The resurgence of cassette tapes is something that many of us was certainly never expecting. To read that by mid-June 2020 some 65,000 cassettes were sold in the UK is simply astounding. That’s a rather staggering leap of 103% from the previous year!
I have no intention of trying to fathom out why this might be. I only know that I have tapes that have travelled with me since about 1975, and still play and function just as well as today. Cassettes were indeed unique at the time, given their portability, accessibility and price. You could pick up a blank tape at any local shop for mere pennies and record and re-record over it, as many times as you wish.
With some friends I would even record entire C-90 tapes of me talking and sharing stories and post it off to them and keenly await their witty response. It was like a personal talking book at the time.
With the development of CDs, the Sony Walkman, MP3s, online streaming, and then the equal resurgence of vinyl, you might have imagined such devices would have been abandoned by now. But here I am, in 2021, releasing an album on a seemingly dated format, and people want it in this format.
Earthbound Transmissions is out on Room40 and features recordings I made back in the 1980s on portable 4-track recorders. My ‘studio’ at this time was the kitchen table in a tiny flat, which needed to be cleared to set up my recording gear on, then all neatly tidied away back into their boxes for dinner later on. I often felt like a child who had their toys cleaned away into a box after a most needed playtime.
I borrowed a Tascam 4-track on and off from a friend for years, until I finally saved up for the Fostex 280 machine which cost £530. Accounting for inflation that’s about £1200 today. Given that my monthly wage was significantly less than this it was quite a wait until I could actually afford such an inspiring machine.
Somehow all the tapes from their period, and before this time have survived. At home we had a portable budget Binatone tape recorder when I was a teenager, and I bought a Sony Recording Walkman later on. All of these recordings live in boxes in my archive now. So, that’s recordings of my brother and I watching TV shows in the 1970s and arguing about who ate the biscuits. Or recordings on the school bus, or my holiday in Italy when I never took a camera with me, but only recorded the sound on tape. None of which will probably ever be heard again during my lifetime.
he kind of time-travel that occurs when listening back to recordings from 30+ years ago is a peculiar experience. I can still vividly remember sitting on the floor of my flat in Battersea, South London, the walls, floor and ceiling all painted black, crouched over this luxuriously expensive Fostex machine and making these recordings.
Here was a machine that could permanently store my ideas onto relatively cheap material. I could manipulate the speed of these recordings and layer them together. Using the Digitech RDS 7.6 Time Machine in tandem I could create loops of sound, and record something as simple as a bell and then slow it down to half speed.
I quickly discovered that sometimes the simplest ideas were the most effective. In Forbidden Mourning you hear a loop of a bell and an ethic tone playing against one another, whilst my dark sense of humour comes across in His Begging Bowl, with a found recording of the last moments in the life of a beloved dog. Some of the pieces such as Soft Enclose, using scanned voices, clearly anticipate my first CD release on Ash International in 1992.
Somehow these tapes have miraculously survived countless moves over the years, in the same cardboard boxes, from my bedroom in my family home to a series of different apartments and even in an industrial storage unit for a year. Using the lockdown to digitise and mix down many of these has been a joy, and what you hear here is just a percentage of what exists in the archive.
Listening back to these recordings today I realise that they actually still inform much of what I do today. Some might find it a little depressing to consider that they’ve never ‘progressed,’ but I find a reassurance in the shapes and structures and strength of commitment in these works. Voices are hidden beneath the surface, slow modulating drones hover ominously in the background, scanned phone calls are drawn in from the ether and poignant melancholic melodies play against abstract noises.
I’m especially grateful to my old pal Lawrence English of Room40 for releasing these recordings. They are available on a very limited-edition cassette and digital. The tape itself actually features the mixes collaged together in a seamless mix with slightly alternative versions too.
I hope the listener today enjoys this modest dip in my archival recordings and appreciates that less can most definitely be more. I had no idea that there might be audience for these works when I recorded them at the time, so let’s see how they behave when they are set free, outside of their boxes!
Earthbound Transmissions is out on Room40 in digital as well as a very limited edition cassette, with a special collage of all the mixes.