I first encountered Corporal Tofulung, who runs Dubbed Tapes and releases music as The Doll, during a workshop by veteran improviser and instrument builder Limpe Fuchs at the TUSK Festival last year. Although the Corporal, 10 other acolytes and I scraped, banged and plucked her large-scale constructions with enthusiasm Fuchs was less than impressed. “The end was quite good”, she sniffed, as we ground to a halt.
When I bumped into the Corporal later that weekend I was psyched to find out that she was not only an improviser and performer but ran a label, too. Things were too hectic to get the full story there and then, but we reconvened a bit later in London for a run-through of the Corporal’s biography and a squizz at the Dubbed Tapes back catalogue.
As Tofulung herself pointed out, this interview from a few years back explains her history pretty much perfectly. To summarise, the Corporal hails from Auckland in New Zealand and has been in the UK for just over a year, following a period in Seattle and a spell back in the southern hemisphere.
As well as The Doll, her sound-making activities include a group called Contact Mike and a fortnightly show, OC/DC, featuring New Zealand music, on Hollow Earth radio. There’s also a monthly show on Threads Radio, RFA with Corporal Tofulung, which features “textures, sound art, noise, drone, field recordings and stuff like that”.
However, our conversation was focused on Dubbed Tapes. In operation since 2015, the label has an admirably eco-friendly aesthetic. “I don’t want to create more plastic and more junk, so everything is dubbed over existing albums”, she explains, grabbing her raw materials from charity shops and Ebay. “I like the idea of erase and replace, so I get albums from people like Phil Collins and The Eagles and tape things over them.” For a recent release from Perth-based noisemaker Furchick, she’s obliterated an Australian group of singing squaddies.
Looking at the Dubbed Tapes Bandcamp, it’s obvious there’s a pretty good gender balance. “Not every artist is female identifying, although lot of them are. And there are a few people who are non-binary,” explains the Corporal. “It’s true that if I see a line-up for an event or festival that’s just of lot of men, I’m not that interested.”
It’s a democratic operation, too. “I don’t control the music,” she emphasises. “I make some tapes but if any of the artists want to do their own copies, print the covers off and sell them at gigs, they’re welcome to. The artists set the prices. I wanted the Heavy Habit one to be free, but Bandcamp wouldn’t let me, so I set it for 1 NZ dollar, which is the minimum. The band gave theirs away – so did I – but I left ten online so people could get hold of them. But 1 NZ Dollar is only 50p, so that’s ok. And the downloads are pay what you like as well.”
The Corporal agreed to give me a briefing on the Dubbed Tapes discography so far, starting with her most recent release, from ace New Zealand droners Pumice. And, as an extra bonus, I grilled her about her fantastic outing as The Doll, ‘HISS’. But you’ll have to read until the end to get that.
It goes without saying that every one of these releases is worth having. Most of the physicals are long gone, but do yourself a favour and grab the downloads – and a donation wouldn’t go amiss as well, if you can spare some coin.
Pumice: Worldwide Welts
WNNS says: Death shanties. Blank stares across the dry plain. Haunted abyss lullabies.
Corporal Tofulung (CT): People think that Pumice is the solo project of Stefan Neville, but in fact it has had many variations – the current one being a duo with Jade Farley. Jade also did the amazing cover art that reminds me of those creepy sailor tattoos on bits of skin at the Wellcome Collection in London.
I have had great times with these wonderful people. I caught up with Stefan when he was over here on tour (we ate many gluten-free crumpets and he smuggled a stash home for other coeliacs in his family). Last time I saw Jade she was in London last summer. We spent time sitting in those deck chairs in Green Park, moving whenever we saw the chair warden coming.
I was really excited to release this tape. I’d seen some short videos of them performing together and loved the immaculate but wonky meld Jade and Stefan had going on. When I first heard the recordings, I was sitting on my couch and was pretty much transported. I also really enjoy that there’s a little boy (Joseph Fagan) on track four, voicing the track title ‘Dot Dot Dot.’ Pure magic.
Becs / Yellow Dragon split
WNNS says: Dubbed Tapes’ debut release. A cracking one-two of mesmeric clatter and devotional drift.
CT: My friend Becs was playing at the Gatas y Vatas festival, wearing a wedding dress and painting to a backing track, ripping up the wedding dress at the same time. The audience had been given these things from the kitchen, frying pans and jars and all that, and were playing along with the performance. When I listened back to the recording, I loved it so much that I thought I’d better start a tape label to release it.
I was leaving Seattle about a month after that, so I had to do it fast. Yellow Dragon was at the same festival, so I got a track from them. I also asked them to collaborate on a track, which became the B-side. Both these artists are pretty young, in their 20s, but it’s amazing work. I even had to explain to Becs about how I was going to put Sellotape over the tape to dub it.
Morher: Guilt of Man
WNNS says: Blurred ghosts yowl through the floorboards. Unholy tempests rain grit on bare skin.
CT: I wanted to release another album before I left New Zealand, so I asked Morher to do something and so the split and this tape became a double release. And then I left the country!
Morher blows my mind, so creative, so skilled. They do music, visual art, film, and all of it is stunning. Morher did the most exquisite covers for their release – taking the original covers (Bryan Adams, Sting, Asia, John Cougar Mellencamp, Billy Squier, Kenny Rogers etc.) and splattering/spraying/stencilling on top of them. We had them for sale at the release gig at Hollow Earth radio as well as some copied covers. They are now in the hands of private collectors.
The Biscuits: That Dolly Dog Seems Alright
WNNS says: Boshed rock boots punk slosh over all sorts of smeared mush. Sounds, alright.
CT: After I left Seattle we did a tour around the states with Contact Mike, before going back to New Zealand for a couple of years. When I got back there I wanted to release local New Zealand artists, so I looked around and found The Biscuits and Ducklingmonster [see below].
The Biscuits is the only band we’ve released. I guess they’d describe themselves as noise pop? The cover is by Indira Neville, who is in the band but is a cartoonist as well. The band has an intense and boisterous energy when they play live that’s captured well on this tape.
Some of the tapes I put out will have a side A and side B, but others will just have the same tracks dubbed onto both sides. There are lots of 20-minute tapes from the 80s but there are others that are 40 minutes long, which means I can do an entire album on both sides.
I can only do a release on how many tapes I’ve got. I’m doing it at home, one by one. It’s fairly labour intensive. If the cassette has the time on it that’s fine but if not I have to listen to them to find out how long they are. This release was my biggest run. I did a hundred, but I didn’t do them all at once. Because there are three band members and they tour a lot, I did a few runs over time to get to a hundred.
Ducklingmonster: Live Beehive
WNNS says: Looped static is a signal from the crust. Heavy buzz for careful ears.
CT: Ducklingmonster has been playing music for a long time, in bands like The Futurians. She’s prolific so she was happy to do a release for me. She is amazing! I was in New Zealand for just over two years so a lot of the releases from this period were local artists. I like live recordings as well so a lot of the releases were recordings of shows.
If you move to a city and find a place that has things going on, you can tap into the local scene. Hollow Earth radio in Seattle was a good example, I was a volunteer there and then someone asked me to host a show. People could turn up and play and if people were touring from other parts of the states then we could organise something for them.
In New Zealand, there was the Audio Foundation, run by Jeff Henderson and funded by Creative New Zealand. It’s a venue and they have exhibitions. They get people from overseas to play and then there’s workshops involved so that local people get to play with them and learn from them.
Strange Stains: Bogan Atmosphere
WNNS says: Transmissions from the squalid grotto. Grease carved from microchips.
CT: Strange Stains is a solo performer based in Wellington, NZ. She uses a keyboard and pedal type things and there’s vocals over the top. The first time I saw her play was in a tiny pop-up gallery space behind K [Karangahape] Road, she was wearing a green foliage outfit, with ferns coming up out the back like wings. The lo-fi aesthetic of the music, combined with the flamboyant performance appealed to me no end. We released the tape when Strange Stains played at an annual house party in Patea, which is a beachside community of about 1,200 people. Hell yes!
Heavy Habit s/t
WNNS says: Dark yawns get muck scrubbed in. This time, play it all faster.
CT: Heavy Habit live on Aotea, Great Barrier Island. It’s a place you can only get to by ferry and sometimes plane. It’s really rugged so occasionally the planes get stuck there. The band lives on Barrier but haven’t played off Barrier very much. This tape is from two shows they did on the mainland, it’s pretty much the same set list but one is much longer than the other and they’re very different, the way that they’ve played them. I was at one of the shows, actually – it was the same house party Strange Stains played at!
WNNS says: Freedom sounds. Abstract wreckage. Debris and joy.
