'Recorded Delivery'

Sound Installation [1995]

Janek Schaefer's first sound-work, Recorded Delivery, remains one of the wittiest
and most interesting in the field of Sound-Art. It is elegant, economical and clever,
and makes me wish I'd thought of it first.
[Brian Eno 2005]

"An epochal masterpiece!"

Sound reactive dictaphone in parcel with mic secretly stuck to underside of packaging tape.
The parcel is lined with Alcan aluminium foil as the building used to once make it - and of course for 'security' !

"Recorded Delivery is a sound activated tape recording of parcel travelling through the Post Office system
from Exhibition Road, to the room of the installation in the Acorn Self Storage centre, Wembley, London.
The sound reactive dictaphone automatically edited the 15 hour journey to a 72 minute recording,
capturing only the most sonically interesting elements of the journey from the 28th to 29th March 1995"

The room it was posted to inside the self storage building where the exhibition took place.

The package reveals its secrets

..Originally produced for the group show 'Self Storage',
organised by Art Angel and curated by Brian Eno with Laurie Anderson
[his father, grandfather and great grandfather were all postmen!].
[Critics 1st Choice: Time Out Magazine]

7" edition

1999 Red vinyl edition of 600. Hot Air Records, cat no. airmile72.
Edited to 2 x 6 min highlights, A-side 'Evening', B-side 'Morning'.

Play sample: 'Morning Sorting Office': [with Real Audio]

Full length original recording is currently available from the audiOh! Kiosk as a limited edition CDR.




Essay extract from "The Leonardo Music Journal" Vol 11: MIT publications: 2001

Recorded Delivery began when I encountered an invitation in the lift addressed to all students at the Royal College of Art. It described a situation essentially, and asked for reponses. An exhibition of the selections was to be called ‘Self Storage’ and curated/run by the Art Angel organisation in conjunction with Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson. We [the students] were invited to propose an idea which was to be inspired by the location of the exhibition, a Self-Storage Centre sited next to Wembley Stadium in London. It was an intriguing prospect, a building composed of anonymous rooms filled with random clutter from everyday life invaded by artists. My first thought was instinctively to visit the site and search out some inspiration derived by the subtleties of the interior and the act of discovering the space. When I inquired as to when I could do this I was told that it was impossible for me/everyone to do so. This then presented quite a problem for me. How could you do an installation that was specific to the exact space/environment of the installation without even experiencing it?

The answer was quite a simple one as it turned out. The very nature of the building was itself fascinating. Rooms and rooms filled with boxes of objects that were often moved from place to place. It was these boxes that were the essence of its purpose. So what could be derived from this? They were indeed specific to each room, and to all but their owners, a secret. Each room and each box was a mystery lying dormant, and each of these boxes had been taken from a specific destination to arrive at this new location. This was the genesis of my idea

By simply sending an object to the designated room of my proposed installation, I would actually be creating a site-specific work. How to make this an interesting reality was the next stage. I imagined that these parcels had stories to tell us about their history. Stamps and addresses told only a fraction of this story. By being able to ‘record’ it’s journey I would then be creating an interesting level of information for the audience, one that was previously unknown. An audio record is a method of doing this within the framework of ‘real-time’, but presents the technological difficulty of how to capture up to 15 hours of data [for an overnight delivery]. Even if it was easily and cost effectively achievable, the result would be, in my opinion, too drawn out and pedestrian. Moments of sonic interest would be dispersed too widely for a drifting audience. The problem of how to condense this ‘time’ element started me thinking of suitable.

The invention of the ‘voice activated’ function in dictaphones/tape recorders was intended to enable recordings of information in a stationary context. What interested me about this function was firstly its automation and secondly that the sound level itself was taken to be the important determinant. Loud or ‘Interesting’ sounds were given a status, and calm or silence was ignored which was of obvious use to me. The tape recorder itself would automatically edit the recording, allowing an ‘essential’ selection to be made influenced by the fundamental specifics of the proposed journey itself. It would in essence produce a truncated ‘impression’ of its trip rather than a perfect document. In my research of what was available on the high street I found a Panasonic model which used full size standard cassettes, and as these could record up to 120 minutes it was an ideal solution. Not only could it be used to record inside the parcel, but also play back during the installation and thus create a vital visual and conceptual link for the audience. What was also extremely useful about this model was the ‘level’ function, which was like a hearing aid for the recorder. This sensitivity dial could be rather crudely tuned to pick up only the ‘right’ levels of sonic events. These included the vibration caused by the actual handling of the parcel itself while on its journey and the atmospheric sound events heard throughout its trip.

