Cassette (New Documentary)

Reader Eric Pitra lets us know about a new documentary that he is doing the score for, Cassette, that looks at the cassette audio tape.

The documentary looks like it will will be interesting to electronic musicians interested in the history and culture of cassette audio tape. 

For the score, Pitra is taking an interesting approach, “using mostly old analog synths, drum machines, a sampler and a 4 track cassette recorder.”

According to the documentary timeline, Cassette should be released around the first of 2014. See the Cassettefilm site for more info.

27 thoughts on “Cassette (New Documentary)

  1. I am not interested in putting any of my music on vinyl, however I would be very interested in putting it on cassette tape. I wonder if this National Audio company mentioned in the video could do it and what quality of tape they use.

  2. IMHO cassette’s had more to do with music piracy than anything before it. A generation, and now this documentary, romanticize the ability to give away and record music for free. Funny how some of the musicians in the doc are opposed of the digital piracy today. How are duel taped deck boom boxes, and now the ease of the internet any different? I am not for piracy, but I do see the double standard.

    1. I see two differences: when we made tapes, it wasn’t about bulk copying, it was about compiling cool mixes; and when you made tapes, the copies were clearly a copy, rather than a duplicate.

      Anyone else remember hearing vinyl scratches and pops on your tapes?

      1. Why would you thumbs down this comment…what is said is totally a valid point. Digital delivery will not fade anytime soon, if ever. But, from my experience vinyls do have a certain something about them, as do cassettes, although I may search for a rare Italo vinyl I don’t see myself shelling money for a tape player and a bunch of cassettes. That to me is kind of a regression. But then again, 8-bit graphics are cool and that’s a total regression (although that’s a matter of visual aesthetics). One thing that vinyls, and most things from the old days of paper, plastic, and ecologically unfriendly stuffs, is that you had beautiful, inspiring cover art, physical goods that really felt like you obtained something with your cash, and the potential to build a visually exciting collection of whatever your obsession was. Plus, the tanginble media made great conversation starters. How often do you sit in front of your friends computers or digital playback devices, with umteen thousand songs and coo over it? Not like rummaging through a pile of cassettes or thumbing through a collection of vinyls…and the smells of musty cardboard, opening up the packaging and reading the lyrics, looking at the band members pictures and conceptual visuals. All you synth hounds, I am sure, can find an analog (not pun intended) when comparing the visceral sensation of hardware in all shapes and sizes and LEDs and radiating warmth verse being wowed by a collection of code we call softsynth. Just saying…and by the way, I do love my collection softsynths and never ending quest of obscure italo that I can find afforded by the information superhighway and digital deliver systems that we are undeniably lucky to have.

    2. The record industry was conceded about tape piracy. But dubbing a 2nd gen tape for a friend – or a compiled mixtape – wasn’t cutting into industry profits in much of a measurable way. There was a physical limit to what you could duplicate, and copies of copies of copies were totally undesirable.

      Today’s torrented sharing would have been the equivalent of accepting 1 free tape in exchange for making thousands of exact copies and then shipping them to people who would otherwise have to buy those tapes.

      Tape decks were everywhere in the 80s and 90s, and the record industry still existed then. As soon as young people stopped buying music in favor of sharing, streaming, pirating and making music less important, that’s when the industry imploded.

    1. That’s nonsense. Cassettes sound vastly superior to 64k mp3. I recently mastered some tracks from WAV down to chrome cassette as an experiment, and they sounded great. Compared to heaving compressed and undynamic 64k mp3, they sounded wide, warm and full if character.

  3. Ugh, so this is the next nostalgia item? Hipsters buying albums on cassettes, because the reappearance of vinyl is SO mainstream? I grew up with them – in fact the first ever album I bought with my own was on a cassette tape – and other than the Sony Walkman (and the bootlegging), they were a complete inconvenient nuisance.

  4. Cassette tapes? Those are soooo mainstream. I do all my listening on 8 track tapes, thank you very much. The only comeback the tape would make into the mainstream would be if labels published promo albums on them for review purposes. Tapes would take more dedication to rip to mp3 than (promo) CDs do and they’d be cheaper to manufacture, since mainstream labels are so concerned about these two issues.
    On a similar note I’m eagerly awaiting the comeback of laserdiscs and minidiscs (anybody remember those?).

  5. I just purchased a cassette tape player to match my home stereo. It has been on my list for a long time, and I am very happy that I will soon be able to play all those mixtapes (!) again that I still have in a box waiting to get played again.
    Also, cassette tape is a fantastic, cheap way of adding that sought after analog warmth to any of your in-the-box DAW-only recordings easily. Just record any individual tracks via your stereo and then play them back into the computer. Or even record them with a microphone from your hi-fi speakers. Instant character assured.
    How useful that is? I don’t know. But it can be fun and it can sound nice or even just different. And that alone is reason enough to not wish any such media – vinyl, cassette tape or reel-to-reel tape machines, not even 64k mp3 for that matter – die anytime soon.

