Monday, March 20, 2023

Cassette Tapes Are Sounding Good Right Now

We Are Rewind cassette player and Muzen OTR speaker

This month I suddenly got the notion to make cassette tapes. That is, to dub compressed streaming audio files onto Maxell UR90 cassettes! For some reason this is sounding "good" to me right now. It feels like the right thing to do. A step in the right direction.

I'm not really making mixed tapes per se, and some of the albums that I have historically thought of as favorites aren't the ones screaming to be put onto tape. The selections have been interesting. For example, an album I had never heard of until this month was The Catherine Wheel, David Byrne's 1981 ballet soundtrack, and I instantly wanted to get that onto tape. It's only about 70 minutes, so I had room for The Mauscovic Dance Band's Down in the Basement EP as filler. 

Another tape I made is a hybrid of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and Willie Nelson's Stardust, two of the most classic albums of all time. I recorded these from vinyl, although I was worried that Kind of Blue would be a minute or two too long to fit on one-half of a tape, so for Side A of the tape I did Kind of Blue vinyl Side A + Stardust vinyl Side A, and on the other side of the tape I did Kind of Blue vinyl Side B + Stardust Vinyl Side B. It sounds cool that way.

I also made tapes compiling the music of Australian pop-singer and multi-instrumentalist Carla Dal Forno and the Dutch musician/composer/producer Felbm. For Carla Dal Forno I simply put her last two albums (Come Around, Look Up Sharp) onto one tape and also fit her In the Garden EP into the 90 minutes. For Felbm, I literally put his Bandcamp releases Tape 1, Tape 2, Tape 3 and Tape 4 onto one cassette tape! One and Two on one side and Three and Four on the other. Nifty!

I made an especially unique tape featuring Jon Hassell's hard to find Fourth World, Vol. I: Possible Musics on side A and Don Cherry's Om Shanti Om on side B. To capture the sound of that Jon Hassell album I played a version of it that's on YouTube out loud through my laptop using a small little Muzen speaker and recorded the sound it made as mp3 with a Zoom Handy recorder. Then I put that recorded mp3 onto tape. I did it this way so I could edit out the YouTube ads, but I didn't need to since none played! I didn't care if any textures from the real world - such as birds singing or wind chimes or air conditioning - blended in. That would have fit the aesthetic. For Om Shanti Om, I had already made enough tapes by now to be optimistic that this 47 minute recording might fit on one side of a 90 minute tape and it does...just barely with only seconds to spare.

One band that I used to listen to on tape all the time all the way up to the year 2000 is Phish. I traded and collected tapes of their concerts, which was a fairly common thing to do back then. So of course, Phish was going to be part of this March 2023 tape obsession. The question is what Phish music? Well, several years back a person sequenced together an all instrumental 80+ minute seamless compilation of Phish ambient-style jams called Sunken Caves. It still streams on YouTube and Soundcloud, so I got it onto a tape. That was the first of a few tapes of Phish music that I made.

I currently have one blank, unopened Maxell cassette left and I've been deliberating on what music to put on it. I already have official cassette tape copies of Cowboy Junkies - Black Eyed Man and Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You so I don't need to make "mixtape" versions of those.

Maybe U2. I've somehow never really paid any mind to U2, but they have a new 40-track album out called Songs of Surrender where they re-imagine forty of their previous songs into new arrangements. It just came out on March 17, 2023 so the timing is perfect for being introduced to this iconic band's music. Since I have never before gone out of my way to listen to U2, I'm not familiar with or attached to the old cuts in any way. It's like I'm hearing these songs for the first time. Even the ubiquitous pieces such as I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For sound fresh without comparison to the original version. I love the consistency of the tracks and the whole concept of re-exploring your back catalog in the studio. 


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