LPs, cassettes and other matters… February 4, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
I’ve been reading Travis Elborough’s The Long-Player Goodbye – which examines the rise and fall and somewhat smaller rise of vinyl. Some of the snippets of information are remarkable, what struck me as fascinating for example, was this, discussing not LPs but that upstart, the cassette tape:
Bow Wow Wow’s eight-track ‘cassette’ album, My Cassette Pet, similarly saluted a format whose sales at the end of the [1980s] would outstrip those of vinyl LPs. In America in 1987, they accounted for 63 per cent of all albums sold. At their peak in 1989, sales of pre-recorded tapes reached 83 million.
That surprised me until I read on in the book about the arrival of the WalkMan. Of course. And talking to people in the business in Ireland much the same was true here in relation to the take-up of cassette tapes in the 1980s. And yet, I’ve got to be honest, I was never hugely fond of the cassette because of sound degradation, though sheesh, given what 128kb MP3s did to sound quality it now seems like my complaints were minor. It was a clunky technology, prone to breakage in a way that vinyl wasn’t. But it was portable and playable on the move whereas vinyl really wasn’t.
And for all that I complain the cassette tape compilation was an art in itself (famously noted in High Fidelity). And I always loved the way that on a cassette one could get a blurring, as it were, between tracks taped from the radio generating a sort of found sound. The time spent making these was considerable, it had to be done in real time of course (speaking of which talking to someone recently they were musing about their old record collection and how it was necessary to rip it in real time and that was a bridge too far for them, even though they kind of wanted to).
Then there was the simple fact of being able to listen to music on earphones – that was revelatory. Low to mid-end music systems could have extremely variable stereo, but here it was, immediate and up front. I was using a walkman well into the 1990s – I think as late as 1998 or later.
But all of this was, of course, washed away by CD and later MP3. CD Walkman’s weren’t great. They had to have buffers because spinning disks were even less forgiving than tapes (and as anyone who used a tape will know, more often than one might expect they would break and have to be carefully glued back together. Unspooling cassette tapes was an art of sorts too). There was the MiniDisc which seemed to work much better but also cost an arm and a leg.
And so to the iPod, which for all its corporate sheen – and really the WalkMan was pretty damn corporate too, had numerous advantages. I had an iPod shuffle which I loved, an iPod Mini – ditto, and when the Touch arrived it was as if it had fallen off of a flying saucer so advanced the touch screen appeared to be.
Which raises the question, where next if anywhere? Smaller units, sure, or a localisation to mobiles (and streaming streaming streaming, which I dislike intensely). But what further refinements are possible?