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The Fetishising of Tape Begins Now
February 22, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

"I only listen to cassettes," Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told CBC radio last summer: an article on the merits [or otherwise] of releasing new music on cassette.

Other valuable trivia learned from the article: Jagged Edge's 1997 debut album was the biggest selling cassette of last year.
posted by meech (91 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I'm kind of a twat," Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told everyone, over and over.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:33 PM on February 22, 2010 [50 favorites]


Also only drinks PBR, amirite?
posted by unSane at 7:33 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm kind of a twat," Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told everyone, over and over.


But in a slightly different tuning each time.
posted by unSane at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2010 [24 favorites]


I buy cassettes. But mostly because they're super cheap and that's all my car will play.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:35 PM on February 22, 2010


My prediction: stupid 16 year olds will being waxing poetic about the superior sound quality of cassettes. Vinyl advocates will not see the irony.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:38 PM on February 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


er, s/being/begin
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:38 PM on February 22, 2010


I myself prefer VHS to DVD.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:39 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


C30, C60, C90, go.
posted by gimonca at 7:41 PM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I only shit in a hole in the back yard.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:42 PM on February 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


I only listen to wax cylinders.

Do I win?
posted by Consonants Without Vowels at 7:43 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I only listen to VBR MP3s which were ripped from cassette transfers of vinyl which was recorded digitally.

I like the "warmth" and "richer" sound.
posted by griphus at 7:45 PM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


"wanna listen to some CD's?"

"Please. Compact discs blow. People weren't made to listen to music with such clarity. They need to hear snaps and pops and that shit."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:45 PM on February 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


At least the vinyl guys had a case that in theory analog could sound slightly better than a digital recording, although those nuances would likely be lost if you actually played the record. You can actually hear squeals and pops in a cassette tape. That's not art. That's not "warmth." That's the definition of noise distorting music.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:48 PM on February 22, 2010


Cassettes got incredibly popular in today's New Weird America over the last 5 years - there are some excellent labels like Mike (Religious Knives, Double Leopards) Bernstein and Maya Miller's Heavy Tapes delivering the goods.

Bruce (Dead C.) Russell's Xpressway label will never be topped, however.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:49 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Noise cassettes have been around for some time.
posted by swift at 7:51 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


My roommate found some weird audio collage cassettes in a random place. They were a mixture of someone getting lectured by HR, and rapping on a bus, and cheezy keyboard tunez, and various auditory randomness - the kind of thing a 14 year old kid using acid for the first time might end up recording and deciding to leave for a stranger because that would be AWESOME.

We quite enjoyed listening to the tapes (which each ended with a request that we leave them somewhere someone else could find them).

Could you do that with a record? A cd? I think they would be too fragile for that kind of stranger to stranger randomness. And who is going to leave an ipod for a stranger?

Iif I wanted to make a piece of music, and put it in somebody's hand - I don't have an option as cheap and durable and tangible as a cassette any more (since I cannot take for granted the other person would have a cassette player), and there is something very sad about that.

But to only listen to cassette? To romanticize the sound quality? Whatever grandpa, you made some great music in the '80s and all, but nostalgia aint worth shit.
posted by idiopath at 7:52 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also: interviews with today's cassette "heavies" done for the P4K piece [via].
posted by porn in the woods at 7:52 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although my contemporaries are one of a mind that the black carnuba wax cylinder is far more stalwart under the duress of repeated use, I feel a kinship to it's brown beeswax forefather, whose soft, mellow tones lend a pleasing ethereal air to the hymns and homilies of my lost youth.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:55 PM on February 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


Thurston Moore playing with Yoko Ono was one of the best things I've ever seen. I don't have a cassette of the performance, but I do have a tiny flashlight. (I...LOVE.......YOU!)

Also, he's a really nice guy who works hard to promote tons of insane weirdos and fuck you if you can't take a joke.
posted by generalist at 7:55 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anybody else think that Moore might have been funnin' when he said that? It's a pretty silly assertion to make, and there's no context in the Pitchfork article. Also, who the eff has a tape player? I don't think the revolution will be walkman-ized.
posted by Gilbert at 7:56 PM on February 22, 2010


swift: great links, nice to see Kevin Drumm getting some love.
posted by idiopath at 7:56 PM on February 22, 2010


Also, who the eff has a tape player?

