Thursday, November 08, 2007


mixx tapes

mix tape.
Originally uploaded by fun city girl
For music lovers, the mixtape is among the most profound of human expressions and experiences. Although the days of the 'tape' have long passed, there continues to be a great interest in capturing that experience with todays digital devices and on the internet.

The ways for doing so have varied as I have previously posted, but new services continue to launch that attempt to take advantage of the mixtape as a metaphor for listening to and sharing music. Each of them seem to pick up on different affordances the cassette offered which makes you wonder, what exactly was the special part of making and sharing mixes?

Ultimately the distribution of music was one of the most important reasons tapes were made in the first place, so services like The Mixtape Collective or Tiny Mixtapes didn't pick up large audiences since they emphasized the playlist only. Alternately, JWZ mixtapes is in the music distribution game, offering one new mix a week available to be streamed directly from the site. JWZ keeps its mixes limited to 90 minutes, the length of time of old school tapes, and puts together some GREAT mixes.

One of the most exciting services to hit the net recently is the MIXX from donat group. This application was designed specifically for the facebook platform and provides a built in player to listen to the various 'mixxes' directly from your profile page. MIXX has a couple of things going for it that I think is going to make it a popular app. First, the inspiration for the mixx is derived from the title itself. With the prompt, "I want music that..." the user completes the sentence, and can begin uploading files directly from their harddrive to be shared with potential listeners. Like Tiny Mixtapes, this directs the creation of a mix around a theme or story, and is one of the best ways to inspire contributions. The second, and arguably most important feature of this app is that you can send your mix to a select group of friends for their listening pleasure AND for them to add their own songs to. Holy collaborative mixtaping batman, saweet!

Lastly, I recently signed up for an invitations to join Mixaloo.

Mixaloo brings the art of the mix-tape into the digital age. Freely explore our library of over three million songs and arrange unique music mixes that express your complex self. At no cost to you, mixes can be easily embedded on your personal pages (such as Facebook, MySpace and Blogger) to sell and earn cash, along with points toward ubercool Mixaloo merchandise.

So now I can compile mixes, share them with 'friends' AND potentially get paid for the effort?! (assuming I can come up with some popular mixes i suppose) Its almost like... a part-time DJ gig! Something tells me that online music is about to mature another notch or two, this is so going to kickass.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


designers have their way with cassettes... and you can too!

This from designboom.
twenty years on from the hight of their popularity cassettes are all but forgotten by the music industry, but still very much in use in police interview rooms. despite the march of new technology such as digital recording, which makes analysing individual words and phrases much easier, the humble cassette still reigns when it comes to recording evidence. the UK’s police forces, for example, use about 500,000 audio cassettes a year for interviews, half of the estimated one million tapes sold in the UK each year. link

DIY cassette wallet by claire bedard
Instructions on how to make one for yourself

There are many great DIY ideas here using either an actual cassette tape, or merely a representation of one. Personally I like the simplicity of this cassette wallet, something my family may be getting for xmas this year if my budget plans continue the way they have been.

If you are so inclined to follow up on these ideas, I'd also recommend you check out the instructables where are are many tape related projects (with instructions included natch) about how to DIY. Like this one for making Halloween decorations out of your old tapes.


Monday, September 24, 2007


ckas ~ the tape cassette font

Just got a link from a friend to this sweet free font that is comprised entirley of images of tape cassettes. Not sure it is entirely usable AS a font, and yet I somehow find it quite pleasing nonetheless. This is my name on ckas!

Download the font here


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


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.




Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Observing Cassette Culture: Thesis now available

yay for finishing projects!
The above picture was taken about an hour before my final final deadline. I am not even sure how I managed to pull this off, and yet here I am, done my masters degree. Its especially gratifying doing this level of work on a topic that I am so fond of, and has received such little academic inquiry. (these are the kind of things i can say now)

Once again, a big bunch of thanks for all the participants who contributed images to this study. Couldn't have done it with ya. There are plans to continue this research, and perhaps rewrite the thing into something smaller and more interesting to read, so stay tuned for that.

For those who cannot wait, I have posted the thesis which you can download here. enjoy!

vive la cassette!

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Observing Cassette Culture

Title graphic for thesis defense.

