“This is an overview of post-conceptual and multimedia artist Joseph Nechvatal’s sound collages and experimental music, from 1980s tape experiments to 21st century polymorphous, digital endeavors. Born in Chicago in 1951, Nechvatal studied art and philosophy before relocating to New York City in 1975. During the 1980s, he co-founded the non-profit cultural space ABC NO Rio and avantgarde music series Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine, and took part in many experimental cassette compilations, installation projects and avant-garde live events taking place seemingly everywhere in Lower Manhattan at the time.
I got interested around 2005, collecting Tellus Audio Cassettes and later archiving and documenting them on Ubuweb and Wikipedia, as well as on my own blog—eventually meeting Joseph personally in Paris around 2008, where he now lives. In retrospect, Nechvatal’s artistic career seems to have been a long tight-rope walk over a variety of epidemics, from AIDS-ridden NYC in the 1980s, to his viractuality concept coined at the end of the century, to today’s COVID-19 catastrophe. It is perhaps only natural, then, that his art deals with viruses, and his music with aural degeneration and sonic necrosis—his own personal view, perhaps, of the transient state of life on Earth.
The 1980s were a time of joyous, multifarious sound experiments for Nechvatal, from no wave guitar explorations (Dalychtocracy, 1985), to analog synth music (TRUE and FALSE, 1985), onto multiple tape collages. While all three genres are documented in this anthology, it is in rebus-like, caustic sound collages that Nechvatal reveled and found a vehicle for the shit-loads of flotsam sound detritus in his immediate vicinity. Whether coming from records, radio broadcasts, TV commercials, or political speech, for Nechvatal these aural excreta deserved to be transmogrified and dignified through sound art, just like Antonin Artaud elevated caca, or shit, to mythical, ontological status in his writings from the 1930s and ’40s. It is in this sound art Nigredo—the dark, alchemical art of transmutation, according to Carl Jung—that we might find a key to approach Nechvatal’s recent digital sound works as well.
During the 1992–2002 period, Nechvatal launched his Computer Virus Project for multimedia works created with programming code and auto-generative routines, which led him to exhibit corrupted data as art. From then on, all his work is deemed viral, being based on data manipulation, data corruption and cellular automata. First applied to computer-assisted paintings and video animations, his viractuality concept also ultimately found its way into his music after 2000, with some sound works merely consisting of the sound of a computer virus at work.
In 21st century works, Joseph Nechvatal’s sound art gained density and complexity as he composed longer and increasingly ambitious works. In this respect, the first version of the viral symphOny in 2006 acted as a manifesto and a blueprint for things to come. The viral symphOny is a vast collage of recycled sounds and corrupted audio data given a life of its own by cellular automata procedures and de-generative algorithms, assembled into a constantly shape-shifting, multisonant sound work. A first version was published on CD in 2006, then reworked and reprocessed at various stages in subsequent years, and finally given a complete reshuffle in 2020 under the title OrlandO et la tempête viral symphOny redux suite. During this long incubation period, a team of programmers, AI specialists and sound engineers contributed to the elaboration of the music, which appears to have been cultivated in a sonic Petri dish of some sort, rather than composed in a traditional way.
The spoken word is also a common fixture in Nechvatal’s sound works from later years, be it found sounds, text-to-speech readings by an automaton, or collaboration with readers in the flesh. Texts include his own space-filling prose poetry, his own cut-and-paste word collages, and excerpts from Classical literature, from Ancient Greek authors to Virginia Woolf and Antonin Artaud. The last few years have also seen a renewed interest in sound collage in association with found sounds and computer viruses, culminating in pour finir avec le jugement de dieu viral symphOny plague in 2021, a brilliant sonic transmutation of Antonin Artaud’s 1947 suppressed radio art piece. For Joseph Nechvatal, there is still a lot of shit to turn into gold, and the dark art of Nigredo remains a never-ending sonic process.”
– Laurent Fairon, 2021
In an edition of 100 pro-duplicated tapes with a 6-panel J-card featuring extensive track notes by Nechvatal and liner notes by Laurent Fairon. Digital version of the release on Bandcamp contains two bonus tracks. Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi.
“For me, these Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) tracks are ‘sound stem chains’, a sonic ‘inspirational tool’, not unlike Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” or even earlier, like the card deck by Marshall McLuhan called “Distant Early Warnings” . . . [T]his dream listening takes me back to my childhood experience of sound, kneeling on the rug spinning the dial on a massive floor model short wave radio receiver that was marked with the names of cities across the world; just listening to static and distant broadcasts (DXing) in languages I did not speak.”
