"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Home Taping is Killing Music

Hua Hsu on audio cassettes:

There is nothing magic about a cassette, nothing bewitching about an object that can be taken apart and reassembled or fixed with a pencil. A small rectangular box of plastic in which magnetized tape moves back and forth between miniature spools, it is, from today’s vantage, a hopelessly antiquated format. At a time when most of us listen to music that exists only as data, on soundless players that cannot be pried open, the cassette displays its modest mechanics all too transparently. Peer inside the deck as you slide in a tape in, and you see a tiny, busy factory world of belts, wires, and interlocking gears. Press play, and even before the first track begins, you hear a series of hisses and squeals and the faint whir of the motor. When the side ends: a harsh click. Even in the 1980s, when the cassette tape represented the apex of consumer technology, its advances—the workmanlike auto-reverse button; various gradations of Dolby; “IEC Type II High (CrO₂) Position,” whatever that means—seemed puny, stopgaps to tide us over until we could engineer more elegant solutions.

Given that the cassette is widely regarded as a nostalgic curio today, few people were surprised when Sony discontinued production of the Walkman, their once-iconic portable cassette player, last April. The greater shock, for many, was the realization that Sony was still manufacturing Walkmen at all. While we mourn the player’s death and await the iPhone 5, it would be a mistake to dismiss the cassette as merely a transitional technology. Rather, it offered its user a previously unimaginable degree of autonomy, a freedom that is today familiar to us, and was the first music format to raise thorny questions about the concept of fair use and about what it means to own a piece of music.

Categories:  Beat of the Day  Bronx Banter

Tags:  audio cassettes  cassettes  hua hsu  tapes

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1 thelarmis   ~  Feb 8, 2011 4:41 pm

i used to prefer tapes over any other format. i would buy albums on vinyl, 'coz the artwork was larger and better. they were usually a bit cheaper, too. but they'd usually get scratched and, of course, you couldn't take them with you. so, i'd immediately put them on a 'blank' tape. (usually maxell or tdk, sometimes denon. tried to avoid basf, fuji and the like...)

my grandpa bought me a sporty, yellow sony walkman for chanukah when i was in 7th grade. i used that thing every single day throughout middle school, high school, all through college and even into grad school. it wasn't until i started touring the country as a professional musician that i upgraded to a sony *discman*! i saved the walkman, 'coz it was a 'special gift' from my hero. i have it here somewhere...

along with over a thousand cassette tapes that i generally have zero use for. but, i have a new dual cassette deck w/ my 'main' stereo and all of my 'boxes' (i HATE the term 'boom box') have cassette decks in them. (i have 4 of those, between the house and studio).

it took me a minute to convert to CD's back in the day, but they've been my absolute favorite format for music for ages now. while most folks are either going back to vinyl or forward to computerized digital data, i'm all about the CD.

for awhile there, about a decade ago, i was still playing tapes in the car all the time, 'coz i didn't wanna take the cd's outta the house. now, i only use the tape deck in the car for the ipod adapter. the ipod has come very much in handy, both personally and professionally, but i still prefer cd's over everything...

and my cd should hopefully be released later this month!!! : )

2 Raf   ~  Feb 8, 2011 4:48 pm

I used to tape the mastermixes back in the day off 98.7 KISS :-)

I still have my vinyl, I sent all my cassette tapes to the Salvation Army, and my VHS tapes will probably be next. My CD's are all in a nice little book.

Anyone remember the minidisc? I had a player, I don't know what happened to it. Lasted all of 5 minutes as MP3 players came out shortly thereafter.

3 thelarmis   ~  Feb 8, 2011 5:00 pm

[2] i need a nice little summer home to house all my damn cd's! ; )

yeah, i never had the 'fancy' stuff like mini-discs or dat players, before that. but i worked in bands that recorded from both mediums.

when i moved a little over a year ago, i boxed up all my vhs tapes and whatever cassette tapes were already in plastic Case Logic cases...

there's a Ravi Shankar album that is beyond brilliant. it was a Columbia release and, i can't for the life of me, figure out why it's never been released on CD. it's not even available digitally. i have the original record on both LP and cassette tape. one of these days, i'm gonna have to transfer it to cd-r. not sure which format i'll choose - skips & pops or hisses!

