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Older Than Cassette Tape

MixtapesBernie Goldbach in Cashel with Found Mixtapes.

I BELIEVE THERE is a lost art in creating a proper mixtape. And it's an artform that uses real cassette tapes to immortalise the sound track of my life.

In the Limerick School of Art and Design where I teach creative multimedia students,  the steady march of technology continues unrelentlessly. I marked significant emotional events in college while listening to and making mixtapes. Last semester, only one in 20 students in my college lectures could explain how a pencil is related to a cassette tape. And that respondent had never rewound a cassette with a pencil but had seen someone do it in a movie.

I stumble across old mixtapes from the 20th century, often remembering the exact point on the cassette where the music is garbled from stretched tape or demagnetised segments. And I've handled a few of my 70s vintage tapes feeling that I'm part of a nearly extinct species that marked college days with the love and passion of crafting a real set of tracks that often came directly from an LP or from a radio station. I've digitised one of my found mixtapes below, trying to immortalise REM in the process.

REM is Green

My Mixtapes were rarely virgin attempts. I taped over other work, leaving behind artefacts of recordings from years before. So REM's Green would be just below the surface of a tape I made four or five years later.

I spent hours--whole weekends sometimes--pulling together a perfect mix. That probably seems so foolish to the iTunes generation who merely drags and drops digital songs from one part of their hard drive to another. If you made a mixtape today you don't have to mess around with different media (i.e., vinyl, CDs and other cassettes) because everything is already conveniently catalogued and organised together by genre, artist and album name. You can even tell software how to blend tracks together by tempo and how many seconds of fade to use between selections, never worrying about starting and stopping a track exactly where you wanted it to fold into a recording. 

Where's the humanity when you just need to toggle a few settings and everything just becomes a playlist ready to burn?

I can recognise the "artist's touch" in so many of the snaps, scratches and hisses of the imperfect mixtapes I received over the years. Those imperfections became part of the mix itself. When they're not present in perfect digital copies of the same tracks, I know something is missing.

I kept copies of several mixtapes made in my dorm rooms and in the corner of my apartments over the years. The track listings are gone now, lost along with the cassettes themselves. When I listen to selections on the mixtapes that have survived the passage of time with me, lyrics often surprise me with meaning I failed to comprehend years ago. Sometimes there's more empathy thirty years later. Oftentimes there's a starkness that's so apparent on listening today.

It's my life in those mixtapes.

It's also my knowledge that some of my best work often got duplicated and passed along to others. I'll never forget listening to a mixtape in the car of a friend as he explained how he happy he was to get it from his girlfriend (my ex). I made that mixtape two years before. I knew the feel of the heavy BASF Metal cassette, made in a German factory I often passed on the Autobahn. I could see how my ex-girlfriend had peeled off the label and replaced mine with a lovely inscription of her own.

You certainly don't get the same social audio effect when you gift someone a playlist of digital downloads.

Michele Catalano -- "The Lost Art of the Mixtape" on Forbes, December 23, 2012.

Bernie Goldbach is a senior creative multimedia lecturer with hidden mixtape memories in his journal.