Cassette Tape

by languageformulatingbrain

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The compact cassette was a recording format invented by the Netherlands-based Philips corporation in 1963. It was not the first magnetic tape recording format, but became the most popular option for consumers wishing to record both music and other forms of audio. Many people had the familiar tape player and recorder that hooked up to one's hi-fi system amid a phonograph, radio tuner/receiver, and perhaps other, more exotic consumer audio equipment.

However, tapes were not limited to being played or recorded on a machine like this. There was also the "shoebox" tape recorder and player, which was more portable and came with the tape mechanism itself, several large switches, a small built-in microphone, and a speaker for hearing audio that was being played. Many children had a fun time taking blank tapes and recording themselves having fun into tape recorders like this, and would play back their recordings eagerly to their friends and parents.

In the 1980s, portable pocket cassette players started appearing, and people would walk around with these (the brand made by Sony was known as a "Walkman") into which a pair of portable earphones with a 3.5mm plug was attached into a jack on the cassette player. People eventually just started calling all models of these portable cassette players Walkmans (as well as the models that only played the radio).

Using a Walkman, it became possible to ignore people on the bus or subway or while taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, although this could be inadvisable as it also opened one to being violently assaulted or mugged unexpectedly as one's awareness of one's surroundings was diminished. This was exacerbated by the fact that a Walkman itself could be a desirable item for a robber, and finding a victim with one was as easy as looking for a pair of headphones over the ears.

The ability to shut out the rest of humanity for some had an almost misanthropic justification, with people expressing that strangers didn't have anything worth saying anyways, so it was justifiable and not rude to shut them out of one's sphere of awareness. There are many, however, who simply liked music and the trade-off between shutting people out and being able to listen to music at any time of their choosing was simply worth it.

Many people recorded their vinyl records from hi-fi decks to blank audio tapes, but it was possible to purchase pre-recorded tapes as well. In stores where music was sold, one could see vinyl records in one section, tapes in another, and later on there were CDs (compact discs) as well. Pre-recorded tapes of major-label music were often bought because they played well in many tape decks in cars, which were often the only readily available and affordable option for playing tapes while driving.

In underground music scenes, audio tapes became a big deal, with hip-hop artists recording tapes of their work to promote themselves and garner fans, and underground tape labels releasing all manner of punk, hardcore, and especially industrial and noise music. While there had been little market for noise music prior to the advent of the tape label that released self-duplicated cassette tapes, small runs of the music style could be made and sold to a limited niche of buyers through mail order catalogs, with the tapes also promoted and reviewed in photocopied fan-zines that were also distributed through the mail.

This democratization of music distribution would become a big influence on culture produced in the 1980s. While major labels ruled supreme over the airwaves of the radio, people began to fragment more into music-based subcultures based on underground music. Anti-commercial forms of music began to appear, with genres like hardcore, death metal, and black metal fostered by smaller independent labels fed by influxes of demo tapes from their various music scenes.

Content that was unthinkably "crass" or "vulgar" found its way onto recordings, and if the 1980s had the conservative veneer of Reaganism, there was a rude, violent opposition to this state of affairs among many musicians. Content that was overtly sexual, violent, or expressed political opinions that did not align with notions of what was acceptable politics appeared in recordings and in print in zines, and so the audio tape, despite its corporate origins, became a tool of dissent.

People remember the 1980s for the invention of the compact disc which replaced the large vinyl records that everyone used to buy, but the audio tape had a surreptitious impact on culture, fostering a world of sound that was underground, but allowed the expression of subversive ideas in the form of audio recordings.

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