"It is an embrace of limitations and constraints, at a time when everything is available." - Hua Hsu
Who knew that in 2011 I'd still be listening to music on cassette? Yet it turns out that I am and I've even bought three new tapes in the last few weeks. My old SONY Walkman is functional. (Of course I was always one of those kids who took really good care of his toys.) A couple of months ago when I needed a new CD player for work, I saw the SONY CFDS05 on the shelf at Wal-Mart. There was no way I wasn't buying the thing. It has a radio, CD player, line in for an iPod and a cassette deck. I'm of the age where I've got a box or four full of tapes under my bed so the option to listen to them again was appealing. This new stereo changed any tape that I might pick up from being a novelty to support a touring band into something that I could listen to regularly.
"Cassette aficionados also see aesthetic possibilities in the format's constraints. While digital compression techniques ensure that songs we hear on the radio or in MP3 format are bright and loud, cassettes - particularly those dubbed en masse - slightly blunt the dynamics of a song. Perhaps it's no coincidence that many cassette labels specialize in works that are ambient, ethereal, or noisy. Fidelity is sacrificed for a different kind of listening experience." - Hua Hsu
Beyond listening to old music I haven't heard in years, I think part of my fascination with cassettes is that bands I like are releasing them. These end up being the ambient/ethereal/noisy jammers plus the occasional punk band. They are making a tape to have as a document of their music and/or to raise a little money while on tour. They are doing it for the sake of doing something. It does feel special knowing that you are buying something that was made in a limited edition, often with custom artwork. It's a tangible object when everything else is becoming a collection of ones and zeros on a server somewhere. It doesn't feel somewhat forced, like the part of the current vinyl revival where the dinosaurs of rock are having their classic albums repressed for a deluxe edition.
I'm not going to make any grand claims about the greatness of cassettes. I like 'em and they bring back a certain degree of welcomed nostalgia of when I first started buying music. The audio quality isn't always the best and they can be fragile, but for the most part everything has sounded respectable with the tapes I've bought. They are what they are and that's fine by me.
Both quotes are from an article by Hua Hsu called "Thanks for the Memorex" that appeared in the February 2011 issue of Artforum (Volume XLIX Number 6). The writing was about the slight return of cassette culture in this current digital age.
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Radish White Icicle doesn't fully support the idea of shopping at Wal-Mart or schilling for SONY, but if they make a good product or happen to carry a good product, than that's cool by us.