I’ve been noticing a bit of a trend in the interest in tape loops. It has been happening slowly for a few years that cassettes in general have seen a strong return as a desired media for obtaining music. They are great for small bands that can’t afford to release cds or very costly vinyl, and they are also more affordable for fans to purchase.
I still have almost all of my cassette collection from the 80’s when I started hustling Columbia House for tapes from their pretty limited catalog. Aside from the loads of pop and pap, there were a handful of ‘alternative’ releases on major labels in the likes of REM, The Cure, Depeche Mode etc. so I gleaned as much of that as I could. I mostly recorded underground Hip-Hop and punk shows off of WBNY in the mid 80’s and started collecting punk and hardcore cassettes from Record Theater and Home of The Hits and a few bands in Buffalo, NY around the same time.
I bought my first 4 track machine, a Fostex, around 1993 and began my own explorations with the medium. I also used to experiment with 2 boom boxes and ‘air bouncing’ sounds to create layers, very noisy layers. Some of this still exists somewhere but not much of it survived as I was a bit careless and chaotic about storing stuff in the early days.
I came back to 4 track machines maybe 5 years ago after taking a break from experimenting as I was more focused on various band projects from the late 90’s throughout the early 00’s. I also got into tape looping a bit and even made one of my own, a real pain in the ass if you’ve ever tried it. Still it is a lot of fun and you can get really unique sonic results especially when messing with the pitch. I also discovered a site where you could buy loop cassettes of various lengths already made. I got a few, some 1 minute, some 3 minute. I also scored an old answering machine with a 45 second loop tape in it for message playback. I also bought a couple of very short custom made loop cassettes from a guy on Bandcamp a few years ago, can’t remember who that was at the moment but there was already music on them (nothing original) and these were 6-8 seconds in length and I just recorded over that stuff.
Anyway, I have been seeing a lot of people getting away from the DAW and looking to things like modular and desktop synths, more tactile things, and some are also getting back to the world of analog and tape.
One of my favorite artists working in this medium is Amulets out of Portland, below is a recent installation/collaboration from his youtube channel. Explore further and you will find a variety of clever hacks and experiments involving the cassette and various tape machines:
Another wonderful artist is Hainbach from Berlin who does a lot with tape reels as well as dictaphone experiments in conjunction with modular synths and more. His channel is as entertaining as it is informative:
I don’t consider these guys trendy as they have been at it for awhile, and as you can see, they take the form to different places and elevate it, but I have seen more than a handful of people (peep #tapeloops on instagram) getting into it within the past few months and I wonder how long before it gets ‘big’? We never thought we’d see vinyl come back like it has, so maybe the next logical step is this continued return to ‘dead’ media. I wonder if we will start to see people making proper ‘mix tapes’ again, from newly pressed records onto newly manufactured blanks. Maybe this is already happening and I’m just not aware.
The video that inspired this post, from the guys at Perfect Circuit, is a pretty nice ambient experiment they did with a stack of old boom boxes and some loop tapes just playing on them, naturally phasing and shifting. The boom box in the video, the JVC top and center was the first boom box I ever owned back in the mid 80’s and it just brought back a load memories when I saw it, I had to share: