Light-Hearted Note From a Repentant Tape Enthusiast

A few months ago I had so many bad things to say about cassette tapes. My eyes hurt from rolling them back into my skull every time I saw a new release announced on limited edition cassette.  I saw no redeeming factors to counter-balance it’s poor sound quality and structural fragility which were appropriately phased out years ago. The lowly cassette found no credit or grace within me.

I’m here to come clean. I’m here to admit that I bought a lot of 5 cassette players off craigslist last weekend.   I pulled out a stack of cassettes that my friends have released (and I bought out of support), and I’m now eating the proverbial crow.  Let’s take a few steps back and let me try to explain myself.

As a purveyor of fine slow music I’ve been engrossed in the techniques of our forefathers and mothers. Research into using reel-to-reel tape players to create long and slow echos and loops led me to the youtube channel of an artist Hainbach.  I jumped down the rabbit hole of his channel into a wonderland of ambient mixtapes, technique videos, and gear reviews. I’ve been enchanted in the way that Hainbach can record a simple piano line onto tape, loop it, and play it back and ½ or ¼ speed and it seems to have magical life.  Hainbach also spends time exploring other more financially accessible methods of music experimentation, I’m particularly fond of his exploration of mini-disc dubbing/glitching. There it was, at the bottom of the rabbit’s den amongst all of the ambient treasures, live looping using a 4-track cassette recorder.

The connections started clicking in my head.  A cassette is just a tiny set of tape reels. A cassette deck is just a tiny reel-to-reel machine.  The science is the same, the technological line of progression makes so much sense. You can modulate speed, you can create loops, you can lean on the warmth and natural compression of tape media, dubbing, glitching, oh my!  The creative possibilities have been there right in front of me the whole time without having to seek out expensive and finicky reel-to-reel machines.

The charm of the cassette has set in.  I dusted off the small stack of cassettes that I own and have started to really enjoy the special sound that a tape album has to offer.  It took an artistic approach as a creative tool to draw me into seeing it as a viable release media.

Finding old high-quality cassette gear on the second-hand market can be so satisfying.  I’ve always loved the ritual of physical media; going to the shelf, picking up the album you want to hear, feeling the packaging, looking at the cover, powering up the playback system, and filling a room with sound.  Tapes are an incredibly economical way to do that, which is part of the reason bands have returned to cassettes.

There’s some great Chroma releases on cassette that you should check out. Buy the latest Naal album, and Every Day as well. Give yourself the pleasure of receiving a package in the mail, take part in the ritual of playing music on a physical medium. Go to the shelf, pick up the album you want to hear, feel the packaging, look at the cover art, hit the button and send electrons flying through the playback system, and fill a room with sound for you and your friends.