- Judy Nylon, 2021
“The apparent contradiction in the parallelism of musical and human expressions with what appears as “noise” reveals in Selected Sound Works a thorough metamorphosis into the state of sound art. The continuous surprise becomes a coherent textural patchwork, an involuntary composition of fears, anxieties and joy submitted to the treatment of a deforming and multi-reflecting mirror. Recognizing or simply ignoring the sources does not change the result in the mind of the listeners: subjected to a training of memory, they’re also urged to instinctive reaction by the constant shifting of the acoustic stimulus.”
- Massimo Ricci, touchingextremes.wordpress.com
“Joseph Nechvatal’s Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) is a brain-jarring intermedia collision of post-conceptual art and Minimalist subculture. Experience the next logical step beyond the sustained drones and disciplined intonations of freeform radicals like Cage, Glass, Reich, LaMonte, Maciunas, MacLise, Ono, Jennings, Niblock, Flynt, Gibson, and Branca. This cassette-only package is worth obtaining for its Laurent Fairon liner notes alone. Demanding, commanding, and outstanding.”
- Steven Blush, author/filmmaker American Hardcore
“Spanning plunderphonic cut-ups, gestural noise, synthesizer improvisations, and bracing computational abstraction, Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) offers a vivid account of the evolving strategies that have defined experimental electronic music and sonic art across the millenium, showing how one of its most committed artists and theorists - working across the analogue and digital, aural and spatial, human and inhuman - has built a sonic world that seamlessly connects late 20th century ferromagnetic/digital exploration, mass media détournement, and site-specific sound sculpture to contemporary explorations of virality, artificial intelligence, and computational culture in the early 21st century.”
- Charles Eppley, www.charleseppley.com
“To accept the easily palatable is the fate of the mob…. For the poet exists to marvel.” —Maglorie-Saint-Aude “Like Nechvatal's visual production, Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) plunges us into the most veiled corners of the primal and energetic beyond. They remind me of Gide's declaration, 'no new thinking enters the temple of art in borrowed robes.' Regardless of its electricity, the various discernable movements are auditorily Olympian in strength but emotionally fragile and without ornament. Yet, the level of its organic coherence, its language, and its intangible layering of abstract qualities illuminates an eloquent disaggregate critique of the friction between the sublime and contemporary society. Hence, “the only durable works are those that circumstances provoked.” — Goethe
- Joseph S. Lewis
“Sound snatches and samples, spoken snippets and streams, ice floes of placid ambience that evoke Fripp/Eno bumping up against screaming beats that signify James Brown via Eric B & Rakim, Selected Sound Works appears random at the start then proceeds and develops according to an internal logic, gathering energy and an elegant coherence across two old-fashioned cassette sides. What seemed 'outside' or experimental in 1981, when Joseph Nechvatal starting assembling these sonic collages, in 2021, after forty years of hip hop, techno, industrial, EDM et al, just sounds like music. Or life. And it’s still more interesting than listening to the radio.”
- Mark Coleman
“Selected Sound Works (1981-2021)" documents forty years of musical experimentation by Joseph Nechvatal. Writer, painter, composer- Nechvatal in the 1980's was an integral part of the U.S. cassette network. Known not only for his own audio works, but also co-founding the Tellus Cassette Magazine where he curated such essential compilations as "Power Electronics", "Media Myth" and "The Improvisors", documenting the international tape underground at its peak. I learned about a lot of sound artists from those compilations, but I also got to know and love Nechvatal’s music too. Using disparate sound sources from television, LP's, and tapes, he created irreverent audio montages, chance happenings that were 'plunderphonic' before John Oswald even coined the term. His loop compositions were particularly fascinating to me and he contributed the piece 'Endless Entertainment' to my compilation, Assemblage, in 1990. Joseph’s work is a rich amalgam of elements gathered from popular (and obscure) culture and fed back to us with broken connotations and mutated subtext. Crucial.”
- PBK (Phillip B. Klingler)
“Listening to Joseph Nechvatal’s Selected Sound Works, you feel as though you are eavesdropping through snippets of time. Cut-ups and sampling tidbits have been captured and compressed into filaments and arabesques of sound. Past and present tenses transform into a chimerical unraveling of what we think we know -- into a language of the unknown.”
- Aline Mare
“A True Rollercoaster of the MyND. I am listening writing a blurb. I am thinking of other needle droppers and the flow lifopsies of the 20th and 21st centyr as I listen and wathc JosepHis release is quite Lin EAR a marv squish s nquah needle drops keep falling on my it’s the old dope peddlar drive away on a chevrolay it can’t be true is poof tis the magic draon n B See sea dragons clickety clak it’s the hahhhhhahhhhh birthday tooamiliar bah dah bah boom watch nat sound machine sound familiar bah dah dah boom unfamiliar familiar in demi sec die digestion. what would your mother say? - ghost of t t t t t kkkkkkk ahhhhhh X C-lected excuse me while edit mm edit mm if you edit 15 min —————————————========================_____________________ ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh****** UH as the 2nd 29’30" of the 59 min release unfolded, my surgical urge to talk about the wish to have a full stop after each piece! as they flowed into each other making acrobatic the coord with the superb liner notes. JoseoHis circus, Hooray.”
