Tape: the medium that refuses to die

Sceptics might lump it in with Rotherham Plough Fortnight, Penny Farthing Week and the Year of the Zeppelin.

Others who, like me, retain a scintilla of optimism in a hostile world, will regard International Cassette Day – that’s today, daddio – as a welcome event and one worth trumpeting, while simultaneously acknowledging that flying the flag for analogue is an increasingly futile stance. After all, today’s mega-brands are not TDK, Maxell and BASF; they are Apple, Microsoft and Samsung. (Feeling nostalgic yet?)

So what’s it all about, I hear you half-speak, half-yawn. Well, tempted as I am to point out that it’s a global celebration of tapes and tape culture that lasts for – you got it – a day, I fear doing so will make you turn prematurely to the breathless prose forged by my colleagues observing the life-and-death battle between sporting squares taking place at Gleneagles.

Instead, I can reveal that in independent record shops up and down the land there will be limited runs of music obscure (3eme Sexe, Hebrew Witches) and less obscure (The Wedding Present, These New Puritans, John Grant), all on the medium that – in one sense at least – refuses to die: cassette.

While I’m happy to lend my support and a modicum of publicity to the shebang, I should confess to my lack of interest in buying any of these tapes, though I do possess a cassette deck.

Frankly, it isn’t the future of the C90 that galvanises me – let’s be honest; there isn’t one – but rather the past.

The central feature of analogue tape that rendered it all but vanquished by the advent of digital media is the one I cherish most: its perishability. The tarnished, depleted sound of a cassette that’s been played to within an inch of its life or kept in a too-hot room – or chewed up by an ill-tempered machine and clumsily salvaged – is a sound that knows its fate yet strives to outrun it, to repair itself by sheer force of will. The romantic in me can’t see a better metaphor for the human condition.

The avant-garde composer William Basinksi felt the same and built his opus The Disintegration Loops around it, authoring a hymn to 9/11 and New York without equal. Across four volumes, cyclical motifs play over and over and over, decaying incrementally until nothing but hiss remains, as ghostly as the final wisps of smoke from the World Trade Centre. You can’t say the same about Brothers In Arms, can you?

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

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