The last person I know to have owned and used a portable cassette player sans irony was one of the punks who hung out on the block back when I worked on St. Mark's in the East Village. He used it to listen to all sort of local grind/crust stuff that I do not think would ever see a CD release (to say nothing of vinyl.)
posted by griphus at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2010


i haven't bothered with cassettes in years, but i have fond memories. i used to dub everything onto cassette so i could listen to my albums and CDs in my high school car. the volume was controlled by pushbuttons. the up button always worked. the down button almost never worked.

i got stoned in that car a lot, and generally spent the rest of the week listened to everything at whatever earsplitting volume i'd chosen while out partying.


oh to be 17 again.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2010


ack. listening. not listened.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2010


Who has a cassette player these days, anyway? I have one, accidentally, hooked up to my TV, and there's another one in one of the trucks, but that's it.
posted by unSane at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2010


I only play games on 8-inch floppies.

Interestingly enough, the horror film House of the Devil was released on a special edition VHS tape.

Only a matter of time before that becomes kitch, I suppose.
posted by hellojed at 8:04 PM on February 22, 2010


What got me was the Metal/Non-metal cassette distinction. AFAICT with metal tapes you paid more for shittier sound that lasted really badly. I still have cheapass C90s that I carried around in a crappy cardboard box for four years that sound fine, while comparatively expensive metalized tapes have rubbish distorted bass.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:08 PM on February 22, 2010


Psh. I only listen to 8-track.
posted by peep at 8:09 PM on February 22, 2010


If Aquarius Records is to be believed, some of the most awesomest eastern european metal is only released on cassette.
posted by kenko at 8:09 PM on February 22, 2010


This belongs in this thread.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love my iPod, but I remember, back in the days of listening to albums on those funny chunky yellow walkmen, I'd listen to an entire Side A or Side B without ever thinking of skipping a track that sucked.

It just wasn't that easy to fast forward to the next track without under- or overshooting. So songs that sounded kinda dull initially would have the chance to grow on me, especially if they were sandwiched between awesome songs.

Nowadays, by about five or six tracks into an album, I've usually already switched to another artist. There's music for getting ready for a big night out, music for a morning jog, music for a late night train home.

I have so much more music now (and I'd never want to go back), but there are no recent albums that I know inside out, they way I used to when it was just one tape at a time in my walkman, and I'd listen to it wherever I was going or whatever I was doing.
posted by surenoproblem at 8:12 PM on February 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


If you're not listening to music on the most expensive equipment available, does that mean you're not enjoying it as much? Does the guy with the $100K audiophile setup and the Mobile Fidelity pressing of Aja sing along to "Peg" better than I do?

Honestly, before you start biffing off about how tapes suck why not look up some of the labels mentioned in the article to see if there's some music out on tapes only that you might like? Maybe it's not beamed straight into your iPhone from some interweb app store downloaded through yr whatzits, but tapes are awesome! Not Not Fun, Digitalis, Fuck It Tapes, Arbor, Beniffer and Middle James Co are only a few of the people releasing amazing music on cassette.

Does anybody else think that Moore might have been funnin' when he said that?
I've sold tapes to Thurston. He buys a lot. He's also released a few on Ecstatic Peace.
posted by monkeymike at 8:24 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]



Also, who the eff has a tape player?


I still have the double cassette component hooked up to the stereo. The remains of my once large cassette tape collection will now fill one shoe box, but it's one I'll pull out every now and then if only for the nostalgia of old mix tapes (some of which copied off the radio) and a collection of dubbed shoegaze albums with magic-markered cover art.

At my record store, we still sell blank cassettes and have a few customers who come in carrying a Walkman. Save the occasional noise consignment, we haven't carried new or used cassettes in years, but people still come in asking for them from time to time.
posted by thivaia at 8:25 PM on February 22, 2010


Cassettes are great for mail art projects. I did some of this in (dear lord) the 1980s, it was a heap of fun to send stuff out and then to get weird and wonderful hand-crafted sonic/visual artifacts back in the mail. Many folks doing this also had a penchant for decorating the packages, which was doubly cool. In pre-Internet days, this was really a neat way of communicating with folks all over the world. I even had a (noise) track on one of these excellent tapes, which was definitely a high point for me.

But to listen to tapes for the retro experience? Come on. If folks are old enough to remember tapes, they should be old enough to remember vinyl as well, and how much better that sounded.

with metal tapes you paid more for shittier sound that lasted really badly

Yeah agreed. Personally, I liked TDK-AD. Worth the premium over the D.
posted by carter at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Aquarius Records is to be believed, some of the most awesomest eastern european metal is only released on cassette.

