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Text about Magnetic Migration Music

29.04.2014 by Zoë Irvine

This text was written, read and recorded by Zoë Irvine and it was used during her show in 16th ZEMOS98 Festival. She explains in it how she started Magnetic Migration Music and the nature of the project.

Magnetic Migration Music is a project I began in 1998. I had seen a piece of audio tape, broken out of its cassette, caught in the tree outside my window. Eventually I was curious enough to climb up and get it, clean it a little, re-spool it and listen to what was on it. It was a tiny, beaten up fragment of tutti-frutti by Little Richard. To me it seemed like something magical.

At about the same time, I saw on the news images from Afghanistan, as the Taliban enforced their ban on music they burnt instruments, destroyed radios and ripped the tape out of cassettes. There was a shot of a tree lined street in Kabul, where the trees were completely covered in broken cassette tape that had been ripped out of passing cars. It made me think of Magnetic Migration Music project in a romantic and
poetic way I suppose. Perhaps one day I would find one of those pieces of tape, carried on the wind, battered but still possible to listen to, perhaps this music could travel where the people couldn’t.

Over the last 14 years I have always picked up and re-spooled any tape I have found and many people have sent me pieces of tape too. In 2002 I went to the Sangatte/ Calais area in North France, it was where the Red Cross had a huge camp accommodating 1000s of asylum seekers that arrived there everyday trying to get to the UK, trying to get a better life. I went there as it was the closest tangible border to me in the hope of finding tape, hearing people’s stories for myself. It was incredibly
naive but I was very lucky, in the time I was there I found 17 pieces of tape, some of which I will play this eve. I will also play a few fragments of conversation I have recorded there and elsewhere about the music found and journeys taken.

Nowadays tape is not so easy to find, but every now and then I find some and add it to my collection. I have found home made recordings, language tapes, many religious recordings of all different types, countless fragments of pop music, relaxation and hypnosis tapes, I’ve found tapes in almost perfect condition and tapes with practically no magnetic material left. They all have their qualities.

I have hundreds of tapes, named by where they were found and when, they are not really an archive though and I am not an archivist. I think of these sounds as a different way of listening to our shifting cultural landscape, the people we are. The tapes are an uncontrollable, centrifugal cacophony that can spin off, break and become inaudible again at any moment. There is nothing fixed and preserved here.

This evening I will dip into, sample and play with a selection of them and afterwards I can let you know the locations and dates when these sounds were found.

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