C30, C60, C90, Woah…!

The joys of composing a mixtape

It is hard to believe that the compact cassette format is over 40 years old. Invented by Philips in 1963, it was, in conjunction with the Sony Walkman, the iPod of its day by the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Having been overshadowed by digital music players, the experience of carrying bulky tapes with us is no longer legion. Yet, the mixtape tends to have a quality of its own than a digital music player on shuffle mode. Having outlived the 8 track, Digital Compact Cassette and DAT tape (other than in studio environments), there is nothing like the characteristic hiss of a C90, with track listings lovingly scrawled in biro.

There is nothing like the sensory buzz of hearing a tape in slur mode, and trying to get Kylie Minogue to sound like a Tom Waits single played on 33.3 RPM. Nothing of course could beat stopping the tape in time to avoid ten seconds of Bruno Brookes muttering about the Reynolds Girls falling three places in the charts.

Though burning onto CD or digital music players offer better sound quality, the method of preparing a mixtape/CD/8 track/Edison cylinder of your favourite tracks is desensitised. What would have took ninety or more minutes now takes a third of that. However, there is no love, emotion or spontineity involved. With a mixtape, you are listening to the music you are about to inflict on your fellow music lover. As Nick Hornby said in ‘High Fidelity’:

“To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (… then realised that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two)…”

For me, the first track in some way sets the tone or direction the mixtape is going to take. Usually, I would end the first or second side with a tune which has a nail biting crescendo. If there’s any room left after this tune, I would find an equally quirky one (for example, ‘Hooked on Classics’ could be followed by the Toy Dolls version of ‘Nellie the Elephant’).

A good mixtape must have a theme. For example, it could ‘DJ Doctor Davidstow’s Homage to Fromage’ (tunes like ‘Dance Yourself Dizzy’ by Liquid Gold or ‘Wanted’ by The Dooleys). Or it could be the tunes you thought best reflected that year.

I was brought up in an era where the compact cassette was king, and the only recording format available for home use. It seemed rather sexy to talk into the microphone to a music centre, or tape the charts off the radio. It is hard to believe how up to ten years ago, most of our games were played on tape. Yes, tape rather than disc (I’ll leave that subject for another time)!

I doubt as if recording your favourite tracks on a Blu-Ray disc would have the same skill or emotion involved. Let’s hear it for the C90.

S.V., 26 April 2007.

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