True, but it ends up on the internet anyway. A certain number of people have to know about you before you can claim to be kvlt and grim and inverted necroblasphemic toiletseatface.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:27 PM on February 22, 2010


only analog is real.

personally i only purchase vinyl and cassettes. totally fucking metal shit.
posted by rainperimeter at 8:37 PM on February 22, 2010


C30, C60, C90 GO!
posted by philip-random at 8:39 PM on February 22, 2010


To some extent, what does it matter what physical format it's released on? Tapes... vinyl... cd's... I'm about as likely to listen to them as I am an 8-track or something. Tapes do kinda have a cool novelty value... and I gather that they're still the format of choice in prison.
posted by ph00dz at 8:46 PM on February 22, 2010


Quick! retreat to the amber-walled room of inconvenience and nostalgia! THEY CAN'T FIND US THERE.
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have fond memories of my copy of Merzbow's Nil Vagina Tape Loops Part 2, that I picked up at Ozone Records across Burnside from Powell's when I was 16 years old. There is something about the cassette, the way it was an artifact that you could carry like a talisman, the fact that you would hear the deterioration and entropy of the cassette as it stretches and gets muddier over time, over hundreds of listens.

With mp3, fewer people are going to hear the same series of tracks over and over in that tape-facilitated obsessive repeat play ritual. Future generations are less likely to know that feeling of rarity, scarcity, specialness that comes from music that you can only get by buying, stealing, or begging a copy from a friend that has it, and the concept of a recording that only exists in a limited edition, or an import, loses so much meaning with the ubiquity of piracy and world wide high speed data transmission. Not to get all moral. I stole music when I was a kid. Not noise and not from the stores that carried noise, that just seemed stupid since they were always on the virge of going out of business and definitely weren't getting much financial incentive to provide my noise fix, but if I wanted to listen to something a bit more mainstream, fuck yeah I would steal it from a mainstream store. I still remember my glee upon discovering a copy of the Rectal Anarchy CD in Borders, and the simultaneous realization that what I was into wasn't really underground anymore.

Anyway, as I was saying above, this is just nostalgia, and experiences of future generations of kids are going to be different in so many ways, and maybe similar in a few ways, as well. I probably won't find out, because it may be fun in a self indulgent way to reminisce about being a kid, but being around kids is insufferable.
posted by idiopath at 8:54 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I only listen to cassettes," Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told CBC radio last summer: an article on the merits [or otherwise] of releasing new music on cassette.

umm hmmm. yes. Dude, I only listen to live music and sing the songs back to myself, man. Its the only authentic way to do it. There's nothing fake about it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on February 22, 2010


Back when I reviewed electronic music, I had a promo copy of Autechre's Gantz Graf on cassette. When I interviewed Sean Booth and asked him about it, I told him it took me a while to locate a cassette player and he had a good laugh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:03 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still have a dual cassette deck stereo component in storage, purchased in the days before CDs were the undisputed standard. I was in high school, and I had bought a tuner and speakers, and would borrow my brother's travel CD player to play my two CDs (Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream and Esquivel's Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music). I belonged to (the now deceased) BMG Music Club, opting to get cassettes instead of CDs. When I got a car, it only had a cassette deck, so I kept on getting tapes. Only two of my tapes were played to death: Björk's Post and DJ Ellis Dee's Acidfest.

I still have some mixtapes I've made from radio recordings, though the best of sheer luck recordings is gone - a friend of mine had the Mortal Kombat soundtrack in his tape deck, and heard a particular classical music piece on the radio he wanted to record. Without thinking what was in the deck, he started recording. The tape segued from "FIGHT! MORTAL KOMBAT! EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! Kano, Liu Kang ... " and then classical orchestration. That mix disappeared when another "must record" moment came up.

I've actually bought five new cassettes in the recent years, four from touring bands and one from an online shop. I'm a sucker for limited edition music, and knowing my cassette deck is available for me to utilize, I picked up the tapes with the notion that I'd copy them to my computer for longevity. To date, the cassette deck and those tapes languish in storage.

Personally, I'm still grieving the end of pre-recorded minidisc production.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ha! A friend of mine dropped off a tape of one of his projects just a couple hours ago! I don't get it either, but I ain't complaining, since it seems like there's a lot of cross-release with digital files... saw a band's site earlier today where you can download the digital copy for free, but the tape costs money.

The thing that gets me is how damn long it takes for duplication versus CD. This isn't a problem if you're getting your stuff duped professionally, but I don't think most of these labels are calling Discmasters for their tape copying. I dunno, maybe they are. All the same, 5 minutesish for a CD versus however long the recording is on a tape?
posted by jtron at 9:13 PM on February 22, 2010


Ooh, more cassette nostalgia: Little Wings made a trilogy of sorts, charting the progression of his album Light Green Leaves on tape, LP then CD, losing or gaining a few songs as he went. It's not so very nostalgic, considering that album came out in 2002, but that was now 8 years ago (give or take).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 PM on February 22, 2010


Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture. Edited by Thurston Moore.

