Welcome to Minecxio

Andrew Gebhardt

(Published in The Antioch Review, 2004)

They have composed an opera to fish dying of heart attacks and a piece for baritone, tenor, contralto and soprano whistling kettles. They have recorded the sounds of a chicken coop to create the 10,000 Chickens Symphony. They have played concerts to plants and dry ice. They claim their music comes from an imaginary land known as Minecxio. One of their outdoor shows overpowered even Buenos Aires traffic sounds and stirred up neighbors to complain to police of noise pollution. The group responded with a “silent” concert, plugging their guitars into pumpkins, but the police told them to leave so as not to scare off tourists. They have also “played” the Eiffel Tower (as in, recorded wind howling through its frame) and they have used the sounds of protests as well as the rustling of immigration papers in their music. They are Reynols—Alan Courtis, Roberto Conlazo and Miguel Tomasín—perhaps Argentina’s weirdest musical offspring.

I first heard of this remarkable trio about five years ago when a musician friend in New York who knew I had lived in the Southern Cone asked me about their concerts. Were they as crazy on stage as they seemed in their recordings, he wanted to know, and what kind of following did they enjoy in Buenos Aires?  I had no idea, and none of the Argentines I spoke to had ever heard of the group, either.  A few years later in Buenos Aires, I had my first—and appropriately unusual—encounter with Reynols, or rather with a facsimile of Reynols.  As I was walking on a main street downtown, a gust of wind kicked up a few papers from the sidewalk, one of which pinwheeled toward me and stuck to my thigh. It was a flyer for a Reynols show that had occurred the night before.  It featured a blurry photocopy of the band, all wearing their trademark enormous dark sunglasses with Miguel Tomasín, the band’s founder and drummer, in the center holding his drumsticks like a cross or a plus sign. 

That was in the fall of 2001, just before the Argentine economy tanked and popular protests erupted around the city, driving president De La Rua from office as well as three of his immediate successors in rapid fire, domino action.  Soon young people would be hurling molotov cocktails at La Casa Rosada (the Pink House, Argentina’s presidential palace), middle class mobs would destroy banks that had frozen their accounts, police would shoot protesters in the back, and the congress would declare a state of siege.  Reynols recorded some of the massive cacerolazos, spontaneous protests where thousands of ordinary people rushed to the streets beating their kitchen cacerolas, or pots. Reynols captured the tinks, booms, thuds and scratches of this unruly orchestra of banging cacerolas and then tweeked the sounds, distorting them, adding Reynols’ own unique stamp.

Their fans comprise a small but loyal coterie that spans from Japan to Egypt, from France to Colombia and includes, in the U.S., popular musicians like Beck and Sonic Youth.  To listen to Reynols is to hear one of globalizations’ soundtracks, a cacaphonous vortex where political and economic theories of globalization intertwine with theories of experimental music. If you want to understand Reynols, you must appreciate something about their social context, because music is, among other things, a social phenomenon.  Similarly, if you want to comprehend something about the science fiction-like realities of Argentina, you must look not only at World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, but at obscure and fantastic voices like Reynols.  Reynols may very well constitute a vanguard, a sodality of the bizarre with important messages for us all.

The bizarre should not merely be shrugged off and dismissed because it’s marginal.  Just the opposite: Reynols is significant and we should prick up our ears or our antennae and tune in.  Their soundscapes may be beautiful, hilarious, frustrating, boring, solipsistic, or haunting—and sometimes a single song may share all of these qualities.  Their sound challenges ideas of what music is for and what it can be, and their presence is no less provocative. Whether on stage, radio, television, in photos or in interviews in magazines, Reynols always leaves a powerful impression, one that invites us to consider the world from new perspectives.

