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Saskatoon artist works with students, using tape cassettes for musical experimentation

Click to play video: 'Artist uses tape cassettes for music experimentation' Artist uses tape cassettes for music experimentation
WATCH: A Saskatoon artist is using old technology to create musical experiments – Mar 10, 2020

Seven students hold the thin, magnetized strips in their hands. They use knives and scissors to make small cuts, carefully holding the shimmering ribbon in place, in case it escapes their grips.

Then, just as delicately, and after transforming the material and its sonic properties, they add a small piece of tape to reconnect it.

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The students perform these acts of creative destruction and restoration under the watchful eyes of Spencer King Martin, a musician and aspiring programmer, on a Saturday afternoon in Saskatoon.

They’re dissecting tape cassettes.

Martin said physically handling and editing the tape provides a new perspective on what is otherwise intangible.

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“Being able to approach sound in an actual physical way where you’re manipulating tape really makes you think about it,” Martin told Global News.

Martin said they first became interested in tape manipulation when they were young. Their father is a musician who let Martin play with a four-track recorder, in lieu of his more expensive and complex reel-to-reel machine.

Now they’re leading a workshop, hosted by PAVED Arts, a community-based creative hub, on how to make music loops — repeating musical phrases — from tape.

“Historically a lot of tape loop work has been done with reel-to-reels, and it’s kind of interesting to take it down to a smaller size,” Martin replied when asked about the use of cassettes.

Martin uses the defunct technology, they said, because of the creativity it permits.

“It’s really limited only by your creativity in approaching it.”

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It’s a defence that could easily seem counter-intuitive.

Analog recording technology has largely been replaced by digital methods.

Computers and Digital Audio Workplaces (DAWs) enable the user to easily manipulate specific facets of the sounds they’re recording, and at a relatively low cost.

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The sub-parameters of the added effects can be changed, digital models of specific amplifiers and microphones can be dropped into place on a computer screen and even the very notes can be altered after being recorded.

Devon Hanofski, a musician attending the workshop, said tape still has something unique that can’t be imitated.

“I’m just drawn to analog, just the sound, that cassette tape hiss,” he said.

“Sonically, I think that’s really interesting.”

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