CT: Māpura Music is very special. Māpura Studios has a music class where people can go to improvise music, it’s a day centre, all adults. I made a compilation from their existing albums, which are all on Bandcamp as well. Stefan [Neville] runs the workshop and uploads each session and makes an album from that.
I made 30 copies of that one and gave each of the artists a copy and had about 12 left to give away. I just love it because its spontaneous, stuff you’ve never heard before. Some are covers and you’re listening to it and thinking oh what is that? I like that vibe to it. If you enjoy that album you should definitely check the Māpura Studios Bandcamp as there’s lots of good stuff on there.
Kirsty Porter / C Reider split
WNNS says: Double trouble. Torn-apart punk drift meets grey noise symphonies.
CT: I’m very interested in releasing music by people who haven’t released solo stuff before, or anything before. I prefer solo performers usually. Kirsty Porter has been playing in bands for years, in Melbourne and Palmerston North and probably other places as well, and had never thought of releasing a solo album. She said that playing in a band was just a social thing, but I asked her if she was interested in doing something solo.
With Dubbed Tapes, I want to introduce something that people maybe haven’t heard or that is unexpected. I prefer to get know most of the artists I release first, I see them play live and get in touch and ask them to do something. It might take a year, that’s the way I prefer to work.
That said, I haven’t met Chris [Reider] yet, though I hope to someday. I met him through social media and love his work. It makes me really happy to make meaningful connections with someone in another country, and then if something creative comes out of it that’s even better. I love the result of this pairing of artists who have never met. I want to do more split releases in the future.
WNNS says: Frequency damage plays havoc with my teeth, but static gleamers add solace.
CT: I listened to her recordings on Bandcamp first and was really drawn to that. These tracks are basically performed live at home and recorded. I’m not really into multiple tweaking, EQ-ing and all that. For me I like the textures, the hiss of the tape, scratches. And because I’m dubbing over tapes they all have different qualities, there’s always a bit of randomness. If you get a tape created for you [commercially], it’s going to be the exact length of your album, but with these ones it’s different.
A lot of artists want a brand new shiny tape; they’re not necessarily interested in something dubbed on top of a recycled tape. Tendencyitis contacted me because she really liked the idea of recycling and reusing old tapes. I’m so happy that I was able to release this album, it’s so fresh and vibrant. It’s harsh and grating at times, but I find it very soothing to listen to.
Furchick: Race Against Time
WNNS says: Shrouded judder in an all-too-brief dosage. Wrap your brain in wire.
CT: The Furchick release is a single track of just under seven minutes. The cassingles I got for it ranged from seven minutes to about 8 minutes 40, so some of them had a minute or so of silence at the end. Every other album I’ve done, I’ve usually put a field recording on the end, either rain on a tent or birds in traffic, just like a hissy, lo-fi recording, because there might be a couple of minutes of space when the music’s finished.
I met Claire in Perth. I had been living in Sydney and did a bit of travelling before moving to Seattle. She is brilliant – a scientist and a musical genius, circuit-bending stuff, creating instruments. She was really excited to be doing a cassingle, we both remember them from back in the day. Amazingly this was her first cassette, but she’s got another one out now on the Glasgow label FRM-AT.
Furchick is from Australia. I haven’t released many UK artists yet. I’ve seen some artists that I like, I just need to suss them out a bit more and see if they’re interested.
The Doll: HISS
WNNS says: Everyday portals. The magic happens when you’re not looking.
CT: It’s just a collage really. Someone said I adhered dogmatically to the principles of music concrete but I’d never heard of that word, but I love it. There’s a lot of field recordings on there, I just use a Zoom recorder, sometimes I put contact mics on household appliances – I did that for my Noisewife release too. I play some toys as well. I might layer a couple of things but I don’t edit or manipulate it.
For one track, I put the Zoom in my car and drove around for a couple of hours, so you just hear the radio and the keys and things like that.
I did a gig in Auckland, and when I finished playing I just stood there for a bit and people just watched me, you could hear banging doors and all that, I thought that I could stand there for as long as possible. It wasn’t until I turned the amp off that people clapped, so then I realised that I had to signal to the audience that I’d finished.
For the ‘Silence’ track I just took the recording of that uncomfortable silence and then I normalised it to 100, or as much as I could. I saw Richard Youngs do something similar at Café Oto last year, my friend (Jade) was just laughing because she knew I’d done the same thing.