Phil Gyford


Tuesday 1 June 2004

PreviousIndexNext Less metadata, more music

I can recommend throwing away your To Do list, especially if its list of dull chores hasn’t changed in a couple of years. But I can also recommend leaving one item on your To Do list; that big but fun task you’ve been saving for when all the dull tasks are completed.

I recently, finally, finished MP3ing nearly 15 years worth of music taped off the radio, and now have a completely empty To Do list (well, allowing for considerable artistic licence). Over the years I filled 24 tapes with music, mostly recorded from John Peel and Mark Radcliffe shows, a practice which slowed then stopped when downloading replaced taping and iPods replaced my Walkmans.

I ended up buying many of those taped tunes again on CD, and downloaded a few more, but that still left a long list of session tracks which I’d never find elsewhere. So spending hours hunched over a cassette deck and Amadeus was the only solution. I’ve now emerged from these evenings of recording and tagging, metaphorically clutching 19 hours of music, some of which isn’t Britpop.

The move from analogue to digital means I’ve lost some information. Not sound quality; my cloth ears barely notice and much of the material isn’t quite high fidelity in the first place. It’s the metadata that gets lost. Just as Nicholson Baker decries the replacement of paper by facsimilies, the transfer to MP3 results in a more mechanical experience. I’ll no longer refer to the scrawled cassette inlays of band names, songs, dates and indecipherable notes, and I’m not going to think “Ooh, tape 4, that’s a good one, I’ll listen to that,” when I can now cut, filter and randomise my entire music collection any way I choose.

Of course, there are similar complaints every time we move to the next new format of the future. Records are nothing like live music. CD inlays don’t have the romance of 12 inch sleeves. MP3s can’t be fetishised like real objects with their pictures and fragility.

But each change has its benefits. Rather than being relegated to a dusty box under my bed, more than a decade of my favourite music has a new life. I can start listening to it again, remembering, just as I did when the music was on stretchy, snappable tape, the places I’ve heard it in the past: Listening to a That Dog session while walking to Temple Meads station; Belle and Sebastian while heading to my first job; Nick Drake in a park in Alabama. While some of it’s forgettable mid-90s jangly guitars, there are wonderful moments that I’ll now hear more often: Pulp and PJ Harvey at Glastonbury, where I wish I’d been in 1995; Nick Cave’s relentless three-part murder spree in O’Malley’s Bar; Baby Bird and Kenickie, a year apart, cracking up mid-song like Elvis; and, as they say, much, much more. Now I just have to start putting things back on the To Do list.


Hey Phil

Interesting post - I too miss the days of religously recording certain radio shows and cataloging all the tapes and creating the inlays. What else is different now, which on the face of it seems a good thing but I am not so sure is the massive increase in available radio shows, I can listen to nearly any BBC show anytime I like, but where do i get the time to do so!!

btw - are you sharing any of these mp3s on some kind of p2p thing? (I'm juniorbonner on Soulseek)

happy listening

Posted by juniorbonner on 3 June 2004, 8:15 pm | Link

Revealing post - Consensus in the office appeared to be:- What we got on vinyl stays on vinyl, what we got on cassette stays on cassette, likewise for CD and MP3. Roll on the next format.

The only jukebox that matters is the jukebox in my head.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 3 June 2004, 11:36 pm | Link

I've always thought there's a business for someone who wants to transfer whole collections of vinyl to MP3. Come round in a van, collect collection, check which ones you've digitised in the past so have 'in stock', then pass the rest to a distributed army of students with appropriate kit - remembering to keep any new recordings for your stock, thus reducing work for next transfer. Hmm.

But how do you get your cassettes transferred with any quality? I tried to transfer a pretty good BBC cassette of Under Milk Wood the other day and the noise on the resulting aiff file was so horrible I could barely listen. I used the Griffin iMic thingie plugged into my Powerbook and Griffin's Final Vinyl app to do the recording. What's your secret?

Posted by Steve Bowbrick on 8 July 2004, 5:15 pm | Link

I just plugged a cable from the cassette deck's phono out sockets into my PowerBook's microphone socket. Recorded with Amadeus, and didn't really have a problem with noise. I think it's quite a good (if old) cassette deck and I probably had Dolby switched on which helped.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 8 July 2004, 5:48 pm | Link

Kinda slowly jumping into the conversation, but anyway - concerning the last posts: The Griffin Final Vinyl seems to be a disaster and a waste of time, even the never versions. Powerbook + Amadeus is the way to go, and nicely enough the new Macbook has a line in -port, which the iBook didn't, so it should be every bit as good as the PB. The quality then depends on how good your analogue playback device is.

Phils motives and experience sounds very familiar. My collection was 115 tapes... plus the bootlegs of family life on uncounted microcassette tapes. Interestingly enough the audio quality will be somewhat better than the original rather than the other way around. The remaining problem or limitation is how to attach metadata in a useful and secure way. The possibility to add que marks to MP3s would also help. Ah, what.

Posted by Mathias Luther on 1 August 2006, 10:02 am | Link

Hi there. I have a cassette recording of Pulp live @ Glastonbury from 1995 and I would love to have this recording on a cd or mp3 format. Is there any chance you can help me out?

Posted by Katherine on 10 March 2007, 12:13 pm | Link

Commenting is disabled on posts once they’re 30 days old.

Some sites linking to this entry (Trackbacks)

Unconnected MP3 thoughts
The esteemed Phil Gyford just digitised a decade-and-a-half of radio recordings from audio cassette. That sounds like a public service...
At 'bowblog' on Friday 9 July 2004, 6:05 PM