• Museland

TIME MACHINE SOUNDS: AN ODE TO CASSETTES

Ali Al Saeed takes a stroll down memory lane in honor of the almighty audio cassette.

This piece first appeared in print in August 2008.



One day audiocassettes will be cool again.


I was rummaging through my old collection of music cassettes, all dusty now after years of being kept tucked away untouched and unheard. Hundreds of them stacked on top of each other. I was rediscovering a time of my life that had been brushed aside by my present. Each of those cassettes was like a box of memories, each reflecting a certain period, a certain state of mind and soul.


I had stopped listening to them gradually as they were replaced by CDs and later on by MP3s. Our house has become cassette player free for years now. And my car isn’t cassette-friendly. So for years I was deprived of this music that I grew up with, that I connected with.


I had that sudden urge to go back to those cassettes after a friend of mine gave me CD’s of the same music I used to listen to ten to fifteen years ago. It was like being given a time capsule. Through the songs surged a wave of emotions and feelings and moments I had long forgotten. The lyrics swam effortlessly through my mind and I found myself singing my heart out, filled with joy and an inescapable feeling of nostalgia.


I wondered how our parents had gone through a similar transition, where all their favorite music began to fade into oblivion as cassettes took over from vinyl records. I felt old at the thought, but at the same time, blissful.

The audiocassette, which came to life in the mid 60s first in Germany, was unquestionably the most popular format for music fans throughout the 1970s to the 1990s, when “cool” folks swayed to the music they listened to on their Walkman. Those were then replaced with the portable CD players. Nowadays, there is hardly any music lover who isn’t plugged to his or her MP3 player constantly.


But making “mix” tapes was something that most of us had gone through and loved. To sit in front of your stereo, surrounded by piles of your favorite albums on tape, going through them one by one and handpicking your best songs. Now, these “mix tapes” have been swapped with “playlists” on your iPod.


In our modern, fast-paced world, there is hardly any room for this luxury anymore. Technology, in terms of audio entertainment, has come a long way in the past two decades. But I have a feeling that audiocassettes will have a come back. I can see them becoming once again a “cool” thing to have and listen to. The “hip” kids will suddenly find what used to make the cassettes annoying, in fact, appealing. Their manual functions, slow forward and rewind, the white noise, the unclear, gritty quality of the music. Or maybe we’ll just be saying the exact same thing about our MP3 players ten to fifteen years from now.


Regardless, I’ll still be saving my collection of audiocassettes. These sound boxes of memories are literary the soundtrack of our life.

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