Bound in Fetish Tape

ssssss...click...vrrrrrr...ssssss...

Sometimes, I need to fuss over a small issue. I can’t help myself; it’s in my nature.

I regularly listen to the podcast 99% Invisible. It’s a great show — well-produced, with a wide array of interesting, design-related topics. I recommend listening.

The other day, I caught their episode on Nick Drake and his music. The episode was informative and engaging, as always. And it seemed to me a good overview of the artist, who I wasn’t familiar with prior to listening. (Around the world, music fans collectively claw at the sides of their faces, shrieking in dismay, I’m sure. Please note: my awareness of the world is like a Swiss cheese. It’s solid in many areas, but it’s also riddled with gaps. Some of them larger than others.)

What bugged me in this episode was the way the producer…shaped his framing narration. It was made to sound “taped,” as though recorded on analog tape, edited, spliced, replayed, etc. And maybe he had recorded some of his narration on actual tape, for authenticity — I don’t know. There was a fair amount of looped repetition of select phrases. Lots of clicks. Narration that was broken into parts by sound effects of tape recorders being stopped and rewound. Lots of ambient hiss. You get the picture.

I realize that the concept of tape and analog recording was important to the story being told. But the artificial manner in which the story was framed — as if to say “hey, listener! this is all pieced together mechanically like old, analog tape recordings!” — started to interfere and distract from the story itself. It makes me fear that, with digital as the ubiquitous norm, there’s a tendency to fetishize analog tape and its trappings (specifically, the recording/editing technology that uses it). All of the technology’s little imperfections are given center stage. In the end, this representation of an edited analog segment becomes an exaggeration of the past reality. Real analog recordings from pre-digital years often don’t sound half as patch-worked/disjointedly-engineered as do these experiments in capturing their feel. Extrapolation. Simulacrum. More human than human. So forth. So on.

I understand this tendency, to some extent. I love to play with the idea of recordings in fiction — transcripts of audio recordings, expository text that recounts and describes audio or moving image contents. But we have to take care (or at least maintain self-awareness) in forming perceptions of the past that are too manipulated by nostalgia or imagination.

Image: By Joe Haupt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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