"The mix tape is a form of American folk art: predigested cultural artifacts combined with homespun technology and magic marker turn the mix tape into a message in a bottle. I am no mere consumer of pop culture, it says, but also a producer of it. Mix tapes mark the moment of consumer culture in which listeners attained control over what they heard, in what order and at what cost. " Matias Viegener.
posted by philip-random at 9:13 PM on February 22, 2010


I was having a discussion earlier today about this article with a friend of mine who, like me, is old enough to remember when tapes were the hot way of distributing music. Our discussion centered on the order that the tape (and vinyl) impose on the listener. In the MP3 world, songs are atomic: you listen to each of them as their own thing, and shuffle on to the next if you don't like it. Even with CDs, it's trivial to press skip until you reach a song you like. With albums on cassette and record, you actually have to pay attention to how long you press fast-forward or go over and lift the needle to play the track you want.

My sense is that some producers and musicians, especially those who aren't old enough to remember what a royal pain in the ass records and cassettes often were, fetishize that imposed order a little. You will listen to the masterpiece in the manner intended by the artist, or you will have to go to some effort to listen to it your way (either ripping it or, if you're old school, making mixtapes).

As someone who grew up listening to vinyl, cassettes, and the occasional eight-track (yeah, I'm old), I don't romanticize ordered listening at all. I still use album shuffle on iTunes most of the time because I like many of my albums as albums, but when I got an iPod and started ripping things to iTunes, it gave me a very easy way of accessing and appreciating my music as songs, even the deep cuts that had no value as singles. I value both methods of listening, by song and by album, and the idea that I should have to listen to my music in one way because that's what the artist intended and imposes by retro technology just annoys me.
posted by immlass at 9:25 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I spent the better part of a year backpacking around the world in 1992/93 with a Walkman and listening to the half-dozen cassettes stuffed in my backpack. You better believe you had to be choosy when you faced a desert island situation like this. I suspect I did not even buy my first CD until 1990 or so. The way to get the music you wanted was to buy it on LP or 45 and dub it to cassette, omitting the crappy songs.

It suddenly occurred to me while reading this thread that back in the late nineties or so, there must have a day when I bought a ten-pack of cassette tapes for the purpose, little realizing that I would never ever do this again. I have no idea when that would have been. How frickin' poignant.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:39 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


John Darnielle's early stuff was recorded on a boombox. It's the DIY production of cassettes that was so great.
posted by mecran01 at 9:57 PM on February 22, 2010


I only like albums. I don't really care about "songs". Good bands make good albums. Bands that don't make good albums aren't good bands. With very few exceptions (say, those psych era singles comps where most of the bands never even made an album) I don't even believe there's such a thing as a "good song" made by a band otherwise incapable of making a good album.
posted by anazgnos at 10:07 PM on February 22, 2010


At least the vinyl guys had a case that in theory analog could sound slightly better than a digital recording, although those nuances would likely be lost if you actually played the record. You can actually hear squeals and pops in a cassette tape. That's not art. That's not "warmth." That's the definition of noise distorting music.

I think the point is that with analog playback, you're effectively getting an extra level of processing that's making the song sound subjectively "better". I mean, "noise distorting music" is pretty much my definition of "warmth". If reality sounded so great, recording studios would use cheap ultralinear measurement microphones instead of AKGs and Neumanns.

That said, I think this cassette thing is pretty much driven by the same kind of childhood nostalgia that make speople name their bands after 80's cartoons.
posted by kersplunk at 10:09 PM on February 22, 2010


I only listen, in my own anechoic chamber, to the sound of my own bodily functions .

Oh, and occasionally to 4'33".

On normal bias cassette, of course.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:21 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every single one of the store-bought tapes I purchased during the '80s has long since been carted off to thrift stores.

But the mix tapes that friends and relatives lovingly crafted for me...those you can have when you pry them out of my cold, dead boombox.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:26 PM on February 22, 2010


I only cook by holding food in my fists over a raging bonfire.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:35 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


my girlfriend bought a used toyota pick up last year. it had no stereo in it. when she went to the car stereo shop i made the specific request that it have an input to plug in an ipod (which is likely standard at this point) but also a tape deck. they didn't have a tape deck in the place. bummer.

a couple months ago a few of us drove up to seattle to see eyehategod, because the seattle line up was mostly better than the portland show, and also because road trips for any reason are fun. the car we went in only had a tape deck. it ruled. we listened to the black metal cassettes i buy, old punk rock mixes with bad brains and black flag, tapes minus any track info at all, and metal mixes aimee and i have made for each other over the years. so awesome.

and i'm not sure if this is still a thing; at mississippi records here in portland, they have a mix tape box. make one, leave it, take one. great idea.
posted by rainperimeter at 11:01 PM on February 22, 2010


Bang on rocks good! Bang on wood good! Bang! Bang! Bang!
posted by Xoebe at 11:05 PM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have really fond memories of cassettes, especially mixes I made from the radio or tapes friends made for me. I listened to cassettes exclusively for years, not for kitsch value or by choice but because I couldn't afford anything else. And I had many tapes I loved absolutely to death for personal reasons.

