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Strain and Grain

C. Reider returns to the cassette-tape loop

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C. Reider’s Tape Loops, recently released on Linear Obsessional Recordings, returns him to an early favorite media of his, after many years spent in the digital world. The media is magnetic tape, which Reider, who’s based in Colorado, once enjoyed as a participant in the mail-art network.

He revisits what was long ago an everyday technology as something today of an archival and arcane one (though there is a growing number of cassette labels in recent years). There was a physical release of this album, true to its inspiration. That combined a CDR, which was a spiritual grandchild of the cassette, with hand-engineered cassettes that contained a loop. Even though the physical edition is sold out, the digital release is a rewarding one all on its own. It’s a series of looped compositions, half an hour in all. The strain and grain of the tape is evident in every piece, bits of noise, and orchestral glimmering, and vocal warbles, all pieced together amid an overarching mechanical sensibility.

An annotation to the album provides some additional context:

Getting deep into the process and working with thrift-store cassettes he uses a number of radical techniques to create his tape loops, including lengthening the tape, shredding it, making new tapes from tiny fragments and reassembling them.

The resulting piece is a haunting and mesmeric meditation on the texture of sound recorded on magnetic tape and is one or reider’s most powerful works to date.

A booklet accompanying the release gets into more detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of my experiments involved extending the length of the loop inside the shell. When making a loop housed in a standard tape shell, the filament can’t be too slack or too tight. If it’s too slack, it will get caught in the playback mechanism resulting in the tape being “eaten” (is that how they say it outside of the US?) If too tight the loop just won’t play back. Normally, I would loop the tape around the two tape guide rollers and the two reels inside the re- used tape shells, requiring a strand of tape 9.125 inches in length. That would result in a loop that comes back to the splice point every 5 seconds when played back at the normal speed of 1.875 inches per second. The physical barriers inside the shell dictate the length of the loop. To shorten or lengthen a loop one has to remove or provide more barriers around which the tape will pass. I found that if there were a bunch of new barriers inside the shell, the tape makes a turn at each one (imagine a serpentine fan belt in a car,) meaning more length can fit. More length equals more time. To add barriers, I drilled holes through one side of the cassette shell, and pressed through pieces of PTFE Teflon rod to give me pivot points around which to guide the tape. The most complicated of my pivot-point alterations had the tape traveling around nine different points resulting in a tape length of 19 inches that looped every 10 seconds.

As with most techniques I use in my sound practice, the process of these modifications were easy to do in terms of technique, but they did require some amount of patience and mindfulness.

Audio originally posted at linearobsessional.bandcamp.com. More from Reider at vuzhmusic.com, soundcloud.com/vuzhmusic, and twitter.com/vuzhmusic.

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By Marc Weidenbaum

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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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