MB)

This is an extract from the 45 minute recording, based on my conversation with Elmin. In this track, I edited out the male side of the conversation used in SONGS FOR NELLA. With only the female side of the conversation left, the effect is created that Elmin is talking to herself. Tension was added to the proverbial 'small-talk' through a guitar accompaniment. The tape noise created from endless over recording began to sound like the ocean.

“Hello. How are you? Ja, ja, I'm alive. I'm talking to you over a microphone. Joke. Joke. I.m well, ja. And you? Me too...
Hello. How are you? Ja, ja, I'm alive. I'm talking to you over a microphone. Joke. Joke. I.m well, ja. And you? Me too...
Hello. How are you? Ja, ja, I'm alive. I'm talking to you over a microphone. Joke. Joke. I.m well, ja. And you? Me too...” [etc.]

Isolated phrases such as, "I'm talking to you over a microphone", moved progressively back into their original form as the tape developed. The introduction “Nina/Paul/Paul/Nina” (track 8, disc 1 – which is the original introduction of this 45 minute recording) was then reintroduced, as if to suggest that one was caught in some looped verbal nightmare. Indeed, the repetitive nature of the language here was intended as a critique of repetitive conversation.


May 1994, cassette 19A, p. 223
CD 2 Track 3
20:05 min (23 MB)

It was my habit to visit the Point Road pawn shops to look for any kind of material that could be used in my work, and one day I came across an interesting item. It was a language tape for teaching English speaking medical students how to communicate with Zulu patients. The broad implications of such a simple object intrigued me, and when I expressed interest in buying it, the pawn shop proprietor simply gave to me what he obviously regarded as a useless item.

I was engaged at that time with a number of sound projects that dealt with issues of communication, but was also painfully conscious of my own limited knowledge of the other languages spoken in Natal, most obviously Zulu. To me the tape, in spite of its ‘well meaning’ intention, spoke not only to class distinction, but the power relations between a physician and a patient, and a white and black South African. This was revealed in the ‘probing’ authoritarian tone of the doctor as well as the personal nature of the questions. With this project the identity and ‘function’ of the original tape was retained in the resultant sound work. The work was built on two distinctly different components that clashed and competed on one level, but combined ultimately to create what some described as a ‘disturbing’ work.

In a continuation of the experiments with an old ‘three stringed’ Spanish guitar; I amped the broken instrument by putting a microphone inside it and ‘playing’.  I did not play guitar, nor did I speak Zulu, but I was intrigued by the idea of creating a disturbing soundtrack for the language tape. I played the guitar while listening to the Zulu tape and then recorded the two together. The chaotic guitar gave the language tape a mood or an edge, which seemed fitting to its subject matter. The work was full of contradictions. There was, as with all works that ‘spoke’ through a sampled ‘black voice’, a danger of being misread. Such an appropriation might be seen as a disrespectful careless use of another. But my hope was to address the very awkwardness inherent in the bringing together of two cultures or two languages and the power relations inherent in any exchange.
It was ironic that the tape’s explicit purpose was, in the most literal sense, to promote healing. And yet it was an appropriate metaphor for the problems and pitfalls that faced the South African. Was  ‘healing’ possible within the dynamics so clearly illustrated in the tape? Was the white South African ‘doctor’ the authority, the Zulu in need of ‘help’? For me that small souvenir of the best and worst of the colonial missionary spirit spoke volumes.

Many Zulu viewers were drawn to the work because of language, and as with other such works, an interaction occurred across racial lines. It was, indeed, an educational tape, and I was amused by how wooden and simple minded the non-Zulu speaker on the tape must have sounded to a Zulu listener.

Extracts from ZULU FOR MEDICS.

English male:             G-14. Where do you work?
English female:            You work where?
Zulu male:            Usebenza gupi?
English male:            G-15. What job or work do you do?
English female:            You work, which work?
Zulu male:            Usebenza muphi umsebenzi?
English male:             G-16. Do you still work?
English female:            You still are working?
Zulu male:            Usasebenza na?
English male:             G-17. I don’t work anymore.
English female:            I don’t still work.
Zulu male:            Ungesasebenzi.
English male:            I don’t work.
Zulu male:            Ungesebenzi.
English male:             G-18. When did you stop working?
English female:            You stopped when to work?
Zulu male:            Uyeke nini ugusebenza?

English male:             G-42. My father is dead.
English female:            The father to me he is dead.
Zulu male:            Ubaba wami ushonele.
English male:             G-43. My mother is alive.
English female:            The mother to me she is alive.
Zulu male:            Umama wami usaphila.
English male:             G-44. My brother is sick.
English female:            The brother to me he is sick.
Zulu male:            Ubuthi wami uyagula.
English male:             G-45. My sister is healthy.
English female:            The sister to me she is healthy.
Zulu male:            Usisi wami uyaphila.

