As Reel As Reel Gets

If you’re like me and came up through the trenches of analog sound recording, you may appreciate this:

In my audio classes, students like to do wild things with sound by clicking on plug-ins and software add-ons, unaware that many of the sonic effects that delight them so (pitch, delay, echo, flange) were originally created by physically manipulating magnetic tape recorded and edited on reel to reel machines. This is a generation who’s probably never held a cassette tape or back-cued a vinyl 12-inch, so they have no memory of rocking the reels or anchoring 6 foot tape loops with mic stands and grease pencils. Since those days of jump-cutting with a bloody razor-blade are long gone, I was tickled to find video of this interactive sound installation by Signal to Noise that incorporates strands of pre-recorded magnetic tape:

To quote the video’s accompanying information: “As the glove comes in contact with the tape, sound is generated and can be manipulated via touch and movement… the pre-recorded sound on the tape is a random collage of compiled material including a range of musical styles & found recordings. This piece is informed by works such as Nam June Paik’s Random Access Music and Stockhausen’s tape experimentations as well as the notion of using analogue tape as an instrument.”

I was not able to find out much about the artists who created the piece, other than finding their project blog, Signal to Noise, so you can see more on the development of the installation there.

But since the artists make mention of tape experimentation and musique concrete, let’s go back in time to 1979 with the BBC and see what creating aural montage with tape splicing was like (bonus points for the Doctor Who theme, of course):

As much as I love my software and computers, there are times when I do miss physically man-handling sound, chopping up and twisting the tape, dragging it past the play-heads, threading it backwards through the pinch rollers, all without benefit of a visual waveform as a guide. Best thing was wearing discarded pieces of blue editing tape as a fashion accessory. What a crap-shoot it was most of the time, but many happy accidents occurred as well. When I was done with a sound edit or mix, I knew those plastic reels contained real blood, sweat and tears, not just eye-strain and a vague headache. Really, the only thing I don’t miss is nicking my fingers with the razorblades, but I still have the old scars to remind me.

Jocelyn

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