With cassette labels making a comeback, there’s the question – how do you play the things? And the answers have gotten more creative than ever, with liberal use of effects, DIY tape loops, hacked hardware, and other techniques.

Hainbach, who I featured in our tape music round-up earlier this week, wrote with more details of his rig. Have a look:taperig

Mixer/control: Koma Elektronik Field Kit

Player 1: Siemens portable cassette player, modded by Dutch music hacker/builder Gijs Gieskes. (Here’s another tape mod idea from him!)

Player 2: (umodded) Marantz PMD 222.

Recording: Fostex X-28 four track

Effects: Strymon Timeline effects pedal

Gotharman FX Deformer granular effects unit

Nice! Plenty of possibilities here – many exceeding what people normally do with digital and vinyl DJ rigs, too. Keep the music and techniques coming.

  • PaulDavisTheFirst

    sorry. no. just no.

    if i it’s because i’m 53 then fine. but the answer is still no. we exhausted the possibilities of tape cassettes so far beyond anything that today’s crowd is imagining. and then we gave it up entirely happily because it was crap.

    sometimes, going back and revisiting old tech to understand it and the present moment is cool and useful and necessary. i myself experimented with old school razors in my early 20s just to get a grasp (eventually) of why modern razors were better.

    and you know want to know more; http://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/26/style/a-guide-to-buying-cassette-recorder-tapes.html

    Most tape manufacturers guard their particular formula for this layer as
    jealously as a Mexican cook guards his personal recipe for chili sauce,
    and it’s these proprietary formulas that are mainly responsible for the
    slightly different sound of each cassette brand.

    ooooooh … analog audiophillic bullshit possibilities abound!

    but you can just take it from me kids: stop right now with this tape cassette nonsense. stop it.

    but if you must: TDK SA-X ftw!

    • but we’re BORED of computers! plus my wax cylinder has this intangible “vibe” you just can’t replicate!

    • Stephen

      > but you can just take it from me kids: stop right now with this tape cassette nonsense. stop it.

      Yawn.

      • PaulDavisTheFirst

        Do you even know the different between TDK SA and SA-X ? What music would you use Sony UCX-S for in preference to anything else? What was wrong with metal (type III) ? What cool tricks can you do with a dual deck?

        I’d wager that there was more music distributed via low-run tape cassette replication in the late 1970s in the UK than is printed on vinyl these days. You can yawn once you’ve fully acquainted yourself with history and/or explained why it is irrelevant.

        • foljs

          > Do you even know the different between TDK SA and SA-X ?

          We don’t have to. Besides the “been that, done that” attitude is BS. Nobody cares if somebody “done that”. We do what we do for ourselves.

          • PaulDavisTheFirst

            Sure, I see the value in people re-exploring a given medium or technology, because of the possibility that something new and different will emerge from it. If you’re just going to mess around with stuff without any awareness of what came before, please feel free to do so. Just don’t waste our time discussing it as if it is some kind of breakthrough. That’s all I mean. You can do whatever you want, just don’t pretend it is all interesting just because people don’t know their own cultural history.

          • Dee Lux

            It is a breakthrough,

            Because when it was yours you had no idea what to do with it.
            Then someone game you a crappy CD and an ADAT and you were like “This is amazing!” Someday my kids will figure out how to do something magic with the ADAT and when they do I’m not going to tell them: “Stop doing that! Go do what everyone else say you should!”

    • foljs

      > sorry. no. just no.

      Well, nobody asked you anyway.

      >we exhausted the possibilities of tape cassettes so far beyond anything that today’s crowd is imagining. and then we gave it up entirely happily because it was crap.

      Who are behind this royal “we”?

      • PaulDavisTheFirst

        the royal “we” that i’m thinking of in this case is the cassette music scene in the UK in the mid 1970s to early 1980s. we didn’t have computers, reel-to-reels were too expensive, so the cassette was THE medium that we all used to create and distribute music. Lots and lots and lots of it.

        • Dee Lux

          The only thing you exhausted was your creative potential, by the time you were 16 I imagine.

          • Moxie Miscellany

            “You don’t like this old, easily-corrupted technology with inferior sound quality that was popular during your generation, when everyone was trying all kinds of cool things with it? You obviously have no imagination and I’m better than you.”
            Bloody hipsters.

