Launched in 1983 as a subscription only bimonthly publication, the Tellus cassette series took full advantage of the popular cassette medium to promote cutting edge music, documenting the New York scene and advanced US composers of the time – the first 2 issues being devoted to NY artists from the downtown scene. The series was financially supported along the years by funding from the New York State Council of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Obviously, the Tellus publishers (visual artist and composer Joseph Nechvatal, curator Claudia Gould and composer Carol Parkinson, director of Harvestworks from 1987 on) never considered running an underground publication, rather envisaging the cassette medium as an art form in itself. A quite unique point of view at a time (the 1980s) when many self released cassettes blossomed through mail order or trade between artists, and when the cassette milieu was promoting DIY technique, even anti-art as a motto. The Audio Cassette Magazine never indulged into amateurism, their releases always focused, well researched and aptly curated. From the start, the founding members deliberately aimed at raising the profile of their cassette releases, sending issues to US public libraries and museums, for instance. The Tellus team launched the Harvestworks Artist-In- Residence Program along the cassette series, to promote independent artists’ projects and provide them with a professional recording facility, named Studio PASS.
Tellus ‘The Audio Cassette Magazine’ was in activity for 10 years (1983-1993), witnessing the digital revolution taking place in the new media arts. Some points of comparison can be established with the Toronto based MusicWorks Journal and cassette, launched 1978, or with the ROIR cassette only releases of various musical styles, from Flipper to Lee Perry to Einsturzende Neubauten, launched 1981. Tellus published audio art, new music, poetry and drama, exploring musical spheres as diverse as avant-garde composition, post industrial music, NY no wave, Fluxus music, heirs of Harry Partch, avant rock, sound poetry, radio plays, tango, electroacoustic music, etc.
The series included some landmark sound works now regarded as historical: Louise Lawler’s ‘Birdcalls’ (Tellus #5-6), Christian Marclay 1982’s ‘Groove’ (Tellus#8), Lee Ranaldo ‘The Bridge’ (Tellus#10), Alison Knowles ‘Nivea Cream Piece’ (Tellus#24), etc. Tellus always championed women and gay composers, which was very needed in the macho experimental music sphere of the times. Curatorial policy has proved very efficient as well – asking specialists to compile a program in their own field insured state of the art results. Today, Tellus is mentioned as an inspiration to the opening of the Sound Art Museum in Rome in 2007. An exhibition was held at Printed Matter, NY, devoted to contemporary American cassette culture (‘Leaderless: Underground Cassette Culture Now’, May 12 to 26, 2007). It seems it’s now time to reappraise Tellus’ major contribution to the perception of independent music as an art form.