i have contributed a piece to an online compilation on jez riley french’s a quiet position series on his engraved glass imprint, focused on sounds originally recorded on cassette tape.
this proposal became an exercise in memory for me. audio tape is not a medium i think about much in and of itself – i never recorded onto tape, but began when minidisc became affordable in the late 90’s – but it was very present in my life before my own recording began. i had a tape collection, both store-bought and dubbed records or cds, throughout high-school and university, and still associate, for example, some albums with others simply because they shared space on a single 90 minute cassette. so the object remains evocative to me, even if the medium does not.
that said, if i do think about the medium, one or two memories come to me: the hours spent playing with a friend’s copicat tape delay above a pub in london, stringing extra-long tape loops all over the room; making tapes of jokes and stories alone and with friends throughout my childhood, the first being one my father recorded of me at about the age of 4; and this recording, which was a cassette tape that had been sitting on the dashboard of my mother’s car for goodness knows how long. i was living in london at the time, and she had become inspired by my new recording activities to herself record for me the spring peepers in the marsh behind her new england home. she found an old all-in-one tape recorder, and went looking for a tape to put in it. the only tapes she could think of were those in her car, which had likely been there, on the dashboard, in the sun, for years. she took one that she never listened to, popped it in the recorder, made a hissy, distant, but also lovely recording of her peepers, and gave me the tape.
i was pleased enough to hear the peepers on one side of the tape, but when i flipped if over and listened to side b, the remains of whatever music she had originally copied there, burnt and warped by years of dust and sun and moisture, i was blown away. it was music that no one could have imagined, an alien static orchestra, with rhythms and cadences previously unknown.
i copied the cassette onto what would become another audio memory, a minidisc, attempted, if i recall correctly, to make some sort of composition out of it, never finished, and relegated it to the archive, where it sat more or less forgotten until this pinch sent me back towards my few magnetic-medium-related memories. i have long since lost that cassette, but i still have my minidisc archives, so when this memory arose i was able, with a little difficulty, to extract a recording of one obsolete bit of technology from another obsolete bit of technology, and present it on this obsolete-bit-of-technology-to-be.