Reminiscing: the horror and joy of cassette tapes

Ever thought of all the things you no longer do? Updating my playlists made me think of how I used to go about the same task – organizing my favourite music – when I was a kid. It was much more tactile and difficult back then, because it was done via a taperecorder, cassette tapes and the songs played on the radio. I had to capture and organize dem manually via “Rec”+”Play”. No iTunes, no Mp3s or everything the internet has to offer.

I had to be there at the right time, at the right place, with the right tape and record my replica of the song, thereby creating a mix tape of my favorite music for my own pleasure. Otherwise I’d just have to wait until they played it again on the radio. (Can you imagine that, waiting for someone else to serve you “your” music?) Thinking back, Compact Cassette tapes was the driving force behind a lot of scenarios, emotions and actions that technology have made redundant now. I no longer experience…

Cassettes from wikipedia

…running franticly towards the ghetto blaster because THE SONG is on the radio, in order to hit “Pause”+”Record+”play” and then “Pause” again (to reduce the static between recorded songs) and capture it.

…the horror that strikes, when you realize that you’ve just taped over your favorite piece in the mix tape. That bit from the radio show last year, where that band did an AMAZING version of their not-so-well-know song you love? That bit, you will never find again? Yep, That bit.

…stressing, because your rewinding the current in-the-making mix tape, so you can put this FANTASTIC new song on it.

…crying out no-no-no-no when the song is ending and ended, before you could rewind the tape.

…the deadly sound of the favorite mix tape getting stuck in the coil head. The weeeeeeeee-crunching sound of a tape stuck and struggling to get free? Awful.

…the 10-deep-breaths before you start the resurrection process. Slowly loosening the tape from the mechanical death grip, then placing a pencil with a hexagonal shape in one of tape’s eyes and slowly reel the magnetic tape in to place again.

…the sigh of relief when the magnetic tape is once more in place.

…the joy of playing the saved tape again.

…the utter relief and frantic joy when the ghetto blaster is ensuring you that we’re all gonna be alright – the music is still there, everything is good.

…the dismal day when resurrection is impossible, and the rescue missions “no-no-no-NO-NO!!” soars in volume, as the mix tape is reduced to a bundle of magnetic tape spitting out of the – now evil – ghetto blaster.

…the revenge of the ghetto blaster. When not treated nicely and cleaned every now and then (remember the white “cleaning tapes”?), ghetto blasters will take their gruesome revenge and eat your mix tapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while they’ll play your mom’s Mozart with great clarity. “I told you, there’s nothing wrong with the ghetto blaster”. Yeah right.

…The sound of a tape breaking. The hollow noise of the tape rolling but not playing, marking the end of an area. Since my mix tapes were created over a small period of time, they depicted what I liked from february 24th to march 28 for instance, or a theme like “dance music”. Then I made new tape, either with a crisp new cassette tape or by taping over an old one. Or half of the old one, erasing the least played songs – the ones you’d end up coiling over (and over and over)- Risking of course that the much loved song that would be right after the not-so-great-one, would loose it’s beginning.

…The painful moment when you realize you’ve ruined your mixtape because the phone rang or you mother called you in to kitchen thereby letting the recording tape record on and erasing the great bits with the sound of the 5 o’clock news. Again. Your screwed because that perfect sound is now lost.

…the anticipation felt when opening up a crisp and clean tape, ready to be recorded. Awesome.

…The demand for physical action when the tape had run through side A and had to be turned. Old machines would continue to pull the tape forward, so you’d literally run for the recue, so the machine would not tear the tape.

…The awe of the technological advancement we’d reached, when the stereo could turn the tape on its own. Wauw.

…ahh the list could go on! Even though it brings back some fond memories, I’m glad I never have to flatten magnetic tape again after a case of tape salad. And it’s such a relief knowing that everything is online somewhere, if you lose your own version of it.

The only thing I do miss is the sensation of having created something that’s mine. Making a playlist just isn’t as personal (al tough mix tape have become synonymous with a playlist in the digital age). I don’t have to fight for it either – there’s no rushing to the recorder when the great song was on the radio in order to capture it. It might be bad quality, without neither the ending nor beginning of the songs, but it was mine. That way of listening to music interlocked songs in my mind, making a link between “Noughty By Nature” and Danish singer “Kim Larsen” that iTunes Genious would never make (quite understandable).  But again, that’s my nostalgic memory talking. I wouldn’t trade my world of infinite possible experiences with the basket of tapes from the 80′s-early 90′s. But they did have som vintage magic that the technical evolution and my consumption of music have lost.

Oh well, at least there’re still pro’s that can make real mixes – not just playlists –  and make new connections for you, that you yourself or Genius would never think of.

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