Back from a looong summer vacation

Well it has been a fabulous summer for me, taking an extended break from any research activities whatsoever. Now that I am ‘back to school’ (in the sense that I still work at SFU) it’s time to consider my academic pursuits, and if I will consider further research (possibly publications?) on this topic. I have been contacted by several journalists over the summer interested in doing stories on cassette tapes which I am always willing to participate in. The most recent one has really got me thinking (excitedly) about my research so I thought I’d use it as an excuse to get back on the blog. The following is an email correspondence. Stay tuned tapeheads!!!

Hi Jason,

I work at CBC Radio in Winnipeg and am thinking about doing a piece on cassette tape collectors. While doing some research, I found your thesis on tape collectors and how the art/design of tape collections can be applied to digital media.

I was hoping to talk to you about it, either by email or phone. I’d like your views on tape collectors and how they differ from vinyl or cd collectors. I’d also like to get your point of view on why tape collections can help with the layout of digital music players.

Last question, I was wondering if you were in touch with some big cassette collectors during your thesis research and if they’d be willing to talk to me.

Take care,


Hi Daniel

Thanks for your email. I’d be happy to talk to you about cassette tapes anytime, but will try to answer some of your questions in a quick email.

Re. Tape collections vs. other forms of analogue media
Cassettes were a huge breakthrough for the personal recorded music experience on two fronts, their mobility and customizability. My research did not look specifically at the mobility aspects of the technology, but it did reveal how important it was for people to take their music out of the home, and (initially) onto the road in car decks and eventually onto the hip or shoulder via walkmans and portable tape decks.
The customizability aspect was more to the point of the research as I wanted to know more about how people interacted with their entire collection of music how they stored it, organized it and why the KEPT them at all particularly now that the technology is nearly 20 yrs ‘obsolete’. Of course it was blank tapes that made the customizing of a personal music experience possible, and the analogue limitations intrinsic to the media meant that great care had to be given when making a a tape because like traditional typewriters, it was almost impossible to go back and change what had previously been recorded. People were willing to spend that time however and the precious objects became known as mixtapes. Turns out, these artifacts are very sentimental for many people and wether people can play them or not they are often held onto because of the nostalgic value.

I argue that tape cassettes gave us the basic kinds of interactions we want with our music collections that have not changed to this day. Digital technology HAS improved the personal recorded music experience in different ways. By making our music collections digital, we are able to increase the size of our collections dramatically, but at the cost of being able make other kinds of searches extremely difficult such as “what kind of music was i listening to in my 20’s?” or “what did we listen to on that roadtrip that time?”

In a nutshell, this is one of the characteristics that is lacking in modern digital music players. iTunes (for eg, but all the major ones are very similar) will record your ‘last tracks played’ or ‘most played tracks’ etc, but there are no affordances in the user interface for tracking a musical history greater than say several months (possibly years if you are diligent with your software). Tapes are similar to time capsule in the sense that they can be brought out and used to reminisce and share stories about ones (distant) past and this has value for many people.

As for your last questions regarding avid tape collectors, you will probably be interested in talking to Zan Hoffman. He has a crazy amount of tapes, many recordings of his own plus he trades with others. Check out his blog for a glimpse to the extent of his collection, its mad! He is a friendly guy, I think his contact info should be on that site.

Let me know if this helps, or if you would like to discuss further.