English female:            In Zulu the question form is simply a statement
said with an interrogative intonation. “Na” emphasizes the
question form like the Afrikaans  “Né” and it is optional.
English male:             G-55. Do you smoke?
English female:            You do smoke!
Zulu male:            Uyabema na!
English male:             G-56. Do you drink?
English female:            You do drink!
Zulu male:            Uyaphuza na!
English male:             G-57. What? That is what do you drink?
English female:            You drink which alcoholic beverage, beer?
Zulu male:            Uphuza bupi utshwala na?
English male:            G-58. Do you take medicines?
English female:            Do you drink medicines?
Zulu male:            Uyayiphuza imiti na?
English male:             G-59. Do you see the witchdoctor?
English female:            You go is it so to the witchdoctor?
Zulu male:            Uyaya yini ezinyangeni zabantu?
English male:             G-61. Do you take anything from the witchdoctor?
English female:            You take is it so medicines at the witchdoctor?
Zulu male:            Uyayithata yini imiti ezinyangeni?


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
April 1995, cassette 36, p. 307
CD 2 Track 4
2:25 min (2.8 MB)

This sound work was produced from a conversation recorded amoung many that took place in 1993 at the FLAT. At that time (as mentioned earlier) we were obsessively recording all social interaction that took place at the FLAT. These recordings were made without censure or specific intention, following only the urge to record (as neutrally as possibly) the found sounds of this environment, so as to produce a 'purposefully' uncritical social document. The resultant tapes (as in this case) were then used as raw material for further sound pieces.

In one such tape, the speaker, Moonlight, a grounds-keeper from the Natal Technikon expressed his opinions on the subject of prostitution:

Black ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
White ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
Indian ladies, just stopping to sell your body!
... er... Coloured ladies, just stopping to sell your body!

These words revealed a complex dynamic of relationships across gender and racial lines; however, the repetitive pattern of these phrases also asserted themselves on a purely formal level. Some months later, when I began to use the collected raw audio material to generate sound works, I revisited this conversation with Moonlight and 'looped' the sample quoted above. The original audio information was subsequently superimposed upon itself numerous times, so as to produce a work that began with recognizable words, and then progressed into a 'cacophony' of sounds.

My initial influences for this process lay in the technical experiments of American composer Steve Reich, in which he constructed a 'new music' entirely from recorded words. Significant was the fact that not only did he appropriate and manipulate voices in his work, but in two very important pieces – “It's Gonna Rain” (1965) and “Come Out” (1966) - the voices of black men.


April 1995, tape u
July 1994, tape 30A
SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
CD 2 Track 5
7:19 min (8.4 MB)

Extracts from two different recordings that formed part of audio installations that I constructed some months after the closing of the FLAT. Here I continued explorations with the repetitive looping process. “What value…” is taken from a language tape teaching people communication skills. “What the meaning…” is sampled from the soundtrack to the movie “The Thin Blue Line”.


SIEMON ALLEN - tape manipulations
[with Bernard Herrman's soundrack to Psycho]
July 1994, casstte 30A, p. 243
CD 2 Track 6
4:02 min (4.6 MB)

This extract forms the final post-script - the 'revealing stage' – to this epic, 45 minute recording. As the entire tape was built from a short conversation with phrases that had been fractured and multiplied, their meaning was illusive. Partially illuminated throughout the work, it was only here at the end, that the phrases would be recontexualized and restored to their original meaning. Fused with Elmin's voice was melancholic music from Hitchcock's “Psycho”. My aim was to use this 'sound track' in a cinematic fashion, and to build tension towards an ultimate 'resolution'. Here the 'meaning' of Elmin's words, as well as the title of the work are revealed.

“Ja, I do. You see I... I... I understand completely what you are saying and I used to be like that when I was a little girl. I had this special place where I'd go um... this plant growing in our garden. I guess its not a plant, its more like a eh... don't know what you call it in English. Struik [shrub.] It's... It's like um... a small little tree, you know, and it grows really dense and people use it for um... to put around their homes. Anyway but this place it was really dense and very green and made the most amazing tunnels inside. And it had these beautiful yellow flowers growing on it and if you crawl inside of it its like crawling into a new world. And no one knew you could actually crawl underneath this um... this plant or tree or hedge or whatever. So I could crawl in there and no one would know I was there. I was all by myself It was like my secret place and I think that's, that's more or less like the place you are... It's where I can be alone and could be myself. But now, now I’m really lucky. I can actually be by myself while I’m here, while I’m now in the room with you, while I'm in the room with a lot of people. Can be totally on my own and I've actually perfected it where I can even make them believe that I’m with them but I’m not – where I’m in my own world by myself; in my little space and they actually not even aware of it. I think it took me 22 years to perfect that. It works really works well for me. So whenever I need it, I can escape into it. I never even physically have to move or change... change venue. Just change the state of mind and soul. It's really convenient. Especially the fact that I don’t have a car...