Wherefore Art Thou, Reynols

If you ask Alan Courtis how his band came together, he’s likely to tell you that Reynols has always existed in some form and that in it’s current manifestation they have played since the early 1990s.  Or perhaps he’ll say enigmatically that Reynols doesn’t exist.  But all band members agree that their extraordinary genesis owes something to a special music class where Alan Courtis and Roberto Conlazo, who teach music to children and adults with disabilities in Buenos Aires, met Miguel Tomasín, who has Down’s Syndrome. Tomasín introduced himself by saying “Hi, I’m the greatest drummer in the world.” At that moment, high above the gray dome of the Buenos Aires sky, stars collided and light flowed from great space into great space and a fruitful, highly unique relationship began: a legend was born.  Tomasín has said that Reynols came into existence in 1967, when he was a baby but before the other band members were alive.  He also claims to have invented Courtis and Conlazo in the year 1000.

Sometime in 1993, shortly after they had begun to play together anonymously, the group was lounging in Courtis’s apartment as a chihuahua scampered around.  The dog stepped on the television clicker, and a scene from a Burt Reynolds movie appeared. The band members paused, looking at each other in recognition that something significant had transpired.  Eureka— The Burt Reynolds Ensemble was discovered.  Later, they shortened the name to simply Reynols, removing the ‘d’ to avoid any legal repercussions from Burt Reynolds.  Burt Reynolds is an impressive figure from U.S. popular culture to invoke; he resonates on several frequencies, as the band might say.  He’s a registered member of the Cherokee tribe, was the first male centerfold, and one of the most popular and highly grossing male leads of Hollywood cinema whose opus includes such classics as Smokey and the Bandit, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Cannonball Run, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and Cop and a Half.  In the parallel universe of Argentina, which was the launchpad for the Reynols trip to the Minecxio of Tomasín’s mind, the specter of Burt Reynolds could mean anything.  In Reynols’ world, Burt Reynolds is what semiologists might call a free-floating signifier.

One of the most frequently and obsessively cited facts about Reynols is that one of the members has Down’s Syndrome.  Although Miguel Tomasín’s condition is significant in a number of ways, I believe many people have exaggerated the role of Down’s, and therefore actually miss the inventiveness, vitality and occasional genius of the band. Focus on Tomasín’s Down’s often eclipses the band’s distinctive music and unique perspective on the world by inviting listeners to scoff, laugh or otherwise dismiss Reynols as gibberish, noise, and the product of inferior intelligence.  In most of the media coverage of Reynols, Tomasín’s condition is treated like a gimmick, or their success is bracketed in a fetishizing or condescending way.  In dozens of interviews and articles, writers focus relentlessly on the Down’s or see everything in terms of Down’s.  Of course Tomasín’s Down’s is important, but knowing about it offers little insight into Reynols.  What matters most is that Tomasín is able to see and to say extraordinary things.  Jorge Luis Borges’ blindness influenced his art, but he’s not known primarily as a blind author.  Frida Kahlo’s painful bus accident and resulting restriction to a wheelchair influenced her painting, but she’s not known as a disabled painter.  Nor should Reynols be understood primarily as a Down’s Syndrome band.  Perhaps Reynols does not belong in the august company of such outstanding Latin American artists, but the sentiment certainly applies. (Other artists without so-called disabilities such as the American Diane Arbus or the Chinese Liu Zheng have made people with disabilities, and societal reception of them, the subject of their art. This work, it seems to me, might more appropriately fall into the category of the art of disability, if one feels the need for such a classification.)

On the other hand, some of the ideas from the emerging field of Disability Studies do resonate with Reynols’ style and vision.  A special issue of Public Culture, called The Critical Limits of Embodiment,highlights some interesting work in this field.   Many of the authors’ points lend theoretical credence to what Reynols is doing.  For example, W.J.T. Mitchell sketches a conceptual framework that emerged from thinking about disabilities but has a broader application. He shows how considering disabilities “challenge[s] the very notion of what it means to look at other people or to see things from their point of view.” Clearly, this is a large part of Reynols’ appeal.  Carol Breckenridge and Candace Volger have written that “[d]isability studies dissolves deeply entrenched mind-and-body distinctions and further destabilizes the concept of the normal.” Mitchell goes so far as to state that “…the sighted have a seeing disability.” One might point out that artists for centuries have made similar critiques of standard ways of seeing or that other identity based movements like African Americans and Queers have said similar things about Whites and Straight people, respectively.  What seems new and interesting, however, especially as related to Reynols, is the connection between imagination and disability, and the implication that people with so-called disabilities can offer powerful and unique ways of seeing that people of average abilities can not fathom. And by extension, people who create innovative art and engage in oppositional politics become, by definition, disabled or differently abled.

