For the past month or so I have been working on audio/visual materials in the archives. Audio terminology and technology is not completely new to me. I worked for an audio engineering company during the dotcom age where I was fortunate to have some great guys share the joy of audio technology with me. No, I was no engineering understudy, nor did I aspire to be. But, I did have fun being the blind-test subject for analog versus digital sound recognition and speaker correction. These guys were designing cutting edge digital audio technology back then! I was watching them do it. For me, the choice was always analog.
Fast-forward >> to the archives. I am working with a small collection of about 100 pieces of various audio-visual materials: cassette tapes, VHS, etc. No vinyl, but I’m sure we have some in the archives! This week I am focusing on the cassettes. The MP3/m4a generations will never truly experience that definitive ‘click’ of the Stop and Play buttons on a Sony ‘Walkman’ style tape player. Yes, it’s true. I work with two of them actually, a Sony TCM-59VCassette-Corder ca. 1995 and the more recent Sony TCM-200DV that, as the manual proudly declares, “includes hand strap”.
Pause || How many ipods can claim a hand strap accessory?? And when you drop yours, don’t you wish you had a strap??
Record o The audio guys worked so diligently to correct white noise, flicker noise, flutter and ambient sounds and to increase the extent of the sound wave conversion from analog to digital. Today, you can adjust flicker, clutter, pink/grey/white noises right from home. You can even add the hiss and crackle of analog to your digital files for a throw-back sound. I use Audacity for noise reduction or other fun like sound masking, manipulation and mashups, but you can find other options out there.
Stop  I pop in a one-time interview with an elder that shares the joys and the trials of growing up in a rapidly changing world of machines and technology. I convert it to digital. I hit play. It’s corrupted. The tape was dragging. Tape drag can be caused by many things; in this case, the tape is wound too tight.
I pull out another tape. A 60 minute SoundTape C-60 Compact Cassette Brand (claims a lifetime guarantee). The tape contains an interview with another local elder. The pressure pad is gone. Fortunately for me: it falls out of the box and into my lap!
The day calls for a little tape surgery.
Enter….the anatomy of a tape:
If you’ve never had the chance to play with one of these, head down to your local thrift and pick up a handful. You can transplant tapes from one case to another. You can adjust the tape guides, the capstans, and replace the pressure pad. And, if the tape should happen to break, no prob! (Well, sometimes it’s a prob). Just crack open the case and repair it.
Rewind << Digital what? Sure, I love my itunes and MP3s like I used to love my MTV before reality-tv hit the market. None of the hiss, all of the sound, thanks to the high definition guys and the speaker correction guys. And Audacity is loads of fun. But, nothing beats the hiss, crackle and ambient sounds of analog. And quite frankly, I know that all the digital-audiophiles out there can be trusted to supply me with a digital copy if I’m truly at a loss.
Play > Back to the archives, cassettes and tape decks…