However, audio quality is definitely NOT the strong suit of the format, especially once you listen to them enough. They stretch and deteriorate with each play as the coating wears away.They squeak and squeal like they are being tortured. I have pulled tapes from storage that still play - most of them don't, or not well.

If that doesn't get you, then your player gobbling the tape will - I have many unfond memories of respooling beloved casettes with a pencil, attempting repairs, methodically prising the brownblack ribbon millimeter by millimeter from the jaws of death so as not to lose precious music, trying to flatten every crinkle.

Vinyl, I can understand. Well cared for records last decades, and still sound wonderful, even when flawed. Cassettes? No, not so much. They have their place, and it's fine, and the kids can have their fun, and I hope they get a ghost of the joy we got trading mixtapes when it really was all we had.

The sound of tapes is and always has been assified, and despite the claims to the contrary in the linked article, cassettes don't last even remotely as long or store nearly as well as vinyl. I can appreciate enjoying the personal nature of tapes, I can appreciate kids longing for a bygone time that was never really the way they imagine. I can even appreciate romanticizing the shittiness of tape. The claims of superior audio and archival quality are a major stretch, though.

So get off my lawn, and take Thurston Moore with you. Just tell him that someone is making a documentary about a musician and he's urgently needed for an interview (whether he knows them or not.)
posted by louche mustachio at 12:32 AM on February 23, 2010


I only like albums. I don't really care about "songs".

You live in a limited world.

However, audio quality is definitely NOT the strong suit of the [cassette] format,

True but I've still got a few ancient Maxell C90s kicking around that sound fine when played on my equally ancient Nakamichi tape deck. Bit by bit I'm digitizing them and, thus far, have yet to hear a negative comment as to the their sound quality when stacked up against various mp3s.
posted by philip-random at 12:40 AM on February 23, 2010


Our high school car cassette deck regularly featured a C120 dub of Metal Machine Music that my older brother made from a copy borrowed from the public library (not making this up).
posted by ovvl at 4:38 AM on February 23, 2010


I expect a lot of Analog Love is actually Shitty-Digital-Mastering Hate.

e.g.: Van Halen's self titled album. The CD always sounded harsh to me, and I could never really just crank it and enjoy it. Recently I came across a redbook rip of the album's first german pressing -- and it. is. wonderful.
posted by mikelieman at 5:02 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


my older brother made from a copy borrowed from the public library

Yes. Libraries have wide selections of music available, too. I hear some even have these DVD things these days.
posted by mikelieman at 5:03 AM on February 23, 2010


Maybe I missed something, but I don't think that anyone was claiming (at least not in the P4K article) that audio cassettes offered better sound quality or lasted longer. Gruff Rhys talked about remastering some of his old music from cassette because the DAT masters had deteriorated, but it's not clear whether he was choosing to do it that way because he prefers cassette or because there were no other copies available. He could have just been pleasantly surprised that the cassettes had lasted as well as they did.

I doubt there's any one cause of the cassette revival. It seems likely to me that nostalgia is a big part of it; the music that we hear and half-remember from our childhood is always going to have a particular, personal resonance for each of us. I used to be fascinated by the pause button on our tape deck when I wee boy, and when I bought my first car relatively recently, I was thrilled to find a tape deck in it - I finally had a chance to make my own mixtapes for long journeys, instead of being forced to listen to my dad's. So yeah, I can easily see childish nostalgia being part of the reason behind this whole business.

