Audiotapes: From Nostalgia to Art
7 October 2015

Audiotapes: From Nostalgia to Art

Our today’s post has a bit of nostalgic flavour, as we are heading on a journey to our recent past. Do you remember how we used to listen to music before everything became digital, how we were anxiously recording our favorite tunes onto cassette tapes? Yeah, the golden age of the magnetic tape, which lasted for whole 4 decades, is long over. Would it surprise you that in 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary even removed the word “cassette player” from its 12th edition? So, does that mean our piles of tapes are nothing but rubbish today? Well… wait a minute – contemporary artists are positive: not at all.

The compact cassette or MC, also commonly called cassette tape, audiocassette, or simply tape, was designed originally for dictation machines. It consists of two miniature spools, between which a magnetically coated plastic tape is passed and wound. These spools are held inside a protective plastic shell. Two stereo pairs of tracks or two monaural analog audio tracks are available on the tape; one stereo pair or one monophonic track is played or recorded when the tape is moving in one direction and the second pair when moving in the other direction. This reversal is achieved either by manually flipping the cassette, or by having the machine itself change the direction of tape movement and head respectively (“auto-reverse”).

Many of us had, and some of us still keep, huge collections of audiocassettes. Today they awaken nostalgic memories.

Everybody who has ever played an audiocassette knows the feeling when the tape for some reasons comes out of its shell. It is really frustrating to spin an old favorite cassette manually till you fix it. Plus, what are the odds to complete this exercise without damaging the record? Imagine how many tapes must have been made useless if innovative artists began using them for… making art.

Audiotape art is a kind of art in which the image is drawn using something as mundane as magnetic tapes. You need to just pull the tape out of the spools and – voilà! (Okay, you must have the talent, too.)

Erika Iris Simmons (a.k.a. iri5) is a self-taught artist who loves working with strange experimental materials such as old and useless tapes. She’s made incredible portraits of the most famous music celebs of all time – Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix, Madonna and many others. By the way, in case “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars is among your favorite tracks, let us tell you its director Ethan Lader has collaborated with Erika to make it so gorgeous.

And last but least, there are two things about this modern art that we find absolutely cool. First, it is 100% eco-friendly as the old tapes are materials that can hardly be re-used for another purpose. In other words, it turns rubbish into pieces of art. Second, a lot of those musicians’ portraits were made from, actually, their own music. Can you believe someone’s face and body were shaped from their entire life work?