Recordings

Once when I was about 7 or 8 I set my alarm for right before 6:00 in the morning, to record the jingle that LG73 would put on the radio. I remember all the lyrics to the song, but I won't repeat them here. What I did, however, was put a tape recorder right next to the clock radio, and set it for recording. Then at 6, the jingle would come on, and I'd turn up the volume to a level that I thought the tape recorder right next to it would like and I'd start recording. Whatever possessed me to do that I'll never understand. But I thought the jingle was cool despite all the background noises on the recording: the echo of my room, the sound of me banging around, the hum of the tape mechanism, and the inherent loss of sound quality of a radio song coming from the single little speaker in my clock radio, being bombarded by moving air as it passes from the radio to the condenser microphone in the tape recorder.

Some years passed and I started learning more proper recording techniques, such as using a tape player that records straight from radio to tape, or using a tape deck that accepts line inputs from a record player. After experimentation came insane mastery. I would set a 33 record on 45, and a 45 on 78. The songs sounded so much more exciting that way. When we bought a dual-cassette recorder with double-speed recording, I figured out how to record the tape playing at double speed into another tape recorder. Now, double speed tapes didn't sound as good as records on higher speeds because the tape was too fast. It's like if I put a 33 record on 66, or a 45 on 90. I recall regretting that flaw in the dual-decks.

I later figured out how to alter the recording speeds on some cassette recorders. The one which I had in my room, I learned, could record at a slightly slower speed if I held down the fast-forward button and the record button at the same time. Hence, when the tape is played back at normal speed, the recording is slightly faster than usual.

When I liked a song that was in one of my videogames, I wanted to tape it. I had no idea how to record the music from my Gameboy; that had only a headphone jack. When I used several of my wires to run the headphone line from the Gameboy to the tape player, it always came out loud and distorted. When I first had my Turbo, I couldn't really record music at all. It only had RF outputs, and I didn't have a TurboBooster which gave A/V outputs. So, I connected my Turbo through my portable TV via the RF jack, and recorded the TV's audio from the headphone jack. It sounded, again, loud and distorted. I knew nothing of the comparative power differences between headphone jacks and standard RCA stereo jacks. Even less did I realize the sheer audio quality loss of having the Turbo output an RF signal, have the TV separate that signal back into video and audio components, and then record that onto tape.

I soon realized the importance of recording music using direct line inputs. I pumped the Turbo's (and other systems') music straight into the tape player. This was the best way to record.

Until I got my computer, I never really understood the differences between analogue and digital audio. Of course, everything we ever hear is in analogue form, but music gets ruined if we copy the analogue sound too many times. I would play with my sound sampler and a program that would record music directly onto a floppy disk as a sample. This was an autobooting disk, so you'd just pop the disk into your computer, and this sample would start playing, along with the waveform display and a scrolltext being shown on screen. The lower the sampling rate at which you'd record, the longer your recording could be. I drew a graph that showed the relationship between how high the sampling rate was and for how long you could record. (I now know, of course, exactly the relationship between frequency, disk space, and time, but back then, I was just fooling around.) I remember recording for some length LaTour's Blue and Enigma's Return to Innocence, on these disks. Not to mention hacking the scrolltext and customizing it to my likes: "Tom Henderson was chicken man. He had always been called....."

But I still didn't realize the quality loss that recording from a CD to a sound sampler, and then saving as a sample, entails. I never knew that a CD is one long 44Khz sample until later. It's all digital. Digital-to-digital is the only way to go. Of course, if there's absolutely no way of preserving the digital-ness of a sound, I'd still accept recording to tape.

The computers now are so good, they can emulate all those old video game systems nearly perfectly. I cried with joy when I learned that I could save audio samples from some of these emulators. Now I can have perfect renditions of those old video game songs, in 16-bit, CD-quality digitalness! This is like capturing the essence of sound, how air once vibrated through chords, strung catskin, wooden cores, grass reeds, forced through long pipes, through the palate and around the tongue, and made to vibrate in ripples of pressure, sinusoids of sound! I feel that I am capturing time here, on my computers. Encasing the living, analogue sound in digital amber. Trapping the chaotic, moving air in a vacuum of bytes, samples, and channels.


I still have it on tape.

--Fall 1997


Back