4 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 8, 2011 5:06 pm

I still have my cassettes too, but in storage. Lots of taping of the Stretch Armstrong show from the early-mid 90s, plus old mix tapes that I made.

5 thelarmis   ~  Feb 8, 2011 5:14 pm

the one tape i *really* have to find is...

in 8th grade, i was 12 years old, and my band played a big concert at the local united way/tempo group. afterward, we got our picture in the paper and signed autographs at the Friendly's around the block, while we ate our ice cream sundaes! : )

by this time, we had gone from a duo, to trio, to quartet. had a name change that made waves throughout the school and were soon to have the big 'break up'. cue up 'behind the music'!

at this show, we played a mix of originals and covers and i got it all on tape. it's either here or at my parents house. but i should really find that and put it on cd... or not!

6 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 8, 2011 5:25 pm

[2] I remember the Sony Mini-disc when it first came out; while I was in school in DC I worked at a small, but apparently well-known audio/video retailer just south of DuPont Circle. It was not long after they came out that a friend of the owner walked into the store and I helped sell him one.

It was the guy Alex just posted about in fact, Stevie Wonder.

I was so nervous to meet him that I stayed silent throughout the whole transaction. He's such a nice guy, he even gave me a chance to introduce myself, but I froze up. It's actually a very embarrassing memory to me, and I always hoped that I could make it up the next time I met him. I promised that I would never again be nervous in the face and company of celebrity, no matter how much I admired him/her.

Man, I learned a lot working at that store...

7 thelarmis   ~  Feb 8, 2011 5:27 pm

Sh*t Sox just signed Aceves to a major league deal.

i like Ace. and when i went to a coupla Yanks games here at The Ted, he was super great with the fans pre-game. seems like an excellent guy. that said, i hope he pitches an awful lot for those scumsuckers and is god awful!!!

8 RIYank   ~  Feb 8, 2011 6:08 pm

I was slow to convert to CDs, and I still have hundreds of LPs (that I never play). My son has 160 GB of songs in his pocket. Well, he may not have filled the whole thing -- more like 100 GB. On LPs, that would fill my basement.

9 knuckles   ~  Feb 8, 2011 6:09 pm

I remember being so pissed when the DJ would talk over the intro to a song you were trying to tape off the radio. Nothing worse than Rocky Allen or whomever jibber jabbering over the first chords of “Sweet Child of Mine”.

I actually had a minidisc player for a few years, when I was commuting into Manhattan an hour a day. They were a pain in the neck, but you could cram tons of music onto each disc- something like 4 or 8 hours I seem to recall. That was a pretty key feature when I chucked off to NZ for 6 weeks between jobs, with no money in my pockets.

10 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 8, 2011 6:42 pm

It's funny, Youtube has a lot of those mastermixes from Chuck Chillout and Red Alert online now; and some of them I still have on tape in my closet(s). My sister used to record soap operas on cassette by placing the boombox in front of the TV and hitting record; that is to say we could not at the time (late 70's-early 80's) afford a VCR, then when we did get one it became a habit to just record on tape.

I was the cassette czar of Wappingers Falls Central School District in the late 80's. Between my funky planetarium-like hanger assembly that worked well as a radio tower in my bedroom and my masterful recording studio replete with Fisher Price and other store brand record player, not to mention the no less than a dozen various radio/cassette recorders/boomboxes/mini stereo bookshelf systems/ancient and brand new stereo system components inventoried around my bedroom, I had the makings of a sweet lo-fi empire.

But oddly enough, I went away to school to be an engineer and came back a filmmaker.
Cut-Up City, for those who know (word to Teentown! >;)

11 Raf   ~  Feb 8, 2011 8:19 pm

Nothing worse than Rocky Allen or whomever jibber jabbering over the first chords of “Sweet Child of Mine”.

How bout DJ shout outs (as if we didn't know who's show we were listening to) in the middle of a song?

12 Raf   ~  Feb 8, 2011 8:19 pm


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