A Precursor to Bad at Sports

May 5, 2010 · Print This Article

Philip Glass being interviewed by William Furlong in 1982. From “Speaking of Art: Four Decades of Art in Conversation” by William Furlong (Phaidon Press).

Duncan brought this fascinating New York Times article on William Furlong to my attention yesterday. Duncan was particularly interested in how Furlong’s Audio Arts magazine, which consisted solely of cassette recorded conversations with other artists, provides a precursor to what Bad at Sports is doing in Chicago. A new book, titled “Speaking of Art,” containing  edited transcripts of 43 interviews from the archive has just been published by Phaidon Press. From the New York Times article, which was written by Randy Kennedy:

For a couple of decades the lowly plastic cassette tape, full of good sounds, cheaply copied and passed around like samizdat, served as creative raw material mostly in the indie-music world and the college dorm room.

But in London in the early 1970s, a conceptual artist named William Furlong began harnessing the cassette for his unlikely purposes in the visual arts. The motivation wasn’t dauntingly conceptual: he and his friends talked a lot and listened to the conversations of other artists and realized something.

“It became apparent to us,” Mr. Furlong said in a telephone interview last week from his home and modest recording studio in the Clapham section of London, “that none of that talk and none of our interests were being met by any traditional arts publications.”

Phaidon Press has now published “Speaking of Art,” a small sampling of the immense undertaking that resulted from that dissatisfaction. Beginning in 1973, with the help of a few collaborators, Mr. Furlong created Audio Arts, a no-budget “magazine” composed solely of cassette recordings of interviews with artists Mr. Furlong found interesting. He mailed them to friends and subscribers, at first hundreds and then thousands.

The critic Mel Gooding, in the book’s introduction, invokes the provisional title that Joyce used for many years for “Finnegans Wake” — “Work in Progress” — to describe the spirit of Mr. Furlong’s enterprise, noting that another provisional title for Joyce’s novel would have applied just as well to the vast audio archive: “Here Comes Everybody.”

Mr. Furlong considers the magazine a work of art itself: a monumental audio sculpture. Though it has never received much attention in the United States, it has long had an art-world cult following in Europe, and in 2004 its archive, thousands of hours of tape, was acquired by the Tate Britain, which describes it as the most comprehensive collection of artists’ voices in the world. (The museum has put four hours’ worth of the archive on its Web site, at tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/audioarts.)

Read the full article in the New York Times here.

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