Miguel Tomasín’s singular abilities play an important role in Reynols’ artistic dynamic, although, according to the band, it’s reductive to describe this dynamic merely in terms of Downs or disability.  Miguel Tomasín is Reynols’ creative engine. He comes up with almost all the lyrics, titles and ideas for songs.  His vision is utterly unique and apparent in everything he does. During one interview, for example, he caresses plants and makes ice melt with the power of his mind.  Courtis and Conlazo liken themselves to faithful and devoted scribes of his extraordinary talent.  As Courtis puts it:  “Miguel Tomasín is what comes after intelligence, the Mega Mind that controls everything without controlling anything…the subliminal helix that keeps rotating in the retatimo frequency from the beginning of time…Miguel says that the universe we can see is the eyeball of an albino flea, and as far as we know they are nine flea sisters.” This imaginative, dadaist description is classic Reynols, and shows the affection and creative interplay between band members.

Asked if Courtis and Conlazo feel they’re exploiting Tomasín, they explain that they see their music as an extraordinary collaboration, one that’s unique in some ways, but not too different from the communal creative process of many bands, particularly those with prolific and charismatic leaders.  They also explain that it’s important that parents of special kids see Tomasín as an example of what their own children might aspire to.  They’re fiercely loyal to Tomasín, and also, to some extent, to Argentina.   In another interview, Conlazo says “[m]ost Argentinean bands want to be like their English counterparts.  Instead, we want to be Argentineans; we’re contented to be what we are.”  Standing close to a space heater in the corner, Tomasín chimes in “We are Argentineans!”

If they express moments of national pride, or identification and sympathy for the disabled, they’re also reluctant spokespeople for any cause.  If they can be said to espouse a philosophy, it would have to be one of fallibism, the principal that propositions concerning empirical knowledge cannot be proved.

3 Songs on the Road to Minecxio

Some of their songs resemble the electronic reverb you might associate with acid rock, although it’s difficult to generalize on their sound because they have hundreds of recordings that incorporate ambient, industrial and other noises.  The band has described their music by saying that their intent is to erase the border between the psychedelic and the psychotic.  (Hearing Reynols, I can’t help but recall Mark Twain’s famous quip about Wagner’s music being a lot better than it sounds.)  In 1998, Reynols teamed up with American avant garde composer Pauline Oliveros and created their most popular song, Reynols in the Arms of Pauline Oliveros. I find it hard to listen to, which of course is part of the point.  This is decidedly not Easy Listening music—I’m reminded of Laurie Anderson’s apocryphal radio program called Difficult Listening Hour.  In Reynols in the Arms of Pauline Oliveros,the beat galumphs along, Miguel Tomasín speaks in his invented language or wails con spiritu, and guitar static crackles and twists into a sustained whine.  It lasts about four minutes.  But the song has pleased many listeners, not to mention Oliveros herself, who invited the band to accompany her at a Lincoln Center performance.  And it does have a haunting, eerily attractive quality.  To enjoy the song, you have to give it a chance, which is a challenge for most of us whose ears have been trained to hear and to value symmetry and harmony.

Musical ideas about symmetry and harmony suggest one way in which sound and politics come together.  In addition to the social context—about which more later—this is an important frame for Reynols.  Experimental music is often understood as apolitical, unlike punk rock or rap or other genres of music whose style and lyrics may articulate oppositional political stances. Though theories of experimental music and noise date back at least a hundred years to the Futurists, who opposed Classicism and Romaniticism, some recent scholarship on industrial music can help in appreciating Reynols’ specially unique politics and aesthetics.  Jacques Attali’s Noise, the Political Economy of Music for example, explores how industrial music is primarily concerned with responding to a post-collapse society that has not yet grasped how corrupt and empty it has become.  Many genres of music contain implicit messages, like harmony having the ability to quench, quell or overcome conflicts.  Noise upsets this world-view with frankly rough, chaotic sounds. 

