The Cassette Mythos

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There is an index for this electronic book.

Cassette Mythos is about Homemade Audio Cassettes: listening to them, making them, packaging and recording them, getting them heard and reviewed and played on the radio; things one would need to know getting started; ways to enhance the practice and development of this exciting modern folk art. The sources include many diverse and dynamic personalities, modern pioneers in home audio arts.

These essays have been collected and presented to give glimpses of techniques, but never to give formulas. You can do whatever you want to with your tapes and tape recorders. This is audio alchemy, bits and pieces from the laboratories of concerned scientists and dabblers, from the drawing boards of social technologists, from the basements and living rooms of professionals and outlaws.

Every time you go to your mailbox you could be picking up little packages that contain impossible sounds: the stage whispers in empty rooms, the sound of echoing oceans, pop-tones--heck, it could be a message from someone you don't know, will never meet, and probably wouldn't know what to do if you met them anyway. Or someone with the key to what you need.

The number of people making tapes is impossible to calculate. Some people collect the equipment and fuss around for the first week or so; some people borrow the needed gear; some seem to never get around to it. Some make tapes only for friends or family; some are seeking an agent to project them into earthshaking stardom. But that's not the half of it. Anything can happen.

What to expect from a homemade cassette:

It could be something that you will pop in and it will totally blow you away. You could be so lucky. Lots of possibilities: garage sessions of your kid sibling's rock band, or someone in a fancy home lab mixing incredible feats of science, or a pioneer of popular rock, soothing meditation, or difficult industrial noise. There are tickets to many sonic environments.

Here are essays, personal histories, liner notes, letters, speeches, rants, and results from the massive ten-question interview that was launched in the Audio Alchemy Digest project which brought all of these loose ends into one overloaded pile of papers. And you hold it in your hands now. Some of it will be interesting to you, some won't--just like the many different kinds of sound being made.

Cassettes are best when used as scratch paper, a reusable medium. With a phonograph record or CD once it's made, that's it. You don't get another chance. Naturally, it sure is a drag to rewind or fast-forward to find that one part. Expensive tape does get caught in expensive tape players. Stuff gets recorded over accidently, or otherwise lost.

These little devices provide a convenient medium for many different subcultures. The jams taken from many people's rehearsal tape collections, the sound that trains make in the distance, the gurgle of rivers, the pulse and jag of synthesizers, the endless noodling of guitars. Its a luscious jungle.

(Originally written sometime back around 1988)


The Cassette Mythos project began after Op Magazine completed its operating lifespan in 1984. Op was published by the Lost Music Network (LMNOP - get it?), it was devoted to finding small record labels (operating independently of the seven or so corporate ogres) and self-publishing musicians, and documenting a wide panorama of musical styles. A bit of community radio, a bit of home-brew music journalism, and little bit of publicity for otherwise unknown artists. It was fun to do, and reached around the world in scope. Op had a modest circulation on almost every continent, most in Europe, Australia and Japan, and most of all to small magazine stands across the USA.

Graham Ingels was the first Op Magazine cassette reviewer, back when vinyl was the medium of choice, and cassette tapes were seen as just too wild. Tapes were for low-budget loosers who were probably really looking to get on vinyl. This was all before CDs. No one had ever taken cassette recordings seriously before, and the time was right. There proved to be many interested listeners who are often also musicians making their own records. Soon, all kinds of imaginative home-made packages with tapes and exotic packaging started showing up in the mailbox, from all over the world, by the grocery sack-full.

I became Grahams cheerful but clumsy assistant, and by the time the magazine finished and the exhausted principles all went off to do other things, I imagined myself quite well acquainted with the growing ranks of home-brew audio arts enthusiasts. These people are participants in this art form by being both creators and consumers. I made cassette compilations of the tapes that came in and included the contact information for each "contributor". Then I sent the compilation tape back around, so that they could all hear about each other, and so that new interested listeners could also link up with these new electronic folk artists. That was the big idea, to tell them about each other.

Cassette Mythos was not funded by anyone. It was a crazy (but sometimes satisfying) hobby that absorbed all my time and spare change for postage and buying bulk-rate blank tapes, and took on many different forms, including an interview project, a short-lived DIY radio syndication series, and one nearly successfull video bicycle trip. Most of all I what I was doing was reviewing cassettes, here are some reviews of the works of Eugene Chadbourne, guitar wildman. "Don't be afraid, its only electricity."

I received 1167 cassettes from all over the world for review, and sent the reviews to interested magazines like Sound Choice, Option, Ear, Transnational Perspectives, The Rocket, and B-Side, plus numerous ephemeral zines.

We are working on our gargantuan list of places to visit, any more suggestions?

This is my all-time favorite place to visit these days.

All that remains now of the project are some over-sized Cassette Mythos tape program posters that contain outdated contact addresses for the participating 241 audio arts enthusiasts of 1988 (but no more of the tape programs). And the following two items that are available for purchasing by voice telephone or through the good old postal-type mail:

The BOOK: The Cassette Mythos, 206 pages, published in 1990 by Autonomedia. An anthology devoted to the development of the "international cassette network home taper underground". Essays, reports, comics, documentation, manifestos and a taste of cassette packaging art. Many of the essays are available for reading right here on this website, but it is a masterpiece of blended graphics that is only available in the book version, which was created by Sue Ann Harkey.

The CD: AUDIO ALCHEMY: The Cassette Mythos compilation, started off as a comprehensive, democratic, and historical survey of the international cassette swapping underground scene, but wound up being what it is, twenty-one innovative sonic-arts geniuses that could be your neighbors.

Both of these relics of underground culture are still available, but darned if I can find either of them. Someone suggested that Borders Books has the book.


The book part of the project consisted of corresponding with all these various artists, sharing ideas and obtaining manuscripts and audio cassettes from them. The idea was to appeal to them by offering to publish their words in exchange for copies of the final product. There are still numerous loose ends which can yet be resolved. You know who you are. Where are you now?

-- Robin James, 1995

Cassette Mythos: Table of Contents

Section One: The Cassette Section Two: Legends Section Three: Networking Section Four: The Imagination The interview compilation.

Typically overly-enthusiastic reviews of Eugene Chadbourne cassette recordings.

The list of cassettes sent for reviewing.

The index of this electronic book.


The Cassette Mythos Audio Alchemy CD / K7 Playlist

Our next project is to allow you to hear something of these artworks right here, with a tap. But for now, here is just a list of the sonic excursions contained in the CD that came from the project. We are working on getting sounds to play here.


Contact Information:

Cassette Mythos
PO Box 2391
Olympia, WA 98507
robinja@acd.net

Here is the index of this electronic book.

Click here for a big version of this logo:

Cassette Mythos Logo (1985) by Suzanne Dycus-Gendreau
Crawling With Tarts (tart@sirius.com).

This page was created in February, 1996, and last modified on 9:35 AM 4/24/2002, by Robin James.