Friday, September 01, 2006

A cassette case

I have never written a post here on Mavericks. And I have now decided to break some traditions (yes, be a maverick and such). Content-wise, be adviced, this does not border anywhere on the brilliant & intricate music analyses done by my colleagues, yet my own five rupees and seventy five paise for Music Mavericks!

The first time when I listened to "Video killed the Radio star" by The Buggles, probably I was not in the right time and place for some soul searching. Ok, I will say, I was a lot younger. I now allow myself more often to go into the symbolic spirals of a flashback, a redux.

Getting to the point now, Audio Cassettes. I will be making a case FOR them today.

Though I have managed a monstrous collection of "Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 protocol compressed audio" (cough cough) or 'mp3s' of all imaginable genres, audio cassettes remain my favourite for the following reasons.

1. A cost-quality trade-off does not exist here.
What I preach - A cassette (say, Sony/BMG Crescendo/Magnasound) for 120 Rs and a CD (say, 200 Rs). I would not even bother a second thought for the CD. And knowing that an audio CD bit rate is a maximum of 44.1 kHz does not help your cause too. If it is a cassette, your listening experience is limited by your music system, not by the quality of the cassette (except of course some Echo, Supreme or Aditya releases)
What I do - I will buy a CD, so I can dump those songs in my computer and still share the joy with others. I believe it is akin to the choice between an ink-pen and a ball point pen. Damn me.
Rationale - So, I need to be more resolute in this case, which Iam sure will directly result, partly from my obstinacy and partly from my love for the old school.

2. I have too many of them to get rid of (if I ever plan to).
I have bought, begged, stole and acquired a few hundred cassettes until now. This would be nothing compared to the collections of Aakarsh or PRC, but a decent one in that.

3. Chromium Oxide wins over high bit rate.
Pitch a DVD quality audio, increase the bit rate, do whatever, it cannot beat the tape any day. Simply put in HMV's words - 'digital is like wearing a condom, nothing like the real thing' (they were referring to LP records though), but it applies here.

4. No playlists, Yes credits.
With due respect to the audio connoisseur in us, I understand that we like to sustain our mood by dumping our favourites in one list, conjuring up a mish-mash of Beatles, Devi Sri Prasad, Ilayaraja, Chopin and Ousepachan (sincerely, I did not make that up for the rhyme, he is a good Malayalam music director). But with cassettes, the plus is we dont forget great songs just because we did not like it or do not want to hear them so often. And proper audio warrants its own attention, no Skip, Next or even worse, Buffer! And if you are like me, while I enjoy the songs in my 'walkman', I keep staring at it and 'battify' the cassette credits. I digress here but if the cassette is from Echo or Sangeeta, I try to figure how bad/good the cut-paste patchwork is on the cassette. If it is ARR's there is whole compendium of credits telling us who played the 15 second oboe piece in that third song. That is good, and that we like, no?

5. Very Important. My proud acquired skill of rewinding cassettes with Reynold pens.
The standard white coloured 045 REYNOLDS FINE CARBURE has an eight-faced outer body and fits perfectly into an audio cassette wheel. I just need to know the side (A or B) and which way I want to go. Hold the pen and let the cassette rotate around it, in the right direction. I did this so much over the years, that I would stop between songs, such precision and intuition (*pats his own back). The feeling is that of a monk rotating his prayer drum. Good karma in the end. Its faster and it saves batteries.

6. Iam a sentimental and nostalgic bugger.
-- I like the scratchy noise and clucks when the cassette ages.

-- I like the experience when the batteries are running out.
[At about four-fifths of their life, the playing speed begins to drop, but is still inconspicuous. You ignore, but not long after, it is slower and you can tell, also by the little delay and the drag when you stop and start the walkman. You smile, insist, keep it running and then the sound balance slowly shifts towards one side until the stereo turns into a mono. You breathe deep, switch ears with the one phone but carry on. You then roll the cells vigorously between your palms to warm them up, later keep them in the sun for an hour. There is spring in the song one last time when the whining starts and then they die a slow death, finally! - new batteries? Yes, a new day and for a new song. Fellow Mavericks, since you all never found time nor could take up the case for the sentimental self in you, and put your feeling in words, I did it for you. You can thank me now (snigger)]

As I listen, share, exchange, make abstract art work on the cassette, I get attached to it. The look, the feel, the weight, the screech of the cassette cover when I close it, the smell, the cellophane tape that holds together broken pieces. It becomes a chronicle gently reminding me of times gone by. The same song feels different after a while. Songs dont change, we do. All in all it teaches us some big lessons which we often forget. To not let go of things just because they are old, to realise the beauty of what is in your hand rather than going after something that is virtual, easy, yet not retentive and most importantly that life goes around in circles.

*Iam banking on the comments section for some interesting opinions.


Ragz said...