“Listening to music is listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political… The theorists of totalitarianism have all explained that it is necessary to ban subversive noise because it betokens demands for cultural autonomy, support for differences and marginality: a concern for maintaining tonalism, the primacy of melody, a distrust of new languages, codes or instruments, a refusal of the abnormal—these characteristics are common to all regimes of that nature.”

Subversive, they are, and culturally autonomous, too.  But popular?  That’s another question, especially in Argentina, where they have been, until recently, virtually ignored.  There’s an important distinction between what they do artistically and how many people listen to them.  Though unique and experimental, Reynols is not merely a conceptual band creating music that depends on esoteric knowledge to enjoy.  One song, for example, begins with Tomasín singing Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina, except that he changes the lyrics to the language he invented (and for which there is currently no translation guide).  As he sings, he gradually flattens and garbles the melody until he’s just talking and yelling, though the melody to that popular classic lingers in the mind like a hysterical refrain. Tomasín’s mumbling and howling brio is so over the top that it’s beyond merely giving an ironic glance to Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.  He’s downright manic, almost otherworldly, and ultimately, that’s the brilliance of the song.  Argentina IS otherworldly, this song suggests. Or so it often seems to residents who have lived through crisis after crisis, and witnessed corruption and scandal at every level of society, from international oil pipelines to monetary schemes to massive privatization of state industries to rigged soccer games and local elections.  In Argentina, no commodity, it seems, and no national product or resource has been exempt from scandal and ignominy—not books, plastic art, endangered flora and fauna, iceburgs, aquifers, or wines.  One result among Argentines has been deep popular cynicism.  Another response has been incredible creative output from artists, and Reynols clearly falls in the second category.  Reynols’ distorted Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina sounds like a great anthem for the contemporary state in perpetual crisis—the lyrics are nonsense babbling, but evoke the spirited prattle of someone speaking in tongues, and the instrumental’s ambient cacaphony takes over like an anti-symphony of an anti-society.  The song is also hilarious and sardonic.  It turns tragedy into a wild, eccentric opera.

If humor is a part of Reynols’ project, then so is what I’ll call a relentless realism, a deep immersion into the sounds of contemporary life.  Reynols has incorporated car horns, the grind and bump of traffic over potholes, chickens squawking before the slaughter, rain sizzling on urban pavement, the crackle and hiss and silence of fire.   The elements they incorporate often seem placed as much for their sonic effects as for their conceptual resonance, which is a little different from what many experimental musicians have done, though clearly in that family lineage.  Back in 1937, John Cage delivered a talk to the Seattle Arts Society where he began to articulate some of the philosophical underpinnings of electronic and industrial sounds in experimental music, a term he resisted at that point. “Wherever we are,” he wrote “what we hear is mostly noise …whether the sound of a truck at 50mph, rain, or static between radio stations…[My goal is] to capture and control these sounds, to use them not as sound effects, but as musical instruments.”  Cage has opened the world to new ideas of what can be considered music so that “[n]o rhythm will be beyond the composers [or listener’s] reach.”   In this era of corporate globalization, Reynols incorporates national symbols like the Eiffel Tower, the sounds of popular protests and the shuffling of immigration papers and passports.  Clearly, these choices show a concern for more than sound.  One of Reynols’ preoccupations seems to be capturing the absurdity of national boundaries and the power of nations.  You hear this not only in Cacerolazo but in comments from Tomasín, who has said “the United States doesn’t exist, above México is only water,” an extraordinary statement from a Latin American who lives under policies largely determined by the U.S., especially from a Latin American with Down’s Syndrome.

