"We've all had the experience of having your hard drive crash and losing everything you thought that you had. It only makes it that much more clear that we're living in an age of imaginary things," says Matt Lajoie, who has operated the L'Animaux Tryst (field) Recordings from his bedroom since 2006. Lajoie feels that most of today's music suffers from digital compression and an intangible loss (if not a loss of fidelity) that comes from limitless duplication. "Now, listening to and talking about music is just about posting a YouTube clip (on Facebook) and seeing who comments. It's kind of closed off — in a box," he says. "There's nothing really special about that to me as an artist."
Bird Microphone/Cursillistas Papermines split cassette (L’Animaux Tryst, 2007), hand-drawn and numbered with wax insert inside a sewn and painted fabric pouch; edition of 30.
Spear believes this newfound interest in cassettes could be a sign that a similar sentiment has permeated the mainstream. "It's kind of amazing, because I always thought (cassettes were) just a part of the psych-folk or the avant-garde/noise thing and that made sense," Spear adds. "Now it seems to have expanded to other folks who have no awareness of that junk."
Belfast's Dan Beckman has (with two friends) operated Turned Word Records — a noisy avant-folk label with a packaging aesthetic of bold coloration — since 2000. He's noticed that the tape revival has attracted new attention toward local underground scenes, and in turn, his label. "Before, someone would purchase a cassette because they had a tape player in their car," he says. "Now people get cassettes because they collect them. There's a shift in the way people look at the format."
The cassette tape has always been a natural fit for the avant-garde, in part because the act of exchanging music has long been a tactile, sensorial process that easily lends itself to experimentalism. For many, it was the format of tape — particularly the mix tape, easily personalized, durable, and re-recordable — that first broadened their musical horizons. "It was the first major medium that encouraged one-to-one sharing," Lajoie says.
Bad Bus S/T 3-inch CD-R (L’Animaux Tryst, 2007), an unlabeled 20-minute recording held in a stitched wool-and-twine bag with wool handle.
Tempera 4.7.06/4.13.06 (L’Animaux Tryst, 2007), a red, hand-painted cassette held in a numbered cardstock pouch stitched with red string; edition of 40.
Matt Anderson, an experimental sound artist living in Harpswell, has been releasing recordings under the name Crank Sturgeon since 1992. Many of his recordings are made from arrangements of sounds produced by contact microphones and manipulated technologies, a hands-on process that finds its natural home on the format.
"(Tapes) are touchy-feely," Anderson says. "A cassette gets slammed into a slit-like mouth which then laps the tape with circular motions called capstan rollers and heads. It's total sex, man. A CD, which may sound better, does what? Blast you with the same 44.1 (kHz) compressed slug over and over? I mean, sure, it's familiar, but it's not as sexy."