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Mixtape Romance

Mixtape Romance

by Nathan Casey / 11.04.2011

Has technological advancement become arbitrary? When my friends show me iPhone apps that can identify their DNA and track the journey of their turd from toilet to ocean I think it’s cool ‘n all, but also pointless and sad too.

In the same vein, so many people say the more music they have on their iPod the less they listen to – just the same five albums over and over. We upload albums to show off, like your friends list on Facebook. But still just stick to the usual suspects.

So what’s the point of carrying around your entire record collection if it just sits there?

There was a time when the Walkman changed the world. Music became portable and personal – kids didn’t have to listen to their parents’ Abba tapes on family road trips anymore, they could plug the latest Pop Shop compilation into their ears. On the bus you could tune out the grannies’ gossip with equally depressing, but invariably more meaningful, The Cure tunes.

And you have to respect that while the iPod can store every album you own, the Walkman practically birthed our culture of public solitude. And the mixtape revolutionised everything. When we could personalise our albums we began building soundtracks suited to our mood swings.

There’s something about making a mixtape that an iTunes playlist can’t match. Back in the day, a ninety minute cassette compilation would take at least two hours to produce. When you gave it to your girlfriend she appreciated the effort put in – not only having to listen to every song all the way through, but also obsessing over the flow of tracks. It was an extension of your thought and feeling. It was an aural symbol of who cool you were.

You’d sometimes record six songs, then rewind back over the last four because you realised the third would be better a few tracks later. Sometimes one mix tape would take a whole day to make – you’d call it something like “OCD Hits”, and neatly write each song title and artist on the insert.

Nick Hornby understands the art of the mixtape and outlined the rules in his novel High Fidelity: “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention… and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and… oh, there are loads of rules.”

The same way that sending an email just isn’t the same as posting a letter, a mix CD just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe it’s because, embedded in even the smallest romantic act is an element of the personal touch. Nowadays, when we fuck up, burning a CD of love songs, from an endless ipod compilation of schmaltz, is fast and almost entirely meaningless. It’s probably better to just buy roses from the dude at the robots.

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RESPONSES (11)
  1. Impi says:

    ABBA roadtrips YAY!

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  2. duddite says:

    I disagree. You can compile an MP3 “album” of your own special tracks and give it to friends to play on their Ipods. It duplicates a LOT more easily than a cassette, which means more of your friends can enjoy it (if you want more of them to). I have often compiled CD-R’s of my favourite album tracks at 6-monthly intervals and given them to friends as well as played it in my car – the end effect is very very similar to the mixtape phenomenon that gets the rose-tinted romantic treatment here. Also, with digital editing software you can do your own crossfades between tracks for a far more personalized presentation – you would need special DJ equipment to do that with analogue compilations in the cassette era.

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  3. ling-ling says:

    I agree with duddite, I have received a few from my friends, and it also has helped to introduce me to new music.

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  4. thuddite says:

    Actually, what Nathan really laments is the invention of recorded music. Over a century ago you had to wait for your favourite band to visit your town and you had to invite your girlfriend to a one-off concert (if she was available and if she even knew who that band was – no recordings = no radio stations). She would be so totally swept away by this music that she heard for the first time and the amount of trouble that you went to that you were bound to get laid that night. Such benefits could not always be guaranteed every time a mixtape changed hands.

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  5. mega-douche says:

    i think the analogy of handwritten letter VS email said it all. ‘Easy & quick’ makes things somewhat disposable, and the sentimental side of us laments that…

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  6. LukeSkyCrawler says:

    Digital Ass-holes

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  7. christopher steenkamp says:

    i agree hombre, it has become too easy to share something with the ability to effect in so much significance, then again it could effect the way we are able to resonate with music. Perhaps it could help us take that appreciation to higher levels. What happens to that thirst now that tapes are gone?

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  8. gatkramp says:

    Jislaaik people, it’s still the same music. Isn’t that what it’s all about in the first place? Find something more important to moan about.

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  9. JM Koet$ee says:

    I think ‘disposable’ is a key word. Music FANS treat music with respect, no matter the format; I like burning ‘mixtapes’ for friends, and take time choosing tracks, etc., typing my own tracklists.

    But the gigs and gigs of music accumulated on my machine does mean that I am ever curious of what is in the next folder, and end up not giving the present tracks enough time. So I started having that ‘disposable’ feeling creep in. The sense of infinity of music files on a computer removes the sense of desire (important in our enjoyment of art) – there’s so much, why should I spend time with X track if Y, Z, A, B, C might be better? And since I have YZABC, I’ll just go to the next one. Or the next one… But we’re satiated, and nothing fills us enough anymore.

    So there’s a connection between mass availability and disposability, and it creeps into our relationship to art.

    @Nathan: if you google ‘Walter Benjamin’ and ‘flaneur’ you’ll see that ‘public solitude’ starts way long before the Walkman. But yes, the Walkman brings it home.

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  10. Kroglor says:

    I can’t believe you used the phrase ‘je ne sais qua’.

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  11. Shukri kadri says:

    I recall endless hours in a very quiet space doing a tape to tape recording and pirating off radio broadcasts, stuffing tissue paper in the recording holes of your parents casettes, now and then you would record a cough a dog barking or your savage sister trying to screw up your recordikn

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