Well a very interesting post and ofcourse reminded me of the days I used to struggle with my taperecorder to get it working right. One interesting thing I did observe in the audio cassettes esp the pre-recorded ones is that one side of the cassette has more clarity in music than the other side. This I could observe because of some keen hearing. This has been the trend most of the times, the difference is something that one can deduce only after careful hearing. That used to put me off coz sometimes the good songs in a cassette used to be on Side B. I guess this could be because of some recording technique hassle or something. But neverthless the Reynold's pen rewinding and forwarding technique was something I also used to do because of a bad rewind head of my tape recorder.

By the way there's one thing about the sides, the only way you could tell the side of a cassette (A or B) when it was not specified on the cassette was to look at the screws, the head of the screw was always pointing towards the A side.

Aakarsh said...

Firstly, welcome to Mavericks.

Secondly, pretty offbeat and yet quite related topic.

My opinion: Tapes have been my fav no doubt. a major share of my music-hearing belongs to Tape segment.But any day, i would give the 1st rank to LP records and EP records. i grew up listening to them after which i had to switch over to tape..and yes,one day..i shall get back to my first love for sure.

my Dad and me, we did put in lot of effort to get some of the best stuff on Tapes, compromising on the,the legacy continues with mp3s but that old charm of recording from TV or another tape is missing.
today if i look at that collection, there are so many which i need to convert to mp3s...but...

Echo Tapes are very weird of all.No credits at all..not even to the director or producer of the film. The sleeve-cover always read only two things-"Film Name" & "Ilaiyaraaja".

ultimately, at the end of the day, every device has its own charm. i feel LPs are better than tapes and tapes are better than when i listen to music in iPOd, i feel, CDs are better(bcoz we invest some care to see that it kep right in the case,no-scratches etc.)..ultimately, it is all about nostalgia..the moments of attention we gave to each device..which makes us like them.


btw, whats Devi Sree Prasad doing on Mavericks blog...and that too, his name precedes Ilaiyaraaja. Such cardinal sins call for a prosecution.

yadbhavishya said...

See now, there are so many points there!

the screws thing is something many people surprisingly do not know.

Devi Sri Prasad before Ilayaraja and both in one sentence? first time right? That is why I called it a mish-mash. My prosecution justifies my case against playlists.

Gandaragolaka said...

A strange device was the cassette-player (previously, simply called 'tape-recorder') at our place. Apparently, like so many other contraptions, it was a gift to my parents... and all throughout my childhood, I remember only 3 things (broadly) played on it:
1) Sai baba songs --from anup jhalota and preeti sagar ones to the melodious songs from 'Shirdi ke Sai Baba'.
2) Ghazals--the really sad sad Jagjit singh ones on sunday afternoons and the Ghulam Ali ones on the evenings.
3) My fav-- 'The Man Machine' from Kraftwerk-- an electronic music group. Amazing tracks (though a bit monotonous)! How the hell did it end up in a place like ours???

It was only when I was in Intermediate that I actually started to "listen" to music. And I quickly graduated to CDs and then to my HD.

My opinion? Tape is safer, but digitised audio keeps me saner.

I guess childhood memories make a strong impact on the decision!

Random Walker said...

I dont remember buying cds, but I do remember every tape that I bought or got. I still know that my Live in Moscow by L subramaniam is with the thraashtesh owner of this blog. I'm sure the raid has continued in my continued absence all these years. Vengeance is very near...

Absolutely amazing post... suddenly seems like I am rediscovering Yadbhav.

Surya said...

I can totally relate to Ragz comments. The side of the screws...and also the side with better quality. I had imagined that it was because the tapes were recorded in one go..and both sides are recorded at same time...that the quality difference comes due to one side being recorded backwards (no clue if that is the real reason). Reynolds pen thing was also a favourite..though I think many times I just did it for see how fast it goes using the technique of moving the pen horizontally as opposed to a round pattern.

sapere vivere said...

I have had some heart-rending experiences with tapes; when some moron presses the "record" button with the tape on. Has happened with a TDK 90 minutes-real sentimental hindi oldie (of 40's -50's vintage) and also with Chembai (Side A) and MSS- her golden tamil numbers starting with Vanathin Meedhu(Side B). hmmmm...But I rejoice in one such "re-recorded" masterpiece with a BGM score in my late mother's voice at its highest lung power.No music treasure house could get me this, for sure.

The eagle said...

May I join this blog with a reply to this post?
There is something I have excelled in, and that is the reconstruction of older tapes (Broken ones)...The process of opening up the older cassette, pulling out the spools without them "un-spooling" or rolling off.., and replace the whole setup into a new shell, the spools, the cushion, the steel plate supporting the cushion, the corner rollers and finally the screws...all this taking care not to switch sides....A side sits on A and B side sits on B....and of course loved to creatively reproduce the calligraphic lettering of the cassette name/film name and details...wonderful post.....

Kanan said...

Wow! some great info about cassettes. I didn't know about the screw head direction thing that Ragz mentioned.

Nice post, yadbhavishya.