  6. I have hated cassette tapes when introduced – I have preferred real to real tape deck decks and in all honesty, I still do.
    There was something magical about recording music to real2real tape recorder.
    That magic is gone and forgotten these days and replaced by WaveLab and such likes.
    I do record everything these days in digital domain, but there is something about analogue recordings, that makes me want back to old days…

  7. The sight of a shiny nest of unspooled tape on the side of the road or stuck in a tree was common in the 80s and 90s. They were not fetish objects. They were oft-cursed rattling junk that baked in the heat of your secondhand Oldsmobile.

    Cassettes warped, flipped, broke and suffered from quick degrades, a huge noise floor, physical noise from playback, crosstalk, erasure, munch and warble. Tiny and cheap-feeling, small fold-out art that would detach if handled more than a few times, weird plastic smells, flake-prone screened labeling.

    Mix tapes loom large in the hearts of a certain age of blogger, tastemaker and documentarian. Yes, mix tapes are evocative – and this downmarket format was big enough to create nostalgia, but did it really earn it?

  8. The downsides that previous commenters have mentioned are valid, but there is always something interesting about imperfect and impermanent copies.

    I think Boards of Canada, for example, records to tape and then digitizes the tape because they are interested in those imperfections.

    1. Which is of course why cassettes have found a renaissance in the indie market. Boards of Canada is a good example for my opinion on it. The band’s latest release on cassette was in 1996 and since then two albums have seen a publishing on cassette and it was only in Japan and it was for promotional purpose.
      During the 80s and 90s there was a huge tape market in the metal subculture. Pretty much all bands released their demos on tape with hand-written-designed covers and inserts which they xeroxed. It had to do with financial limitations rather than audio fidelity. And the tape market was huge also with the hip-hop subculture. As far as hip-hop is concerned the popularity was probably due to the tape being a small format and thus easier to smuggle and listen to if your parents didn’t approve of the music, but also due to the albums being almost thematic with like 20 tracks but only 12 were songs and the rest sketches and they demanded a “listen to the album from A to Z” to fully appreciate rather than skip tracks.

  9. There was a wide range in quality of cassettes and cassette players. The MP3 analogy is apt in that way. A decent cassette in a good deck sounded (and still sounds) great though. Records were also oft-cursed (skipping, warping, etc.), so why does your argument apply only to cassettes? I would say the nostalgia around cassettes is more “earned” than that around vinyl in some ways. No one was making mix records for their friends; cassettes were the first medium that allowed everyone to do that, as well as launching widespread home recording with multitrack decks. Cassettes empowered average people without posing any real threat to the music industry (as you already explained).

    1. I wouldn’t say it was the first medium to do that, but rather the most affordable one. I remember my parents having a reel-to-reel player and as a child from the moment I started to learn how to read I’d try to learn the titles of all books in our household, all LPs and also “bootleg” reel-to-reel magnetic tapes. I can still see them before me, those BASF reel holders which had a hinge in the upper left corner you’d slide up and the inner folder would have a lined design where you could write the songs and bands you recorded onto them and taking the reel out you would be welcomed by a green segment letting you know that you’re supposed to wrap that to an empty reel until you see that brown tape and then you can hit “Play”. Of course reel-to-reel players were expensive but they were probably like Blu-Ray players are today (or rather a few years ago?) sure we’re all happy with our cheaper DVDs but there are actually a lot of people that have Blu-Ray players today.

  10. I long hated cassettes as a necessary evil in my life. Then about a year and a half ago I stumbled intkt the blog of a 20 something kid who’d just got an analog tape four track that he started making music with. Just a little of that sound and I was sold. No DAW ever had such character. I decided I would dust off my own 4-track tape recorder and have a go. Now I can’t imagine ever using a DAW again. The constraints totally improve the music and the musician. And using all the lessons I learned in my digital days I’ve managed to make tapes that sound really good. When you consider the professional records recorded on cassette tape (Chime by Orbital and Nebraska by Springsteen to name two), its a format that’s much better than people give credit to.

    1. I think that depends solely on the philosophy and structure of the project. I had and still have a pretty Korg CR4 four-track analogue machine and while I loved its speakers and modeling processor and multi-effects when I plugged my guitar in, it had virtually no mixing possibilities other than panning the tracks to make a stereo signal. Now this may of course have to do with the brand and model of four-track one uses, but even a friend who uses basic cheap analogue mixers and four tracks for his industrial noise project still runs the tracks through Audacity. For better or worse, as the saying goes, DAWs are here to stay.

      1. In some respects it is unavoidable. I cannot share my projects with anyone outside my circle of friends unless I put it on the Internet which requires a digital recording of some kind for which I use audacity (though I could use my tascam 2 track). The key is the workflow, even more than the sound. And though my workflow is great for me, it’s not going to work for everyone or every genre.

        And most of the best stereo recordings of the last 50 years have been panning mono signals to the left or right to make a stereo image. I’m not sure I see a lot of benefit to recording individual stems in stereo.

  11. I <3 Cassettes,
    and I have a Question:
    Does Anyone here know a Source for Cassette Tapes (Chrome, that is) in the EU/Germany, apart from ordering them via Ebay/Internet?
    If you know some Place, but don't want to write it into the Comments (maybe there is just a limited Number of Tapes left or whatever), please also leave a Message, so maybe we could arrange the Contact by Email…
    I still hope to find them somewhere 🙂

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