- Charlie Morrow
“Sound is subjective. When one hears an audio sound, it cannot help be part of one's memory and senses. Joseph Nechvatal’s Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) is an aural adventure within your head, which is lovely. It is a Proustian series of moments to sit and listen to this landscape of aurally delights that takes one to familiar places and mysterious locations that once may have had a map but now undiscovered territory. The first listen will not be your last.”
- Tosh Berman
“What fascinates me most about Joseph Nechvatal ~ Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) is the attitude. There is a certain braveness that I admire, a sort of boldness. An understanding that sound artifacts, that occur when recording and editing tape, actually adds to the message of the music. Form follows function. Never worry about the outcome. Just create!! And that attitude I find in all aspects of Nechvatal’s work; the choices he makes in combining sounds and in the sounds he chooses. His work with Tellus also had a big influence on my life as a sound artist. We sold Tellus tapes at the Staalplaat shop in Amsterdam and I collected most of them and learned from listening to them.”
- Radboud Mens, Staalplaat
“One wonders what is it like to step into a time-machine, or better yet, to ask the question: what kind of sound allows for time travel? These Selected Sound Works snippets and excerpts by Joseph Nechvatal, covering his artistic creation in the period from 1981 to 2021, are an answer to this question. These time-slices, produced over 40 years, cover a polyphony of artistic creation and express Nechvatal’s exorcism of relevant cultural tropes and historical events; from Tibetan chants to a 9/11 sound memorial to a C++ viral real-time field recording, this monumental work compresses time-travel into a cassette.”
- Dana Dawud
“Listening to Joseph Nechvatal’s Selected Sound Works transported me to the sonic landscape I discovered living in New York City in the late 70s and 80s. Every sound was available to be heard, recorded, spliced, looped, slowed down, sped up, and cut. The tape recorder was an instrument and everyone had their own unique palette and position in space to convey. John Cage taught us that all we had to do was listen. Listening to Selected Sound Works is that kind of listening. It’s all in there. It’s the joyful noise of sonic exploration and attentive listening to what we love.”
- Gen Ken Montgomery
“Fantastic old-school industrial noise collage.”
- GX Jupitter-Larsen
“The Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) cut-ups take the listener on a journey through time; crossing both the cultural references of Joseph Nechvatal and his interest in the encompassing power of noise. This tape, which spans four decades of sound cogitation, explores topics that also punctuated the artist’s writings (Immersion Into Noise, in particular) and visual works. The track Excerpt II from Reckless (1984) reproduces, for example, the sounds of detonations that recall the issues of nuclear weapons that Nechvatal and Rhys Chatham raised in their mid-1980s avant-garde art music performance XS: The Opera Opus. This work crossed various historical and philosophical elements to criticise the massive and disproportionate production of atomic weapons under the Ronald Reagan presidency. As Nechvatal wrote in his essay “The Look of XS” in Unsound (vol. 3, n° 1), “XS resonates not only with contemporary historical images, but also with faint visual references to Pompeii, the cave dwellers, and the 60s. […] Here the mind is wrestled away from Aristotelian logic by use of elaborate poly-structures, so that we glimpse the image of mass annihilation wrought by militarized technology which now provides the major context for our art and our lives.” Nechvatal had already dabbled with the theme of nuclear conflict in 1979, when he plastered the walls of a group of buildings in Lower Manhattan with posters, proclaiming “Limited’ Nuclear War.”
The symbolic power of the nuclear weapon is addressed in Selected Sound Works through the artistic practices of audio collage, instrumental performance, and sound manipulation. That power allows us to appreciate Nechvatal’s more current preoccupation with the notion of the virus. His viral symphOny, composed over the years, focuses on his fascination with the virus; manifest in his computer-assisted viral paintings, a-life animations, and sound works; that end here with an acoustic journey that pays tribute to Antonin Artaud, with a reinterpretation of Artaud’s radio play, Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu.”
- Nicolas Ballet
“I’ve always felt that rock recordings were like scattered public monuments in the far more expansive, atmospheric landscapes of electrically and electronically mediated sound, the concatenation of machines, frequencies, channels and networks that subtends whatever is called modern music. Joseph Nechvatal’s Selected Sound Works (1981-2021) seem to recapture that feeling with stunning clarity, timing and musical sensitivity, allowing a dispersion of familiar samples to appear as the effects of the vast sonic grounds that nourished them in the first place.”