One recent song in particular seems to capture the band’s channeling of globalization.  The song was inspired by actual events.  A few years ago, the band had failed to secure entrance visas to England, and when they arrived at Heathrow airport, British authorities denied them entrance and, according to Alan Courtis, mistreated them.  As a result, Reynols was forced to return to Paris and could not perform in London that week.  But they did get a musical composition out of it, one where they record the rifling of bureaucratic papers.  For many people on the planet, for whom migrating to the first world from the third world is a common reality, the airport stress and immigration processes resonate powerfully.  The song, called Banned in England, is little more than papers rustling and distant voices murmuring.  While it has documentary value, the fact that the sounds have been abstracted from their visual referents allows for some rich metaphoric and symbolic suggestions… The sound of crossing borders is the fluttering of papers which is the dry flapping of wings… And the authorities’ mumble in the background evokes a powerful elemental force in the distance, like thunder.  The voices, which remain garbled, also rhyme with Tomasín’s invented language, and seem hauntingly familiar to many who have crossed the border into a country that speaks a foreign language.

Galactic Seedlings Planted in Argentine Concrete

Reynols’ concerns shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Argentina over the past several decades.  These guys, born in the late 1960s and early 70s, grew up in a political and cultural environment that is worth mentioning.

The first context of course is the infamous Dirty War.  In the 1970s and 80s, military dictatorships took power in the Southern Cone with the direct assistance of the United States, and ruled populations with a reign of terror.  Kidnapping, torture, murder, and disappearance were common official practice as was press censorship and the banning of oppositional political parties.  In Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, social programs were gutted or discontinued and recently nationalized industries were reprivatized and in many cases sold to foreign companies.  Of course, national histories, as well as the duration and character of the dictatorships were not identical in every country. The Dirty War in Argentina lasted from 1976 to 1983, during which about 30,000 Argentines were killed and thousands more fled to exile (from a country of about 12-14 million).  It was a dizzying and insecure time to grow up in Buenos Aires, as Reynols did.

The Argentine dictatorship was famous for elaborate torture scenarios involving costumes, reenacting plays, broadcasting classical music, blindfolding victims while torturers walked naked, and the like.  The police and death squads would also abduct people from their homes, the university or right off the street, then torture them, inject them with drugs, place them in a helicopter and then drop them into the river or the ocean.  During the Dirty War, it was not unusual for bodies to wash up on Uruguayan and Argentine beaches.  Artists have undertaken many strategies to record and represent this traumatic history, with a lot of work focussing on problems of memory and the body.  A few years ago, Fito Paez, who is one of Argentina’s best known rock stars, reenacted a common scene from the Dirty War at one of his concerts in Buenos Aires.  He had a helicopter hover above the crowd and drop dummies into the harbor.  Many people found this performance disrespectful or distasteful, believing that a rock concert is not an appropriate venue to recreate scenes of private and public horror.  Hebe de Bonafini, the head of Madres de la plaza de mayo and a friend of Paez’s, disapproved of the performance but stated publicly that she respects his right to artistic freedom.  Reynols has a totally different approach than Fito Paez.   Their political critique is much more oblique, but by shaking up musical and social conventions, perhaps more radical and fundamental.

Most historians agree that the Dirty War ended only when the Malvinas War (Falkland Island War) began.  Due to spiraling inflation, economic crises and resistance to military policies, the military government had become unpopular. General Leopold Galtieri seized the Malvinas from the British to distract attention from Argentina’s appalling political corruption and economic mismanagement. President Videla found an easy issue to motivate popular support in the Falklands, a small island a thousand miles off the coast of southern Argentina.  It has almost no strategic or economic value—the island hosts a small population of sheep farmers and some moss covered stones, more or less.  But it was a British protectorate, and Argentines, who had been colonized briefly by Britain, were stirred into a nationalist frenzy to fight off Margaret Thatcher’s gunships and troops.  The British prime minister, facing domestic troubles of her own, found a similar opportunity in the Falklands to appeal to English national pride.  A Latin American country, regardless of its size, must be punished for the effrontery of challenging Great Britain.  Jorge Luis Borges once summed the conflict up with this witty remark: “The whole war was just two old bald men fighting over a comb.” 