            Listen: if you like cassettes, cool. Knock yourself out with ’em. I did all kinds of cool things with them when I was a kid in the 80s. Loved the things. But the sound quality was meh, recording mixtapes could be a lesson in frustration, and the tape was much too easily damaged. No AC in the Texas summer? Sitting too close to your CRT monitor, or your radio’s speakers? More than a year or two old in a dry climate? Say goodbye to that album/mixtape.
            Acting as if cassettes are so much better than modern technology is pretentious & honestly just makes you seem like all those “if it’s popular then I’m going to pretend to hate it” hipsters.

    • Dee Lux

      Hey Gramps! Aren’t you supposed to off to the glue factory? You don’t get it because you lack imagination, and THAT you can’t even blame on age.

      Just another opportunity that slipped through your fingers, amazing opportunities in the cassette realm right now and as usual, you’re two steps behind, looking in the wrong direction

      • Lindon Parker

        isnt “the wrong direction” exactly where this whole cassette thing is looking, so it looks like you are saying he’s inverting your inversion….all he needs to do is wait —and he’ll be cool soon enough.

  • Awesome! I really liked the tape round up the other day and subscribed to Hainbach’s youtube channel and listened through all of it at work. It really inspired me to make some ambient music in my basement studio that night.

    I have a few reel to reels sitting around (1/2″ 8 track, 1/4″ quad and 1/4″ 2 track) and his music/methods really opened up some ideas about how to use all that for ambient music. Combining some tape loops with my synths, novation circuit, guitar and loop pedal led to some really great results. Looking forward to finding enough of a sound to record some jams and put them up. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  • Robin Parmar

    I can understand the appeal of cassettes as a tangible medium rich with history. But adding top-of-the-line digital delay and granular effects seems to contradict the aesthetic. Much better to make your own tape loops or even use a cart deck, as some of us did back in the day. Or is that too purist? But otherwise why not do it all in the digital domain and have much more creative control, free of the arbitrary restrictions imposed by commodity capitalism?

    I would like to see this discussion become more nuanced. Right now it seems to be about what you can get away with and still look cool.

    • foljs

      > But otherwise why not do it all in the digital domain and have much more creative control

      Because.

    • Lindon Parker

      Well as it happens….I’m currently working on a software product that takes/steals from the “current” multi-track cassette aesthetic that turns them into “drone/chord” instrument – so an attempt to combine both the convenience of digital with at least one or two of the aesthetic mechanical limits/structures of tape. It turns out to be a lot of fun, so to add your (semi) broken old cassette machine to a fully franked digital rig and work with the imposed limitations/freedoms that cassette gives you opens different doors – after all we all know its not ALL about audio fidelity right?

      • Robin Parmar

        I didn’t mention audio fidelity, though I find that the most restrictive aspect of working with tape. I mean, people don’t line up to praise 6-bit digital do they? That’s the equivalent in dynamic range at least. But then you have all the other sonic deformations of tape, many of which are undesirable because they limit aesthetic possibilities. (Though some can be harnessed as positives, no doubt.)

        Maybe I should mention that I grew up with tape and all my original recordings were made in tape-on-tape style, until I could afford to rent a portastudio, and later work with open reel. No-one then worked on tape deliberately. It was simply the only thing we could afford, a medium that permitted a fluid exchange of ideas.

        But Lindon you are correct that combining the attributes we desire from both analogue and digital media is a fruitful way forward. I am interested in how different people make these decisions.

        Unfortunately this may not be the place for intelligent discussion. (Witness “foljs” below.)

  • Brent Williams

    The thing that cassette tape has going for it (like vinyl) is that it is a tangible object with an associated 2d art space (cover) that you can hand to your friend. It has a signature hiss that is both a minus and a plus (if you fetishize it). Where it differs from vinyl is that you can record your own, at home. If vinyl presses were as cheap as tape recorders, tape would probably still be dead.
    I’m apt to agree with PaulDavisTheFirst’s reasonable, if inflammatory comments. That said, I still enjoy cassette tapes. They are a departure from the rigid perfection of the digital domain. A little bit hipster, a little bit twee, but I like them. Getting people to engage more with music is a good thing. If it takes an “inferior” technology to do it, what’s the harm?
    The only issue I have with off-the-beaten-path technology like cassettes is the tendency of adopters of niche technologies such as this to be a little “holier than thou” about their chosen medium e.g. hardware over laptops, etc. It is okay to think “your thing” is great. It is not okay to tell everyone else why what they use sucks.