Poor Music: An Interactive Guerilla Art Project

Greetings and welcome to the POOR MUSIC Series!

We sincerely hope that you’ve reached us by buying one of our tapes at a thrift store and following the instructions in the announcement at the end of the tape, but even if you haven’t we hope you’ll read on and maybe even decide to contribute to the project!

The POOR MUSIC Series began as an investigation into the role that context plays in the perception of art- in this case, specifically sonic art. San Diego based composer PEA HICKS developed the idea for the series based on his experiences in obtaining and listening to discarded cassettes he found in thrift stores. He would choose tapes usually based on anything vaguely interesting that might have been scrawled on them, and most often favored tapes that obviously were created many years earlier. These tapes would sometimes having interesting material on them (ie lurid tape letters or comically inept amateur music recordings) and sometimes there would be nothing at all, but Pea noticed that even some of the more mundane recordings seemed much more interesting than they really were simply because of the CONTEXT in which he was experiencing them.

It’s the same sort of “outsider-art” context that makes artists such as The Shaggs and Wesley Willis so intriguing. Their lack of pretense effectively destroys our instinct to critique them on “artistic” grounds, and we’re left simply to wonder at what kind of circumstances could lead to the creation of something so naively ODD! Consider this: if you played The Shaggs for someone who had never heard of them, and told them that it was an art-school group trying very hard to sound “primitive” for art’s sake, the music might still be regarded as interesting, but ultimately contrived. But something magical happens when you place The Shaggs in their correct context. With the knowledge that the music just sort of “ended up that way” more or less unintentionally, the listener can’t help but be carried away with the unliklihood of it all. And hence The Shaggs have come to be branded as musical “geniuses.”

Now, let’s return our attention to the Poor Music Series. Inspired by his findings in the thrift stores, Pea decided to conduct an artistic experiment to see how he could take advantage of contextual matters to alter a person’s perception of some sound they were hearing. To this end, he started creating his own slightly bizarre tapes, recording them onto cruddy old tapes, writing fake descriptions and dates on them, and dispersing them back into the thrift stores. Hopefully, people would be intrigued enough by what was scrawled on the tapes to buy them for a quarter and find out what was on them. The idea was that if someone *believed* that a tape of meandering, distorted organ noodling was actually “Gramma playing organ 1973” as it said on the tape, then they might just think that they’d stumbled onto the next Shaggs! Now, as illustrated above, the same organ recording, presented as some hipster’s lo-fi art project, would probably be met with more than a few yawns.

Of course, the major drawback of the project was that there was no easy way to monitor who bought the tapes and to get reactions from them. To this end, Pea put a vocal announcement at the very end of each tape, saying “this is an art project” etc., and he also included contact information for those interested in giving feedback. Sure, this scheme completely blew his cover, but he felt that if anyone actually got all the way through a tape, they deserved to be let in on the secret. Despite the fact that the tapes seemed to disappear from the bins fairly quickly (he would go back and check on them), he never received any feedback about them.

Now it’s time for a second try on the Poor Music Series. With the explosion of the internet and the amazing communications opportunities it presents, Pea realized that his concept could be taken to a much larger degree, incorporating sound artists from around the country (or the world for that matter), all creating tapes, branding them with the official Poor Music announcement at the end, and distributing them into the thrift stores in whichever city they may be living in. The goal, of course, is to ultimately lure the unsuspecting listeners back to this website, encourage them to leave comments, and hopefully recruit more and more contributors. It’s an interesting art/perceptual experiment, and what’s more- it benefits charity!!

Please feel free to leave your comments on our message board, and read the instructions on how to create your own Poor Music tape!

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