Economic prosperity never returned to levels before the dictatorship, when Argentina had a sizeable middle class.  Buenos Aires had been known for decades as the Paris of South America, due among other things, to economic clout (at the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was the seventh wealthiest country in the world, ahead of even Scandinavian countries), its large number of white citizens, and the adoption of the tango as a European ballroom dance.  But the dictatorship tainted Argentina’s image to that of a brutal banana republic.  It wasn’t until the 1990s under President Carlos Menem that Argentina attained economic stability, and of course now it’s clear that many of the economic policies from that era, such as pegging the peso to the dollar, were disastrous in the long run. 

In addition to the steady economic decline, over the course of the past several decades Argentines have become inured to corruption.  To choose a couple of examples at random from the 1990s: George W. Bush went to play tennis with Carlos Menem (they were great chums) where they allegedly discussed a secret oil pipeline deal that would enrich a few executives while siphoning off one of Argentina’s natural resources.  Also, Menem privatized electricity and waterworks projects, selling them to Spanish and other non-Argentine companies who are not accountable to local people, and unsurprisingly, public services have plummeted.  State funds for a much-needed upgrade to sewage and drainage system in the capital simply vanished, and now flooding around the city is more commonplace.  Scandals like these have contributed to a general malaise.  Conditions have deteriorated to the point that today in some Porteño neighborhoods, gangs of scavengers carry pistols in turf wars over garbage collection.

This is the contemporary face of the Paris of South America and this is where Reynols comes from.  It might be fair to say that they’re almost inscrutable without knowing at least something about the context from which they emerged.  But it’s equally true that North American consumers often fetishize certain aspects of that Latin American context.  Leftists, it seems to me, are as guilty as anyone in this regard.  Many academic leftists in the U.S. seem stuck in the dictatorship years.  Of course, the forces unleashed during the dictatorship continue to exert considerable influence, and one must come to terms with the policies and the figures from that period if one is to understand anything of the contemporary landscape.  Also, many Argentine writers and artists fled during that period and have created a powerful genre of work related to the dictatorship.  However, merely looking at critical scholarship, one could get the impression that the dictatorship was the beginning and the end of everything of importance in the country.  There’s a troubling insistence on focusing on that era, as though it were overwhelmingly sexy and appealing.  Reynols, refreshingly, offers a wider and weirder perspective.  They seem to have taken Emily Dickinson’s famous lines to heart: Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant. 


In North America, we’re accustomed to hearing Latin American music like salsa, merengue, samba, tango, as well as folkloric genres, classical, and more recently, Latin Rock or Rock En Español.  This music frequently gets associated in the popular imagination with stereotypical images of Latin America.  Other parts of the world are no less prone to these simplistic and limited conceptions.  I recently spent a year in the Middle East and Europe when Ry Cooder’s famous movie and soundtrack, Buena Vista Social Club, enjoyed enormous popularity.  People tended to see all of Latin America the way they understood Cuba.  I would often explain that Argentina was as different from Cuba as England from Cyprus or as Lebanon from Saudi Arabia.  But the image persists of Latin America as a homogenous region with an economically poor but culturally rich landscape where the sounds of salsa, samba or Latin Jazz float over cobblestones, crumbling balconies and palm trees.

We tend to associate experimental music with rarefied, wealthy northern locales and not with a Latin American country where over half the population lives in poverty.  Reynols simply has no place in most people’s worldview.  They may seem inauthentic, or at best an amusing confusion.  Interestingly, Reynols’ fanbase (to the extent the band has one) exists outside Argentina (an issue I address in the next section).  Of the few Argenitines I have spoken to who know of Reynols, they tend to see them as a gag band, though some Porteños expressed a deep and abiding love for the band.  Yet even fans are troubled by the question of how to categorize them.  One sympathetic Argentine reviewer referred to their music as “the art of conceptual noise.”

