The Compact Cassette, invented by Philips in 1962, revolutionised recorded sound. As a portable recording format it provided the means for audio material to be captured, sequenced and distributed to a huge network of listeners across the globe. By the early 1970s, improvements in the magnetic composition of tape led to the production of pre-recorded music cassettes and, perhaps more importantly, the growing number of home tape recorders meant that people could avoid the need to purchase music altogether. Tape, like vinyl, offers the listener a physical connection with recorded material and, through the latter part of the 20th century, a generation of sequentially programmed compilations or ‘mix tapes’ were created, each telling a highly personalised story through sound. It is this potential for the construction of audible collage or montage, coupled with the opportunity to convey actuality, which captured the imagination of William Furlong, providing the basis for Audio Arts. As curator-editor, Furlong began to gather together the equipment and skills required to realise his vision of a unique audio magazine. He felt that by recording, manipulating and constructing sonic materials he could develop a new concept of sculpture which would occupy space in much the same way a physical object does. The cassette I have chosen from the Audio Arts archive collection (TGA 200414) is a 1981 recording of William Furlong in conversation with Charlie Morrow, an American musician and sound-artist who produced the Audiographics Artists Cassettes magazine in New York. The discussion really caught my ear as it reveals so much of the practical considerations and concerns in producing work in sound during the 70s and 80s. The two men discuss their production values, their technical approaches to audio fidelity, the difficulty of generating publicity as well as the finer points of cassette design and packaging. They reminisce about their first cassette pieces, consider the limitations of the medium in comparison to other recording formats and imagine the future of recording to digital disc (CDs became commercially available in 1982). Ultimately what shines through is a shared sense of wonderment in the artistic potential of recorded sound. The discussion begins with Furlong and Morrow comparing their approaches to producing cassette publications; in this interview, they consider the advantages of audio cassettes over video cassettes and go on to discuss the benefit of recorded sound for ‘continual reaccess to the material’. Since its inception in 1972, Audio Arts has grown to become the world’s most comprehensive and coherently focused sound archive of artists’ voices as well as sound art. We live in an era where we expect to be able to listen on demand, usually online. Is there still a market for an audio magazine in a physical format?
Written by Jack Maynard