On the other hand, as swift mentioned, there's been a continuous cassette culture in the psych & noise scene since the 80s. From their point of view this isn't so much a revival as an upsurge, since they never really went away. Cassettes make more sense for this kind of music, mostly because the musicians put out so bloody much of it they need a way to cheaply produce limited copies of any given release. I also think that for some of these musicians there's less of an album aesthetic and more of a band aesthetic - if performers want to play a different type of music, they release it as a whole new band/project. This means that the different releases by any given group are (in a certain weak sense) interchangeable. The sheer number of cassette releases put out by psych/noise labels like Sloow Tapes, Gold Soundz, Twonicorn &c means that there's this feeling of an infinite amount of music which you can never have a complete conception of - you can only sample bits of it here and there. The ease of putting out music on cassette is part of what makes this approach possible.
posted by Dim Siawns at 5:27 AM on February 23, 2010


The tiny death mask of technology's casual ties!
posted by The Whelk at 5:46 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


an option as cheap and durable and tangible as a cassette

Durable? Are you kidding me?
posted by grubi at 5:56 AM on February 23, 2010


I love my iPod, but I remember, back in the days of listening to albums on those funny chunky yellow walkmen, I'd listen to an entire Side A or Side B without ever thinking of skipping a track that sucked.

It just wasn't that easy to fast forward to the next track without under- or overshooting. So songs that sounded kinda dull initially would have the chance to grow on me, especially if they were sandwiched between awesome songs


Sounds more like you learned to tolerate music you initially didn't like.

That's not necessarily a good thing.
posted by grubi at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's funny about the folks who romanticize the track order also romanticize the concept of the mix tape.

Wasn't the original point of the mix tape that you didn't have to sit through the whole album to hear good stuff?

Now, granted, I've got great stories and memories associated with cassette tapes -- me and them, we's got a special bond. We's go way back, son. Hours and hours of experiments, radio songs, comedy bits, conversations, lectures... you name it. I even want to dub one of my (many) CDs of original music to a cassette just to have the pleasure of my music, studio-quality, coming out of a stereo playing a C60.

But once I get most of these cassettes I own digitized, that format is essentially dead to me as a working medium. As long as the medium is touched directly by the device playing it, it begins to deteriorate. At least a well-maintained CD will last through 1,000 plays and sound the same. My elderly copy of ZZ Top's Eliminator won't.

(And sadly, doesn't.)
posted by grubi at 6:09 AM on February 23, 2010


What's funny about the folks who romanticize the track order also romanticize the concept of the mix tape.

Doesn't strike me as funny at all. Track order is consistently romanticized in both cases, because it was arranged by either the original artist(s) or some subsequent semi-artist to whom the listener is personally acquainted.
posted by Rat Spatula at 6:18 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The last person I know to have owned and used a portable cassette player sans irony

I have one on my desk at work. It's a 10 dollar Walkman knockoff. I usually use it to listen to the radio, but I have a couple of tapes on my desk as well that I listen to occasionally.
posted by Jahaza at 6:32 AM on February 23, 2010


RRRecords released a whole shitload of noise cassettes called "Recycled Music" from many, many different artists. Every one is recorded over an old hair metal tape. Everything is covered in duct tape and the artist's name is written in in marker. Now that I write this down, it sounds kind of wanky.

Basic Channel supposedly got their drums to sound muddy and fuzzy by mastering to 4-track cassette first.
posted by mkb at 6:43 AM on February 23, 2010


I love how you can stack cassettes like bricks.

And I still listen to a lot of music that only comes out on cassettess... As long as someone else digitizes it to MP3 first.

In 5 years kids with their 800 GB micro-SD cards are going to wax poetic about how it was far more hardcore to keep your music on chunky IDE drives.
posted by Theta States at 7:21 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, who the eff has a tape player?

...you mean you don't?
posted by acb at 7:21 AM on February 23, 2010


Wow. I'm not a music freak, I like a bit of music now and then but I go weeks sometimes without actually listening to any, so this whole discussion is a window into a completely different world.

I had vinyl, tapes, 8 tracks, CD's, etc but my music is on my computer now, it's organized, I don't have to worry about it getting scratched, or otherwise messed up, and it sounds fine to me. I'm both baffled and amazed at the whole tape/vinyl/CD thing.

Not that I'm complaining, I'm sure a lot of what I do is both baffling and amazing to many other people. But if it weren't for articles like this I'd be unaware that tapes, much less vinyl, even still existed, much less that people retain any attachment for either medium. I thought music was something you downloaded, that any physical media was nothing but the realm of collectors who collected it as artifacts rather than for listening, and that pretty much everyone thought the same.

I suppose I knew, in a fuzzy sort of way, that some people still bought CD's; I see that stores still have a "music" section, so I knew they existed. I guess I always thought of them as being mostly sold to people who don't have computers and a good net connection. A sort of informational welfare if you will. Since I don't go to the music section of stores, same as I don't go to buggy whip outlets, it never even occurred to me that tapes or actual vinyl records were still even being manufactured.

