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The Beauty of the Tape Cassette

This stunning photo-illustration accompanied a piece by Amos Barshad in the September 20 issue of New York magazine, on the subject of the Brooklyn-based record label Woodist, which is one of a growing number of companies bringing the cassette tape back into circulation:

The photo, by Hannah Whitaker, is just stunning, arguably as great a tribute to the beauty of the cassette tape as is the music on Woodist. The piece brought to mind nothing so much as the hallucinogenic filigree of the late illustrator Al Hirschfeld; truly, my first instinct was to look for his “Ninas” in it. The photo captures the fragility of the tape itself, and the cold solidity of its hard plastic cartridge — and the fin de siècle flourishes pun visually on the recording material’s past glory.

Original article, with a larger version of Whitaker’s image, at nymag.com. More of her work at hwhitaker.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 5 ]

5 Comments

  1. Brian
    [ Posted September 30, 2009, at 9:13 am ]

    It’s a nice photo. But the idea of bringing the cassette back is weirdo to me. I wonder if in fifteen years we’ll sentimentalize the qualities of mp3 that right now drive us bananas.

    However, I do grant that I miss making and receiving mix tapes. Mix playlists don’t do it.

  2. Colin
    [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 6:21 am ]

    We featured our first cassettes on Hard Format a few weeks ago courtesy of the wonderful cassette label, The Tapeworm. There’s also an interview below the photos which might shed a little light on the minority predilection for the format. View the post here. Oh and you can download a hi-res pic for your desktop of one of the cassettes there too!

  3. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 7:23 am ]

    Brian: The return of cassettes does strike as surprising — except that there’s so much pre-digital activity going on, from soft sculpture, to the whole hipster Amish facial hair obsession, to (as this week’s Dining section in the New York Times put it) an architectural turn toward worn surfaces and used materials, that I just see cassettes as along those lines. It’s all just retro throwback, until someone does something neat with it.

    I imagine we will sentimentalize MP3s. Though I hope they’re still around, and something DRM-intensive hasn’t replaced ’em. I miss making and receiving mixtapes, too — and pause tapes even more. I wonder if we sentimentalize MP3s, what aspect of them we will sentimentalize. Perhaps the way the intense compression turned all of music listening in the first years of the 20th-century into something just slightly better than AM radio?

  4. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 7:24 am ]

    Thanks for that reminder, Colin. An interesting entry.

  5. A Consumer
    [ Posted October 1, 2009, at 10:30 pm ]

    Bringing back tapes? They never left the underground. Hanson,RRR and literally hundreds of small noise, punk, metal labels have been issuing them forever.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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