Kickstart This! – Zack Taylor and Seth Smoot’s Audio Tape Comeback Chronicle “Cassette”

Two documentary photographers (and music fans) capture the unlikely revival of the audio tape with their new documentary currently raising funds on Kickstarter....Read More

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When Zack Taylor was growing up in the ‘80s with his four siblings, there was always music passing through the house, yet no guitars or drums were involved.   

“I’ve been in love with music ever since I can remember, but never had the motivation to master any instrument, so creating my own tapes was the closest thing I had to producing music of my own,” said Taylor. “If you look at the process of making tapes, it is still much closer to the feeling of making music than burning a CD or compiling a playlist. With a tape, you have to make it in real time, keeping an eye on the levels, the duration of each side, and so on.” 

Since then, Taylor has gone one step further, collaborating with fellow photographer Seth Smoot on what will be their feature debut “Cassette: A Documentary” a movie currently raising funds on Kickstarter before a January 28th deadline. Ironically, it was the digital evolution of digital cameras that has made their first film possible, yet the friends’ shared love of TDKs and BASFs was what inspired it since as Taylor notes, “Regardless of changing technologies, we never considered them to be obsolete, but rather vital to the history of pop music.”

Just as VHS and vinyl have experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years, Taylor and Smoot have taken it upon themselves to chronicle the comeback of the audio tape, the versatile and tangible recording medium that has found a second life among indie labels and more surprisingly in places such as Zimbabwe, where the costs of pirated CDs have made the format preferred both by legitimate distributors and consumers. In the coming months, Smoot and Taylor have plans to travel to Africa, but already “Cassette” has been an international affair since the filmmakers have been working from different continents – Smoot being in New York where the mixtape has long been a crucial part of the hip-hop scene and Taylor in England, where he’s been conducting interviews while finishing up his master’s degree.

“I also just got back from Poland, where I interviewed an artist/documentarian who made several cassette recordings of local traditional music there in the early '80's,” reports Taylor, who will join Smoot back in the States soon to start working on the project in earnest. “The musicians he recorded were all quite old, and much of their music passed on with them, so his tapes are now among very few surviving documents of this specific traditional music.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t an anomaly and as Taylor adds, “So many forms of music — whether its '80's underground post-punk, hip-hop [and various] singer-songwriter[s] — were born because of the little red record button on the tape deck.” The film will not only unearth many lost gems, but also cover some well-known albums that were initially recorded on cassette before they were remastered as well as visiting some of the manufacturers and recording labels that birthed them.

Naturally, “Cassette” looks to have an incredible soundtrack, evident already from the score for the trailer that was provided by Damien Jurado, David Bazan and The Crocodiles and should the Kickstarter campaign be successful, the film will most likely hit the festival circuit in 2013, though Taylor insists both the film and his enthusiasm for it will not be deterred in the event that it isn’t. 

“I look forward to getting a wider audience excited about the tape again,” said Taylor. “And to question the idea that easier technology means better technology.” 

To back this project and to see the trailer for “Cassette,” visit its Kickstarter page here. And follow the film’s progress on its official site.

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  • eddie stern
    6 June 2012 at 11:24 am -
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