I guess what I'm saying is thanks meech, you've broadened my world.
posted by sotonohito at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that the person who asks "Who the heck has a tape player anymore" immediately answers his own question with "of course, I've got two lying around somewhere..."

>I only like albums. I don't really care about "songs".

You live in a limited world.


Yeah, it's terrible. There's even some music that I don't even like at all.

As someone who grew up listening to vinyl, cassettes, and the occasional eight-track (yeah, I'm old), I don't romanticize ordered listening at all. I still use album shuffle on iTunes most of the time because I like many of my albums as albums, but when I got an iPod and started ripping things to iTunes, it gave me a very easy way of accessing and appreciating my music as songs, even the deep cuts that had no value as singles. I value both methods of listening, by song and by album, and the idea that I should have to listen to my music in one way because that's what the artist intended and imposes by retro technology just annoys me.

To expand on what I said above, the idea that there is an intent behind a specific collection of songs is important to me. The idea that the sequence and the packaging and the production and all of it create a single, unified piece of work that doesn't bear chopping up into discreet bits any more than a book or movie. I know that realistically not every album was conceived that way, but that's the ideal. That's what I want as a listener and that's what I want to do as a musician. I don't experience any "limitation" on my end...I own thousands of albums already, and (but for funds) could buy thousands more today that all meet this standard, and there's more coming out every week.
posted by anazgnos at 7:36 AM on February 23, 2010


@surenoproblem.

That's a good observation. Since the tape player in my truck needed a matchbook to line up the cassette to the heads, and it didn't always work, I ended up listening to Paul's Boutique endlessly for the summer rather than remove it. That's an album that asks to be listened to from beginning to end, like Sgt Pepper or something. Good times.

In high school my best friend always had a pre-cassette car with homebrew'd walkman and amps and speakers in it. Best rocking ever.

But I like my iTunes now and couldn't imagine life without.
posted by drowsy at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2010


I love my iPod, but I remember, back in the days of listening to albums on those funny chunky yellow walkmen, I'd listen to an entire Side A or Side B without ever thinking of skipping a track that sucked.

I have an ipod, and I still do that. All my playlists are albums, and I play them straight through. Guess I'm officially old.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:45 AM on February 23, 2010


I had a giant collection of cassettes that had survived years of abuse in my car. Then one day I realized I didn't even have a cassette player any more, so I gave them away on craigslist. I've never seen someone so excited as the kid who came to pick them up.

Maybe it was Thurston Moore.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:09 AM on February 23, 2010


The only nostalgia I really have for cassettes is the mixtape, and the painstaking effort that went into making one; digging out all of the source records or tapes, figuring out which tracks would fit on a 45 minute side, sitting and listening IN REAL TIME while each track copied (unless you had a fancy high speed dub system), all that. Dragging tracks onto a playlist and clicking 'Burn' just isn't the same.

I'm waiting on a new belt for an old Garrard turntable that came into my posession, and I can't wait. For me, it's about listening as an experience, including gorgeous, large album covers, inserts, liner notes printed large enough to actually read, all that good stuff. Plus, vinyl is cheap if you're not after like-new collectibles.
posted by usonian at 9:16 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


>: I usually use it to listen to the radio

Someone still listens to the radio?

Where I live there's like... fifteen different stations playing the same Top 40, Oldies, Country or 'Alt' Rock heavy rotation. The one 'community' station seems strangely fixated on playing bluegrass and Jimmy Buffett.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2010


I myself prefer VHS to DVD.

I myself prefer Glen Branca to Sonic Youth.


You can actually hear squeals and pops in a cassette tape. That's not art. That's not "warmth." That's the definition of noise distorting music.

Dude. The guy's in Sonic Youth.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:38 AM on February 23, 2010


I'm going to fess up and say I like cassette sound. It's not that it's a faithful reproduction of sound- it's not- it's that it's got a hiss, wow and flutter, lower dynamic range. Somehow, that makes it sound more real to me.

Still, the cassette format pretty much sucked, second only to eight-tracks.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2010


grubi: "Durable? Are you kidding me?"

So what kind of recording can I randomly throw in my backpack, and expect to be playable after I toss it to my friend from across the room. Without a protective cover. Cassette, usb stick, and 8track are the only consumer ones that I can think of.
posted by idiopath at 10:11 AM on February 23, 2010


grubi: "Durable? Are you kidding me?"

As of at least 1978 (when I started buying them), Maxell offered a lifetime guarantee on its blank cassettes; a policy that other major manufacturers (Sony, TDK etc) quickly had to match.

I still have cassettes from the very early 1980s (listened to in the past year when I bumped them into the digital world) that play fine; maybe not perfect but definitely fine.

