In Memoriam Tape Recorder (2008)

“Yet music is a credible metaphor of the real. It is a herald, for change is inscribed in noise faster than it transforms society. Undoubtedly, music is a play of mirrors in which every activity is reflected, defined, recorded, and distorted. If we look at one mirror, we see only an image of another. But at times a complex mirror game yields a vision that is rich, because unexpected and prophetic. At times it yields nothing but the swirl of the void.”

— Jacques Attali, from Noise

As a child, I experimented with the consumer technology of the day by recording music from a primitive synthesizer onto two cassette recorders, constantly bouncing down, back and forth, in an attempt to simulate a multi-track recorder. Hiss and tape distortion were common, and retakes and adjustment of levels were impossible, but this only added to the recorded material, which changed with each bounce-down iteration: the first recordings gradually fading into noisy background as subsequent layers of sound were added.

This work is a whimsical tribute to the technology of a bygone and very short era, when the reel-to-reel tape and the LP were dying out and the compact disc had yet to become a household object, the iPod was unimaginable, and when friends made scratchy cassettes of favourite songs, jokes, and gossip for each other. The cassette did not provide the easily accessible ‘tracks’ of the CD or iPod (or, indeed, the vinyl record) and suffered from terrible audio quality which degraded with every new recording and even with normal playback. But for these reasons, it provided a canvas in which recorded objects — lost voices, favourite teenage popsongs, Karajan — lived, fixed among hiss and background noise, until such time as they too were recorded over and discarded, forgotten, in the past.

Premiere

8th January 2008, Wigmore Hall, London, performed by Radius (with the composer operating the tape recorders)

Duration

c.10 minutes

Instrumentation

flute, clarinet, horn, violin, cello, piano, percussion, tape recorder operator (2 tape recorders)

Downloads

Recording

In the world premiere performance, the tape recorders malfunctioned (of course!). This recording is a re-mastered version of that performance (by Radius), with the tape recorder component redubbed.