Earlier this week, (Monday actually) was the defense for my thesis titled, "Observing Cassette Culture: User Interface Implications for digital Music Libraries". Every thing went off without a hitch, and although I have a little 'housekeeping' to do on the final document before i can publish it, I passed! Today, I thought I would post up the powerpoint presentation I used to deliver the oral part of the defense. It hints at what is to come when i do post the final thesis. Although the outline below is quite abbreviated, it indicates the overall structure and ideas I presented. Thanks to all the participants who agreed to allow their photos to be published, and completed the survey. I am looking forward to continuing this research!


People construct their music listening experiences with the technology that is readily available, and the collection of recorded music they keep.

This Research Study

This research observed the images of peoples tapes, as posted on the social photo sharing website flickr.


iTunes and the other music players are not all that bad, I believe however the design of them has been more influenced by the capabilities of the technology, as opposed to the needs of users.


The analysis of the results showed some behaviors that have not been accounted for in the design of digital music players.

Design Implications

Indeed, many implications for the design of digital music libraries were noted.


Future research

Thursday, April 05, 2007


silvando espero.

silvando espero.
Originally uploaded by sebastian.ignacio.
Thanks silvando for this sweet shot!

I have been immersered in this topic for months now, and its all about to be come to a conclusion at long last. Im pretty stoked. More results, pics, and the thesis itself will be posted here soon. For now I will will leave you with the abstract which I will be defending in 11 DAYS! :

Many people keep their collections of music on cassette tape even if they rarely listen to them. Images of these collections can be found online on photo sharing websites. What can we learn from such collections and what might they tell us about designing interfaces for new digital music libraries? The author conducts an online ethnographic study of over two hundred cassette tape collections, and over sixty participants with the aim of guiding future design of music collections. The author presents design heuristics and guidelines for interfaces of digital music libraries.

and yes... this is pretty much what I have felt like for the last 6 months. Ironically, as much as I am waiting for this to be done, I am equally looking forward to continue exploring and researching this topic. cassette nation!!!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


We still exist

We still exist
Originally uploaded by neal_b.
A new post, contributed to the My Cassettes Flickr group, makes a bold claim. Its more true than you would imagine, although the downturn in worldwide sales was covered by the bbc coming up on two years ago now.

"Cassette albums have declined quite significantly since their peak in 1989 when they were selling 83 million units in the UK," Matt Phillips of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme.

"Last year we saw that there were about 900,000 units sold. It's clear to see that cassette sales are dwindling fast." .


Cassette tapes still exist in the hearts and minds of the generation that came of age with them however, and a new generation is discovering a new fascination with them as well. In addition to being important objects that can be used to reminisce on past times, I hope they will be able to inform the design of new digital music libraries. We'll just have to see abou that.

Friday, March 16, 2007


mix tapes

mix tapes
Originally uploaded by newrambler.
Aaahh the mix. Still a powerful medium no matter what format you are using, except perhaps the Internet. I dont know, there are a lot of sites out there trying to give people ways to make' the mix', an interesting networked experience. These are some that come close.

The mixtape collective. Ultimately doomed because there is no actual music on the site, although many music geeks assemble to create, rate and compete for top mix accolades. At least the have cover art.

finetune. This is neat because you can place mix widgets on your blog or website, (I should put one on this blog in fact) but I have found the library a tad limited, and you have to choose 45 songs to create a playlist! Why so many I wonder?

Tiny Mix Tapes. This is a bit more compelling. Submit your idea for a mix via a theme, title or general thought, and see if yours get selected for mix creation by the mixtape robots. Again, no music.

outof5 themed mixes. 10 Songs chosen by 10 individual's. No archives. I haven't found out too much about this one, except that they have weekly mixes you can download as zip files. There is music, but I cant figure out if I can contribute or not.

Last but not least, is this nifty flash animation that looks great and plays music, not to mention is quite funny.

Wouldn't it be cool, if it was a little easier to put something like this together for people? (not to mention have it downloadable to your MP3 player or phone.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


iPod / Walkman - Walkpod

iPod / Walkman - Walkpod
Originally uploaded by Neil101.

