When I was a student I read an article which was really inspiring at the time. It described the creative process of a sound designer process at the beginning of a project - using his hands to manipulate tape over the playheads as a way of generating unique source material. Then at the end of the project he'd burn everything. As I was reading lots back then I forgot where to find it, but recently explained the article to a friend who knew exactly where it was. The article was from Soundscape: the school of sound lectures, and it was an interview with Walter Murch talking about Frank Warner. You can read it here, it's at the bottom of page 101-102.

Does anyone still use tape in this way, or have any other interesting uses for it? I've been thinking about buying a second hand revox or similar, but am not sure which to get.. any thoughts on this?

I still try to have a stage at the beginning of each new project of just gathering material without putting anything on the timeline, but my whole process is very computer based. I mean I spend time recording or sourcing sounds from libraries and then manipulate then with a computer. What I'm really after are other options for physical control of sound, particularly any that don't involve a screen, and feel more responsive/involving than controlling stuff with midi.

Any thoughts welcomed.

EDIT: I'm kind of surprised that no one has been interested in this so far, I'm certainly not suggesting that it's a good idea to throw protools in the bin or anything like that. More just that sometimes old technology does interesting things that new technology doesn't. As someone who has never had to use tape as a necessity perhaps I'm over romaticising it, but I'm interested to hear from people who did use tape when it was around.

  • I read that same piece this year too. Very inspiring stuff, particularly all the discussion of Orson Welles recognition of the importance of sound in a film - the man's legacy never ceases to amaze! – Brendan Rehill Mar 9 '12 at 18:31

I used tape when I first started as a sound engineer, and learned to edit on Studers. For those of us old enough to remember, tape was costly and a tricky medium. Machines had to be calibrated before use, and you would have to be careful not to pass the tape over the heads too often, or you would scrape off too much oxide and make everything sound dull. We also had print through problems as well as crosstalk, over saturation, high noise levels, wow and flutter etc.

Now magnetic tape is just another prop, just like everything else that can make a noise, which is great.

If you really want to try something fun with tape try emulating Laurie Anderson's tape bow violin. You don't need the violin, but the bow is useful, as you can overstretch the tape and pass it over the tape head while it's still attached to the recorder. If you do this, remember to clean the heads regularly so that you don't damage them.

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  • Thanks for the thoughts Iain, I really love the tape bow violin idea. Makes me wonder if you could reverse the idea and make the tape heads themselves handheld? How about covering a square surface with tape and running the tape head over it by hand? – Mark Durham Mar 15 '12 at 21:21
  • Reversing the idea also works youtube.com/watch?v=abd_2dVdkvI – user80 Mar 16 '12 at 5:57

The first recordings I ever did were with a Nagra borrowed from Film School, and I still have a hankering to own one now - just waiting for a good model to come up for sale locally as they weigh a lot to ship internationally... Even the most basic processing was worth doing eg we always recorded at 15ips, but when transferring into the computer would do it at 15ips, then 7.5ips and 3.75 ips - it does very interesting things to the attack & 'ooompf' of sounds without any of the grain that becomes apparent in digital processing....

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  • Yeah, perhaps a Nagra is the best buy. At least it's portable then too. I'd love to hear a comparison of tape based pitch shifting if anyone knows of one online? – Mark Durham Mar 15 '12 at 21:25

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