As for what we called then "store-bought cassettes" (ie: record company mass "pressings") the story is sadly not as good. These tended to not be as well made as blanks (not just in terms of durability but also in basic sound quality), a situation that lasted well into the 1980s.
posted by philip-random at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2010


The idea that the sequence and the packaging and the production and all of it create a single, unified piece of work that doesn't bear chopping up into discreet bits any more than a book or movie.

To me, a great album is like a great short story collection. The unified work has a context of some sort that draws all the individual pieces together, but each piece stands on its own and can be enjoyed without reference to the whole.

I like albums and generally prefer to consume music at home (as opposed to either in the car or at live performance venues) that way. It just grinds my gears to be told I have to.
posted by immlass at 10:38 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone still listens to the radio?

There is still quite a lot of fun to be had on radio.
posted by JanetLand at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2010


Thurston Moore is in his fifties.

I really enjoy pointing that out.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:49 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I understand nostalgia just fine, I have fond teenage memories of making mix-tapes for a girl i liked, taping Rammstein and KMFDM off my pals because I was too broke to buy the albums (and cd-rs were still about $10 each and no one you knew had a CD burner anyway, cept maybe that one kid whose parents bought him everything and he was kind of a dick about burning things anyway). I remember how excited I was when I got my copy of The Legend of Zelda for NES, Christmas of 1988, blowing on the cartridges, all that.

I wouldn't voluntarily go back to that, in an era of CDs, iPods, Xbox 360's and ROM emulators. I understand people like to hang onto outdated technologies that make them feel comfortable, but when they convince themselves and try to convince others that it's objectively better? That always baffles me.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't voluntarily go back to that, in an era of CDs, iPods, Xbox 360's and ROM emulators. I understand people like to hang onto outdated technologies that make them feel comfortable, but when they convince themselves and try to convince others that it's objectively better? That always baffles me.

Yes. THIS.
posted by grubi at 1:59 PM on February 23, 2010


I don't get people saying cassettes are good now because they're a cheap way to produce/distribute. CDs are practically free, and even super cheap computers have CD/DVD burners. Blank CDs are certainly cheaper than blank cassettes.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:15 PM on February 23, 2010


On the sound quality front, I'm not so sure I want to listen to indie rock bands on cassette -- just a form of packaging posturing. But as others have said, for the noise / analogue synth scenes, cassette can genuinely add something to the sound. Analogue distortion is prized by plenty of musicians, who might even record to reel to reel before transferring to digital, just to get what they perceive as a warm filtering treatment. So delivering certain kinds of music on cassette does make audio sense.

Personally, I've been buying more and more cassettes in the last couple of years simply because that's where the interesting music is, so I'm glad I kept my high-end tape deck. Of course it's in some ways exactly the wrong tape deck to be playing these recordings back on, being bought at the end of the tape dubbing era when we were actually trying to get the greatest fidelity to the CDs and vinyl we were recording.
posted by galaksit at 3:53 PM on February 23, 2010


Analogue distortion is prized by plenty of musicians, who might even record to reel to reel before transferring to digital, just to get what they perceive as a warm filtering treatment.

Tape saturation is awesome in the studio, and really hard to replicate digitally. (It's really more like a dirty compression/limiter.) I record my own music on four-track cassette, on whatever crap quality tapes the dollar store is selling on a given week. I'm one of those guys.

Tape saturation is good on individual tracks, but if you try to pump the stereo master into the red, it all sort of gets squished to hell, so commercial cassettes are duplicated at lower levels and consequently don't have tape saturation. This also makes the noise floor is quite high, which is bad. Add to that the low fidelity of a slow tape speed, and the commercial cassette format tends to sound a bit muddy, with not much dynamic range and not much tonal range. And that's before the Dolby filter gobbles up a chunk of the spectrum.

Of course, muddy can be good. I like it. Until I got an iPod a couple years ago, I was still using my walkman constantly. Muddy cassettes (especially muddy cassettes of muddy albums like Loveless or Siamese Dream) + Bass Boost Technology + headphones adds up to supermud that really can't be beat.

But sometimes I like to be able to hear things crisply, and cassettes are kind of shit at that.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:37 PM on February 23, 2010


tapes are fine (wait, they don't loop?), to listen to (and tracking takes forever?) but man, having to tape them back together after the tape breaks because you rewound to hear that part in The Wall too many times... multiple times... kinda blows. (and you can't get them close to a magnet!?)

At least with 8-track you don't have to flip or rewind!
(and that's why I listened to Point of Know Return 100 times the summer of my 4th grade year)
posted by rubah at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2010


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