A clever new device! from Neil101

I have been reviewing the contributed images in the My Cassettes flickr group (now over 100 members strong!) as I am in the final stages of completing this research. The defense date has actually been set for April 4th!. yikes!... There has been alot of data to sift through, over 400 images in fact, so I am sure glad I used to bookmark and annotate everything as I went along. It was particularly useful when I was contacting the shortlist of participants and the approvals form my informed consent process were coming in. I would just tag the entries accordingly, and can now sort (for instance) on all the properties of my data that can be published in the final document. More than 70 images out of 113 requests, of which I am very pleased. A big THANKS going out to all the participants =) People were amazingly responsive and interested in this research and I expect a good turn out for the upcoming survey as well.

I have updated this blogs sidebar to provide easier access to the data, and will also be updating the feed shortly. Although you will not need to re-subscribe, It will probably blow away all the old dates of posts and such in your reader... so sorry about that.

And now, for an update on the writing. This thesis documents the affordances of physical musical artifacts, specifically tape cassettes. It is primarily concerned with new ways of understanding these affordances, how people organize and use these artifacts. The author (moi) hopes to inform the design of better interfaces for listening to digital music, specifically the mp3. The image above is a brilliant visual mashup, and represents for me something that is at the core of my work. How do we get the best of both worlds when we are listening to our music. When is it better to have a physical object, or will it ever be again? As tapes are quickly fading in to media history, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water now that we are all consuming "iMusic"?

( I wont be writing like this in the thesis btw, just sketching some of the ideas as I put that beast together)

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Monday, January 29, 2007


More found tapes

An evolving exhibition of cast away sounds
Harold from sent me an email (an atrociously long time ago now), with a link to his 'found tapes exhibition'. This an amazing collection of found audio clips dating back to 2002! It seems these guys comb the streets, thats right the streets, looking for (and apparently finding) old discarded tape, it needn't be in 'cassette' form anymore either. Looking at the index page, it seems there has been no lack of material for them to salvage. Thats the interesting and unique part here to me., they actually DO salvage the tape. Torn and tattered, strewn about, what ever. Each exhibit has an image of the tapes remains, that goes along with the audio they were amazingly able to recover.

This project seems to be an extension of his other work call Sound Chronicles, of which he describes...
Ever since the early eighties, like many, I have a regular companion: a Sony walkman. (It was a stereo one, at first. But already for many years now, I use a mono machine, which in fact is only suitable for use with the 'normal type' cassette tapes.) Unlike most,however, I never ever use my walkman to listen to music. It's my dictaphone. I use it to record. Whichever sounds for whatever reason wherever suddenly make me listen.

Great stuff all around, and I'm sure many great hours of audio strangeness.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006


Joey Ramone's grave

Joey Ramone's grave
Originally uploaded by Daily Gusto.
All things must come to an end. And that goes double for this research project. I am collecting data up until the end of the month, and, the year. So if you have been thinking about contributing a photograph, nows your chance! If you are really interested I should let you know there will be an optional survey, that i know some people will enjoy taking. Because some people are like that.

I thought this was a touching photograph. Although it is not of a collection of tapes, it says quite a lot about the intimacy and depth of feeling that can be imbued on any physical object. Is this the same effect that makes some people hang to to their precious collections of mixtapes long after they have lost the ability to play them?

The cassette reads "GOD BLESS YOU JOEY."

a fitting memorial indeed.

Monday, November 13, 2006


To Digital Or Not?

To Digital Or Not?
Originally uploaded by KarmenRose.
So the project is quickly coming to a close. I'm officially supposed to have my document complete at the beginning of December, but will collecting data until the end of the month. The end of 2006. I've been sort of off the blog for awhile, but may try to do a bit more to stimulate my writing.

Doing a few more searches for cassettes in flickr today I dug up this gem. Very staged, but asking a question that is of great interest to me. As we move so rapidly and completely to digital media formats, are we going to lose the "non-digital media" completely? Will we watch them decay and slowly sift through lives, filtering away more as we go, or will these tangible artifacts remain meaningful parts of our lives?

Will digital media behave any differently? Just because the digital seems immaterial and 'pure' in the sense it will never degrade, will we want to keep such an increasing record of ourselves?

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