- Ina Blom
“When Joseph Nechvatal picked up Antonin Artaud’s Theater and the Plague (1933) in 2021, he was surely looking for tools to understand the social implications of the current plague, COVID-19 and its variant, alongside the many different plagues of his lifetime, whether HIV/AIDS, or the rising tide of computer viruses. All of these are connected by many things (global travel, human/animal land competition, and resource competition), but share a particular interest the structure of mutation. In viral mutations, traces of the original contagion persist even as variants wipe out the beneficial structures of resistance, whether they be antibodies, anti-viral medication, or various forms of avoiding social contact. The structure of this accelerated process of transformation is audible within individual works on this cassette. How to Kill (1986) audibly represents its source and its viral adaptation of fragmented cuts (Janet Jackson’s Nasty). Psychedelic Hermeneutic (1988) translates seventeen seconds of feedback from its source (Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?) into a minute-and-a-half exploration of feedback. The repetitions and feedings-back performing a near perfect analogue for viral reproduction as well as the bodies’ developing resistance through anti-bodies. By 2006, the viral had jumped from recorded sound to a-life synthesis in viral symphony, whose visual analogue, Computer Virus Project II was developed with Stephane Sikora as a C++ a-life program. Without reducing any of these to the direct translation model of data sonification, this cassette perfectly frames the issue of contagion and variation as sonic perceptions. Nechvatal’s lifetime of work in data manipulation, data corruption, and multi-formatted AI/automata model for the past, present and future of viruses. We live now in an era where ‘going viral’ is desirable as a term of widespread cultural imprinting. But usually ‘going viral’ means the thing is unchanged as it spreads. This view separates contagion from transformation, which is at the center of Nechvatal’s practice. If you want to hear what’s gained in the translation, try listening to the source material (Jackson & Hendrix) and Nechvatal’s transformation of it. Or, find the imagery of Computer Virus Project II and listen to its musical counterpart.”
- Hannah Higgins
"Nechvatal’s early sound collages and musique concrète pieces evoke a grittier and more hyperactive Pierre Schaeffer, with the occasional more recognisably musical stretch along the lines of the hybrid music/tape work of early 70s Franco Battiato. Field recordings and snippets of decontexualised dialogue from films and television, often contorted beyond recognition, crop up in random spots and at blinding speed, alongside samples of Nechvatal’s own guitar and synthesizer playing, and other sources we can only guess at. While Nechvatal seems to use the term plunderphonics rather loosely, “How To Kill”, a frenetic assault on Janet Jackson’s “Nasty”, is unmistakably John Oswald-esque, as is “Excerpt I From Reckless”, a wildly stuttering James Brown cut-up. “Excerpt II From Reckless”, presumably an anti-war piece, includes an extended audio blitzkrieg via gunfire and whizzing missiles, striking me as a kind of contemporary sonic counterpart to Picasso’s Guernica.
Most of Nechvatal’s more recent work, like the visual art he has been producing in the last couple of decades, employs custom written computer software and viral techniques – for example, using algorithms to control the replication and decay of various sonic elements in his compositions. Not to denigrate the early work, but the 2000s pieces, which are more obviously electronic and world fit comfortably in the category of computer music, seem more mature in their clearly advanced use of technology as well as their more laconic pace and less jagged, digital sound. But Nechvatal’s thumbprint can be detected just as clearly in these, and the two broad periods of his work complement each other nicely."
- David Mandl for The Wire
"Listening to Nechvatal's recent works contained in this collection I have had the same pleasure and enjoyment as I might have felt in the 80's or 90's, and listening to his works of those earlier times gave me the feeling that they could have been made yesterday. Because the theme, the substrate remains today. Perhaps the very good remastering of the old pieces has helped to get this feeling, but I haven't had the feeling of listening to a relic. Now all that flow of pop music, noise, news, interference and announcements reaches us via digital, in much greater quantity, it is true, but it doesn't make much difference. If in his early works he used tapes, vinyl, radio and guitars… and in more recent times he uses software, digital information and computer viruses, the conceptual idea underlying the tracks compiled in this release is the same, in my opinion.
It is also very interesting to pay good attention to Joseph Nechvatal's visual works, since they keep a strong interrelation with his sound production, as we can also perceive in the cover of the release of which I am making this small review.
The best summary I can give of what you will hear on this cassette or in its digital edition is … Warning to lovers of cut-ups, no wave, sound collages, musique concrète, radio art, sound poetry and digital noise... you're going to love this release!"
- Rafael González
released October 15, 2021