Though unique, Reynols does fit in with an obscure group of great, relatively unknown Latin American artists and writers.  Some of these fantastic figures include: Joaquín Pasos, a Nicaraguan who wrote Poems of a Young Man Who Has Never Traveled, which are all about foreign places, Poems of a Young Man Who Has Never Been in Love, which are all love poems, and Poems of a Young Man Who Doesn’t Speak English, which are all written in English; Felisberto Hernandez, a Uruguayan short story writer who paid for the publication of his books by playing paino in small towns in the rustic interior, lived in his mother’s basement most of his life, married a French/Russian double agent involved in the assassination of Leon Trotsky, and who died so obese that he had to be removed from the house through a window; Tom Zé, the contemporary Brazilian musician from Bahia who has performed while wrapped in celophane inside a coffin and has composed songs like “Fliperama,” inspired by Isaac Asimov’s notion of children’s imaginary worlds; Isaac Berliner, who ran a shop that sold figurines of the saints in a backwater Mexican town, and wrote poems in Yiddish about oppressed peasants that Diego Rivera illustrated; and Omar Cáceres, a Chilean who worked as the only sighted member of an all-blind orchestra, wrote poetry of wild imagination and energy, apparently believed he was persecuted by invisible spies, and died and vanished under mysterious circumstances.

Reynols’ first musical contribution to the world, Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil), was a “dematerialized” compact disc, an empty box.  Their logic: by dematerializing the cd, everyone could therefor have access to it—everyone, including “Aristotle, Napoleon, and Jim Morrison.”  Not many people purchased Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada, but then again, by the group’s logic, not many needed to in order to hear it.  With projects like this, it seems inadequate to simply call Reynols a band that plays music—they seem like a larger and more diverse cultural phenomenon.

In Argentina, they have gained notoriety less as musicians and artists in their own right than as a kind of studio band for a television program called “La salud de nuestros hijos” (The Health of Our Children), which is broadcast on the state run channel.  After their first appearance several years ago on the show, where Tomasín was invited to play and to speak about music, the band has regularly returned.   On that segment, Conlazo held up a tattered album cover of Nico and the Velvet Underground as well as several other records from the 1960s and flatly stated that these were Reynols’ latest releases.  Few people, apparently, questioned them.  The band also played a spontaneous “unplugged,” with Tomasín tapping his drumsticks on a table while the long haired and bearded Courtis and Conlazo improvised on guitars not connected to amplifiers.  The primary viewers of the state channel, particularly during the afternoon when “La salud de nuestros hijos” comes on, are the elderly and pregnant teenagers.  This prompted Alan Courtis to declare that the bands’ true fans in Argentina consist of fetuses and the almost-dead.  The show’s host, Dr. Socolinsky, has been on television for over 30 years and is a kind of national celebrity—perhaps resembling a cross between Mr. Rodgers and Oprah Winfry.  He has taken a personal interest in Reynols, not only in repeatedly inviting them to his show, where they play standard covers of classic rock songs, but in collaborating with them on other projects.  Socolinsky himself is a musician—a rather gloomy pianist—and he and Reynols have recorded several songs together (i.e. The Bolomo Mogal F Hits).  One of these cd singles appeared as an insert to Socolinsky’s monthly magazine. 

Citizens of Minecxio, Unite!

Perhaps, by using partnerships with grassroots groups and with popular figures like Dr. Socolinsky, Reynols can become a new model for cultural diffusion.  A new path for artists to reach people and a new way of relating to communities via music seems as vital at this moment as Reynols original, iconoclastic style.  In the global era, control over the production and distribution of music rests in the enormous, avaricious hands of the music industry.  As Reebee Garofalo notes in Rockin’ the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements, “[t]he commercial imperatives of the music industry limit, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the range of musics available to the public.”  Of course, while the industry restricts music, it does not and can not totally censor it.  Occasionally, artists with critical or oppositional views and styles do carve out a niche.  Part of the explanation for this from the industry side comes from Stuart Hall, writing about globalization and the logic of capital.  Citing Marx’s insight that capital advances on contradictory terrain, he reasons that “in order to maintain its global position, capital must incorporate and partly reflect the differences it’s trying to overcome.”

