Wednesday, March 14, 2012

8-Track Memories

Does anybody remember cassette tapes?  They were these little things that people used to use to listen to music.  You couldn’t skip from song to song and you had to flip it over halfway through.  They were kind of a pain in the ass.  BUT, if you had a 4 or 8-track recorder (not the 8-track cassette tapes, those were a different headache from the 80’s) you could insert your normal, everyday cassette tape and chop it up into tiny pieces, recording track upon track until you had a complete song.  Then you’d have to dub the song from that tape onto another tape in order to listen to it in your walkman.  I know this may sound like a hassle to kids these days with their auto-tune and their digital recording programs, but this is how it was done in my time.  Before that they had to use reel-to-reel machines and before that they scratched notes into stone tablets with rocks and played them manually.  Things tend to get easier as time goes on.

I bought one of these fancy 8-track recorders when I was in high school.  I went on eBay and purchased a Tascam Portastudio 488 MK-II for $250 and got right to work on making terrible music.  Gotta start somewhere, right?  This was quite a step up from the handheld tape recorder, much like the one Norm MacDonald would make side notes into during Weekend Update on SNL, that I originally used to record music.

I eventually went to college and dragged the Tascam with me, continuing to record terrible music onto tapes to be passed out to a very select few of my friends.  It wasn’t until 2004 (or early 2005, not exactly sure) when a friend of mine gave me the disc to the recording program he had been using on his computer.  I would then record songs on the 8-track and then run them through the headphone jack into the computer where I could render the songs and put them on a CD.  This was a big step for me from using tapes to using CDs.  Keep in mind it was five years into the 21st century that I made this daring leap.  It wasn’t long after that that I realized I could just use the Tascam as a mixer and record directly into the program.  This is the way I’ve been doing it ever since.

The Tascam has always been a bit of a hassle.  Sometimes a slight noise would build while recording that couldn’t be heard until after the take was finished.  It sounded like a crackle that would sometimes work itself into a pulse with varying volume levels.  Sometimes it’s the only thing you can hear and sometimes it’s hanging out in the background.  This, however, could always be fixed by simply smacking it on the side a few times until it quieted down.

I’ve recorded 105 songs since using the program, with at least another 30 existing only on tapes that I no longer possess.  I had found one of the tapes a few weeks ago, but as soon as I tried to listen to it, it disintegrated.  So, those can now be considered “rare” songs that should be cherished since they will no doubt one day sell for at least $500 each once I finally do something kick ass.

Exact measurements aside, it’s easy to say I’ve spent a good amount of time using the machine and have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.  And now, twelve years after purchasing the thing, I am being forced to get rid of it.  It has traveled from Wisconsin, to Georgia, and now to California and the internal machinery is slowly grinding to a halt.  The intermittent crackle is now an omnipresent cacophony.  Using it for any form of recording is simply not an option anymore. 

In all ways, this is good for me.  I’ve already purchased a replacement mixing board and have moved the Tascam out of my bedroom on its way to the dumpster, where it has sat for the last week.  I haven’t had the heart to give it the final toss into the garbage heap quite yet.  We have recorded 8 albums together and I feel like I’m throwing out a friend.  A collaborator.  So this is my final ode to my old friend the Tascam.  Here is the oldest recording that I have, from what ended up being my first actual CD.  I don’t know what the song title is, but I know that it was recorded at my apartment on Capital Drive in 2004.  This was one of my last, true 8-track songs as I made the switch to the digital program shortly after recording this.  Enjoy, and try to ignore the vocals.

After bringing home the replacement, an Alto ZMX-862 (in case you were wondering), I went ahead and recorded a song almost immediately.  To show a little contrast and act as a way to put the period at the end of the sentence of life for the Tascam, here is the final song that the Tascam was not able to stay alive long enough to record.

It is with a heavy heart that I will bid a final farewell to my friend, the Tascam, as soon as I finish posting this.  I will wrap it in my arms one final time and walk it down the steps to the dumpster.  I might say a little eulogy as I lift it above my head and drop it over the cold, brown edge of the bin:

Goodbye, old friend.  The memories we’ve made together will last longer than the physical copies of the many songs we’ve made along the way.  I have learned so many indispensible things from you and I will remain humble, knowing where the knowledge came from.  I vow to continue recording according to your teachings and I will not waver in the face of an easier way, of copy and pasting repeating sections or automatically correcting pitch with the click of a button.  It wasn’t something you would allow me to do, and I won’t allow myself to do it after you’ve left.  More than anything else, I offer you my sincere thanks for the many years of service.  I will think of you often as I continue on my journey to learn how to make music that doesn’t suck.  We’ve made sucky music together, but that is a necessary step towards making something others can appreciate as much as we do.  Thank you, Tascam.  Thank you, and goodbye.

1 comment:

  1. I really love your eulogy. It speaks volumes about the relationship we hold with inanimate objects...not materialism, of course. BTW, I had one of those 8 track recorders. I bought it at the pawn shop I was working at in Milwaukee when I was a student @ UWM (1968-73). Yes, there were dinosaurs on the street.