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Talking Cassette Tapes and Memories with Lexie Mountain

June 30, 2011
By

Lexie Mountain rummages through her tape collection, pulls out yet another cassette and pops it into the Centennial tape player on the floor.

“Her tapes are bonkers,” Mountain says of the woman on the recording.

Play.

“God, I wish I could stop shaking,” says the woman.

Audibly, she shutters, shivers. Then silence for a beat.

“Let me go!” she shouts.

“Again,” says a man, presumably her hypnotherapist.

“Let me go!”

“Again.”

“Let me go!”

The woman starts to cry and then composes herself. She recounts how, in a past life, she taught the children in her village about herbs, leading to the townspeople burning her at the stake over accusations of witchcraft.

The tape, labeled “Past-Life Session June 22, 1982,” was merely one in a box of tapes sitting at a Waverly yard sale.

“Three hundred sixty-four days from now, this will be 30 years old,” Mountain muses.

For Mountain, born Alexandra Macchi (who, for disclosure’s sake, is music editor Michael Byrne’s roommate) and other purveyors of tapes, these sorts of personal artifacts are just one way that tape collecting is more than a group of people propping up a medium most have written off for dead.

“It’s a really small means of getting something that is really exciting and will open up a whole world,” says Mountain. “It’s literally a very small object, but I have this very small object that opens up someone’s life, whether they intended it or not.”

Among these: a recording of a mix of songs off the radio that includes a newscast reporting, “Yes folks, Bob Irsay has assured us the Baltimore Colts aren’t going anywhere” and a personal mixtape with really cheesy love songs from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Of course, the bulk of Mountain’s tapes–piled onto a shelving unit in crates, carrying cases, old clementine boxes, a tape-carrying suitcase, etc.–are a little more standard: bargain-bin flashbacks and brand new releases. You’ve got your Rhythm Nation and your Slanted and Enchanted alongside releases from local artists like Daniel Higgs and Dead Drums, the solo project of Lands & Peoples’ Caleb Moore. And there are the quirkier published titles–the Halloween sound effects tapes, the self-help tapes, the books on tape, and so on.

All of these kinds of tapes and more will be available for trade, for purchase or for general listening Thursday at the Windup Space as part of the inaugural edition of “Compact: A Tape Culture Night,” an event that celebrates all things cassette,  spearheaded by Mountain.

After DJing tapes–tapes are, of course, not discs, but Mountain is able to manipulate and mix songs just the same, using pedals, loop machines, and processors hooked up to a tape player–at Friendzday, a DJ night hosted by Unruly Records’ Derek James at the Ottobar, she wanted to expand on the idea beyond playing songs from an era when tapes were the dominant medium.

“People really seemed to like it, and I enjoyed it very much,” she says. “And then I thought, Well, it would be nice if we had just a free-form hangout kind of thing, because I thought there were tapes that I would have liked to play that were not so appropriate for having a dance thing.”

Attendees are asked to bring their own tapes to swap, to sell, to trade, or simply to put on display. Friends Records will bring its tape dubber to make their label’s tapes as both a way to knock out work and put on a sort of living demonstration. Mountain will again be manning the tape decks and taking requests in the form of whichever tape someone passes her way.

Much has been made in the mainstream media recently about the resurgence of tape collectors and the emergence of tape labels. For most, the cassette is an afterthought, and there’s little doubt of where it stands on the hierarchy for people who still buy music in a physical format.

Boutique labels can use tapes, Mountain says, to make an actual object and to make it nice without spending lots of money, but this can also be done with a CD or CD-R. So why the comeback?

In a way, it’s a form of escaping the constancy of the internet era and the instant gratification of downloading.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tapes are a way of looking at it from the pre-internet era,” she said. “It’s existing alongside the time of the internet, it’s just like you’re taking a step back.”

But also, that step back is partially out of nostalgia.

“Tapes were the things I was listening to when I was a little kid and I decided I was going to fall in love with music,” she says. “And that I was going to be the kind of person who would rather spend more time hanging out, being motionless, listening to music than, like, playing softball or something like that. And that was a point of contention–you know, I love my dad, but it was very difficult for him to realize that I wasn’t, like, super fucking sporty. That wasn’t who I was.”

“I think these tapes are part of me,” she says, “figuring out who me am, who I is.”

Compact: A Tape Culture Night is at 9 p.m. tonight, June 29, at the Windup Space.

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  • Lint

    I have recently formed an 8-track label, I will take applications via the Pony Express. 

    In addition, I have also started a Laser Disc movie production company, I am taking applications via notes flown by pigeons.Cynicism aside, this article was a good read.