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A Cultural History of the Cassette Tape

Six-part series deals with mixtapes, technology, sound art

Cassette was the name given a six-part cultural history of the tape cassette deck. It was serialized on Resonance FM (resonancefm.com) in recent months and is collected at cassetteradio.wordpress.com. That website’s template looks not like a cassette but instead like the interface of the original Macintosh, and the loose association speaks to the nostalgia that is a deep part of the series. Developed by Naomi Christie, Cassette surveys the popularity, fall, and recent rise of the cassette, once a staple of music consumption, and a key gateway drug to what is now taken for granted: the ability to enjoy one’s music at one’s leisure outside the home or concert hall.

Much of the series involves Christie interviewing bands and labels who release music on tape today, and listeners who reflect on their memories of what in retrospect can be considered “tape culture.” Nostalgia for home taping is enlivening music. In volume 5 she talks with technology historians about the mechanics of the medium, and with the musician Beat Radio about the benefits of the old-school four-track recorder. There are great details, notably casual reflections about the experience of flipping the tape, or of crafting one’s own j-card inserts, or the sense memory of just how long it takes to rewind a cassette.

Volume 4 is particularly recommended. In it Christie speaks with two sound artists, John Wynne and Dan Bennett, who have separately employed the minute differences in playback speed to minimalist ends. Wynne has used 40 boomboxes to play a single note, while Bennett has attempted something similar with a dozen tapes (MP3).

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Get the whole series for free download at cassetteradio.wordpress.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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