However, Reynols is not exactly a music industry sweetheart—and by no stretch of the imagination can they be considered a popular band.  Nor, unlike musicians such as Bob Marley or The Clash, who express progressive politics and enjoy industry success, Reynols remains marginal, far from mainstream culture, far from even protest culture.  A lot has been written about the role of mass or popular culture in relation to popular political movements.  While some of this scholarship doesn’t apply to marginal bands and artists like Reynols, a lot of ideas about cultural politics and cultural flows between first and third world cites can shed some light on the Reynols phenomenon.  While Reynols might seem to have more in common with a poltergeist than with the zeitgeist, they are nonetheless a Latin American band listened to primarily in Europe and the United States.

In an insightful account of the production and consumption of black Carribbean music (primarily Juju and Voodoun rhythms) called Dangerous Crossroads, George Lipsitz argues:

“Listening to music is listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power, that it is essentially political… The theorists of totalitarianism have all explained that it is necessary to ban subversive noise because it betokens demands for cultural autonomy, support for differences and marginality: a concern for maintaining tonalism, the primacy of melody, a distrust of new languages, codes or instruments, a refusal of the abnormal—these characteristics are common to all regimes of that nature.”

Partly for these reasons, we should regard with suspicion Third World Music popular in the global North or the West.  While Lipsitz’s reasoning along capital flows seems convincing, the cultural component of his thesis seems a little balkanized and reactionary.  He relies too much on notions of cultural purity, failing to fully account for the already deeply hybrid cultural conditions of the contemporary world.  This shortcoming seems particularly poignant in relation to Caribbean musical cultures, which of course are legendary for their mixing.  However, Lipsitz does bring up some valuable points.  He convincingly argues, for example, that listeners in the global North have consistently ‘spectacularized difference.’  By doing so, listeners gloss over cultural and musical complexity, Third World social and political conditions, and fail to grasp a deeper value of the art they consume.  Music becomes a sort of exotic commodity.  And this is why,

For many musicians around the world, the popular has become a dangerous crossroads, an intersection between the undeniable saturation of commercial culture in every area of human endeavor and the emergence of a new public sphere that uses the circuits of commodity production and circulation to envision and activate new social relations.

One can only hope that the bizarre, quixotic group called Reynols might activate new social relations through their highly unusual, idiosyncratic path.  The cross cultural connections come to fruition in the utopia of Minecxio.  Minecxio suggests an unconventional reading of the ‘imagined community.’  The passport for this cultural citizenship is not made of paper, nor does it come from shared experience, tradition, or legal status.  It is an idea from the transcendent imagination of a Latin American with Downs Syndrome, an idea that sounds like falling snow.

RIP Reynols: A Coda

Sadly, in January 2004, Reynols decided to break up.  In a farewell communiqué to fans posted on the Internet, they write that after over a decade of production, “Reynols’ life-cycle has come to its natural end.”  It was not a traumatic decision, they say, and fans can still anticipate more records from the hundreds of hours of unreleased music. “And mind we are talking about Reynols’ terrestrial death,” the note ends, “the band will always be alive in Minecxio.  So head that way whenever you feel like paying them a visit.”

Walt Whitman wrote, “If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.”  If you want Reynols again, turn to their music inspired by, in Alan Courtis’ words:

“Miguel Tomasín carrying empty bottles, Miguel Tomasín playing golf with lamps, Miguel Tomasín shaving an octopus, Miguel Tomasín visiting invisible museums, Miguel Tomasín singing with his glottis, Miguel Tomasín watching the stars, Miguel Tomasín guiding the subway, Miguel Tomasín pointing to the infinite, Miguel Tomasín drawing the Himalayas, Miguel Tomasín dressed as Santa Claus, Miguel Tomasín putting candles in the fridge, Miguel Tomasín drilling Antartica, Miguel Tomasín refracting energy with his toothbrush, Miguel Tomasín playing chess with his forehead, Miguel Tomasín fishing dematerialized sardines, Miguel Tomasín throwing a computer as a javelin, Miguel Tomasín painting a disposable zebra, Miguel Tomasín cooking triangles, Miguel Tomasín writing letters to the presidents of countries that haven’t yet been discovered, and Miguel Tomasín wearing a mask of the faces of everyone reading this.”