Through very rudimentary tests I set about preparing the dictaphone for its inaugural journey. Using blue-tack I fixed the sensitivity dial to where I hoped would be the best setting for all the unknowable sound events yet to be encountered. I manufactured a purpose built cardboard parcel covered in standard brown packaging tape. A special hole was made in the cardboard lid to allow the microphone to be fixed to the underside of the thin film of packaging tape. By doing so, the sounds from outside the parcel could be most clearly captured, and the very fact that this was happening was thus disguised from the prying eyes of the post office workers. I addressed and posted the sealed parcel from the local post office, and waited for the results overnight.
On collecting it from Acorn Self-Storage the following day I returned to the studio at college to discover the results. Firstly the dictaphone had recorded only just over an hour of sound, and not, as I had feared run out of tape. Secondly it was an exciting experience listening back to it, discovering for the first time the secrets within. The actual quality of the sounds were good, and an interesting, persistent sound punctuated the recording; the sound of the tape starting up and stopping. Listening all the way through it was clear that it had captured the whole range of atmospheres and events possible. Staff behind counters, sliding van doors, distant radio’s, singing postmen, vans in transit, clunks of the package, and by far the most exciting and unexpected sound of the early shift sorting staff swearing profusely about their alleged previous nights sexual exploits. The recording took us all the way to the parcel being signed for at the self-storage centre.

The presentation of this information and the concept was fairly simple. I enclosed the tape recorder in a ‘transparent floating plinth’ with the open parcel either side of it divulging and shedding its contents to reveal the mystery. The installation was set up as a series of clues which pieced together the whole story. If you were inquisitive you could easily understand the process and concept by listening and looking.

A few years later this recording was released as part of a 7" series on Hot Air records. The total recording was for this purpose subjectively edited in order to fit it on the format and consequently further maximise the highlights. The A side contained the evening part of the journey, and the B side the morning sorting and arrival. This was released in an edition of 500 pressed in Post Office red vinyl. To conclude, it may be interesting to note that when I conceived and executed Recorded Delivery I was concurrently designing a new Post Office building for my architecture course. This installation was certainly enlightening research into its interior realm.




Below is a copy of the record mechanically fixed to an 8" square canvas covered with
£3.33 of stamps [the correct exact postage!]. The address of the Soundvision Gallery
Portland USA is written on the top edge and my address on the bottom edge.
It was made for an artists donation exhibition called '100 x 100'.
100 works are sold for $100 each in support of the gallery.

The green customs sticker reads:
'Contents: Recorded Delivery, Artwork'
'Value: $100'
'Gift: [Box ticked]'
'Signed: Janek Schaefer Jan 6th 2003'

The unwrapped work arrived at the Soundvision Gallery in
Portland, Oregon, with ink stamps & a crack in the record but in one piece.

It was then sold to a collector in Paris!


'Invisible Cities'

1st Invisible Cities exhibition, Belfast 2002

Curated and designed by Fehler, 'Invisible Cities' offers the opportunity to experience an intimate series of portraits of the world's
cities painted with sound. Through the interface of a gallery wall, each city, represented by an audio work of five minutes duration,
is accessible through headphones. Participants in the gallery can transcend distance - moving from Moscow to Montreal,
from Berlin to Beijing - in the time it takes to plug a pair of headphones into an alternative location.

Twenty artists were invited to contribute a five minute audio work inspired by and utilising the sounds of the cities they inhabit.
Recorded Delivery was found in the London socket. The show is touring internationally.
Go to Fallt website to hear all cities and read more.


'Return to Sender'

I have done two other installation versions where I sent the tape recording parcel
to the gallery, and they then send it back to me.
Each journey is then played at the the same.
' To the gallery' on left channel and 'From the gallery' on right channel.

2000 'Return To Sender' Recording/Installation at the Lighthouse Gallery, Wolverhampton.
#audiOh!07 CDr
1999 'Return To Sender' Installation at the Changing Room Gallery, Stirling.