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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

The Evel Knievel of Tape Loops

Amulets lets a tape un-spool to its death.

Like the old Evel Knievel stunts of long-ago prime-time television broadcasts — well, sort of — the experimental musician Amulets announced in advance that today he would let un-spool, live on YouTube, a cassette tape that would, a bit like in the Mission: Impossible episodes that aired around the same time Knievel was jumping big rigs, self-destruct. (Or perhaps a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, also from that era, in which a lobster’s fate hung in the balance.)

The Amulets tape — more specifically a tape-loop, a few mere seconds of sound going round and round — would be encased in a device jury-rigged to slowly “erode” the material on which the sound was recorded.

When the video first aired (I did, indeed, tune in live, though it’s now archived for repeat viewing, round and round), there was drama to the slow-moving affair: Just how degraded would the audio get? (Pretty darn.) Would it be recognizable half an hour or forty five minutes into the process? (Yes, actually.) Would it snap before the full, planned hour of decay had played out? (Quite surprisingly: nope!) What does happen is that the sound falls apart in stages, so slowly that it’s only really recognizable when one compares and contrasts snippets five to ten seconds apart. Fortunately for the curious, even when streaming live, YouTube’s embedded player allowed you to back up to earlier in the recording, and then return to the current, live moment.

In a separate video, the process behind the loop scenario is revealed. Turns out it’s the same challenge that the musician Hainbach responded to last week (see: “Sandpaper Is a Form of Change.”) Making this sort of an answer song.

Like the cassette tape technology itself, what with its newfound revival in recent years, the cassette that Amulets experimented with proved indefatigable. Writes Amulets of the process, “Through a lot of trial and error I was able to design a self-destructive, self-contained cassette that not only eroded the magnetic tape, but could also be reused and reloaded with different loops for continued future experiments.” Here’s to the sequel!

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at the YouTube channel of Amulets, aka Randall Taylor of Portland, Oregon. More from Amulets/Taylor at amuletsmusic.com and amulets.bandcamp.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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