Thursday, 19 November 2009

Postage cassette

Set up by Michael Leigh, The A.1 Waste Cassette Co. was "inspired by Morgan Fisher's Miniatures project" which, although not mail art network-related, "had a similar easygoing attitude and commitment", its accompanying documentation resembling that for a mail art show "if only people had the funds to pay for it !" (Quotes from interview with Michael by Ruud Janssen.)
The deadline was set for 20th July 1995, with Michael requesting brief submissions - music, poetry, whatever - on the single subject of postage, appropriately for the mail art community. The cassettes upon which contributions were sent were returned to each person containing a copy of the finished collection, a good way of reusing them and for Michael not to be left with a boxful of partially used tapes.
I've no idea who pioneered the running of a mail art project which concentrated on sound as opposed to visuals, though I'd wager that it wasn't Michael who was the first to do so. I can't remember how this cassette entered my possession.
A couple of points : How did Michael find participants ? Any direct approaches to folk he knew might be interested, or was every response to his call for submissions in (perhaps) Artists Newsletter ? Also : I wonder how many of those involved were at all known for their work with sound/music, or if this was a big departure for people more familiar with expressing themselves visually... ?
The tape contains thirty-nine tracks, with an international list of participants from the U.K., Italy, the U.S., France, Finland, Canada, Hungary, The Netherlands, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and Eire. Names I know : Patricia Collins; Robin Crozier; Ruud Janssen; A.1 Waste Noise Co. Ltd.; and Bill Whorrall. The single-sided b&w inlay has tape graphics with "BUSH" altered to read "MUSH". It's a cleverly presented wraparound with a space cut in the centre of one panel to accommodate the case's twin prongs which slot into the spools. After the final track, Michael reads out the contributors' contact details, then fills the cassette with information on other mail art projects.
Bill Whorrall kicks things off with some dialogue, this being followed by the off-the-cuff Postal Rap. There's some chopped-up Beatles - Please Mr. Postman, inevitably; a poem with what sounds like yogurt pot percussion; music by the splendidly monickered Ivor Arbuckle; raspberry-blowing sounds by Robin and Chris Nolan Crozier; some saxophone; the word "postage" as a sample over some jaunty backing music featuring whistling; a song entitled Disgruntled Postal Worker; Ruud Janssen at his desk reading out part of the project's instructions; someone knocking on a door; a Japanese spoken word piece; some chat about the design of British postage stamps as compared to elsewhere in the world; Water Letter For Ray Johnson which seems to combine a manual typewriter and a flushing lavatory; a bunch of phrases on the subject for English learners from a crackly old tuition disc; an item being wrapped with paper and sticky tape; and lots more besides.
Whatever became of all these folk ? Somehow the medium (although never quite obsolete; occasionally experiencing a small revival) makes this cassette feel much further in the distance than its fourteen years, like a relic from the 'sixties or something. A very entertaining listen, though a shame it peters out three-quarters of the way through. I guess all of these recordings were of varying quality, which is pleasing; and nothing's permitted to outstay its welcome, the chopping-off point being one minute.
Michael also assembled collections on the themes of peace, and waste; in addition he ran a thematic tape exchange, building up a catalogue from which contributors of cassettes filled entirely with songs on a single subject could select one in return for theirs.

Michael Leigh :;; and

mail art cassette inlay

MICHAEL : Please notify via comments if any errors/serious omissions and I'll rectify the entry, thanks !


  1. Nice one. In answer to your query about how I got people to send me cassettes in the first place. many were on my list of previous participants who sent sounds for the themed tapes. Most were mail artists who dabbled in sound. very few were sound artists who dabbled in the mail. I did put an ad in Artists Newsletter as it was me who compiled the "mail art" section at the time. For this I got a free subscription to the magazine. After a couple of years the editor took a few liberties with what ads he/she slipped in with the ones I sent and so we had a falling out.
    I also sent out flyers through the post like the one used in the finsished cassette artwork wrap.

  2. good to read a bit about mail-art history.....