Review of “The Medium is the Massage” CD Reissue


The original LP recording produced by John Simon for Columbia Records in 1968

The recent CD reissue of this rare LP includes new essays, artwork by Winston Smith, and unpublished photos of the recording sessions, produced by John Simon. You can listen to Part I of the original LP below. The CD is available in the US from Forced Exposure and and in Canada from

electric circuitry,
an extension of
Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us
unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension
of any one sense alters the way we think and act—
the way we perceive the world.
men change.

Review by NPR Music: ‘The Medium Is The Massage’: A Kitchen Sink Of Sound – by  ,  March 20, 2012    

Listen to the review – All Things Considered [4 min 16 sec] – DownloadTranscript

Few 20th century thinkers predicted the 21st century era of social media and the Internet better than Marshall McLuhan. Beginning in the 1960s, the Toronto-based philosopher and scholar began to theorize about how television and radio were changing society, creating what he termed the “global village.”

One of McLuhan’s other famous phrases was “The medium is the message” — in other words, how we consume information influences what we learn from it. As if to prove the point, in 1967, McLuhan’s book The Medium Is the Massage was transformed into an album by the same name.

The album version of The Medium Is the Massage is often described as the first “mix tape,” and there’s no question that creative director Jerome Agel and producer John Simon got the “mix” part down right with their sonic collages. However, unlike today’s mix tapes, which could probably be edited on a smartphone, Agel and Simon had to build their proverbial kitchen sink of sound with literal razor blades, magnetic tape and reel-to-reel machines. The Medium Is the Massage album overdubs these snippets atop and across one another, and within that cacophony, you can pluck out everything from a reading of Homer’s The Iliad to snatches of jazz and broken pottery to outtakes of McLuhan reading from his book.

McLuhan reportedly recorded his parts first but had no idea what the producers would eventually create. That process actually seems to honor the theorist’s ideas; McLuhan was always interested in the participatory potential of emergent media forms. If nothing else, Agel and Simon put their spin on the book’s own cut-and-paste aesthetic with their proto-mashup styles.

While the title, The Medium Is the Massage, nods to the ways media can soothe or lull consumers into complacency, the album’s noisy fractures and flips seem more designed to mirror the uneasy chaos created from constant media distractions. This was, remember, some 40 years beforeYouTube and Twitter, yet The Medium Is the Massage feels positively prescient in predicting the sound of our contemporary information age. Now, as it was then, the jump into the electronic whirlpool can be exhilarating and disorienting, somehow making those brief moments of silence seem all the louder.

These are the words of McLuhan himself from the accompanying booklet:

We have now become aware of the possibility of
arranging the entire human environment as a work
of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize
perception and to make everyday learning a process
of discovery. Application of this knowledge
would be the equivalent of a thermostat controlling
room temperature. It would seem only reasonable
to extend such controls to all the sensory thresholds
of our being. We have no reason to be grateful
to those who juggle these thresholds in the
name of haphazard innovation.
An astronomer looking through a 200-inch telescope
exclaimed that it was going to rain. His
assistant asked, “How can you tell?” “Because
my corns hurt.”
Environments are not passive wrappings, but are,
rather, active processes which are invisible. The
groundrules, pervasive structure, and over-all patterns
of environments elude easy perception. Antienvironments,
or countersituations made by artists,
provide means of direct attention and enable us
to see and understand more clearly. The interplay
between the old and the new environments creates
many problems and confusions. The main
obstacle to a clear understanding of the effects of
the new media is our deeply embedded habit of
regarding all phenomena from a fixed point of
view. We speak, for instance, of “gaining perspective.”
This psychological process derives unconsciously
from print technology.
Print technology created the public. Electric technology
created the mass. The public consists of
separate individuals walking around with separate,
fixed points of view. The new technology demands
that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this
fragmentary outlook.
The method of our time is to use not a single but
multiple models for exploration—the technique of
the suspended judgment is the discovery of the
twentieth century as the technique of invention
was the discovery of the nineteenth

The entire album can be heard on Ubuweb here.

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