The digital submission was sitting in the in-box, but I had already ordered the cassette. “Wait for the tape!” implored Jordskred’s Louis Reith. And he was right. Revox Tapes is a tape about tapes; to listen to this release in any other fashion seems improper.
Revox Tapes is also a comeback of sorts for Wim Maesschalck (Wixel), who’s been on a small break following a flurry of activity in 2009, when he released a disc every month for a year. We were worried that he might have burned himself out, but this wasn’t the case; instead, better things arrived with a wedding and baby. (Congratulations Wim!) This life change makes Wixel’s own Slaapwel label an unintentionally fitting match, as most children need a little bit of help to fall asleep. (On a personal note, my own 18-month old nephew has responded beautifully to Wixel’s Clouds.) At one time, the label even held a series of overnight concerts, complete with beds ~ pretty much the coolest idea ever.
So can one fall asleep to Revox Tapes? Possibly ~ but the cassette is better described as landing halfway between Wixel’s more immediate projects and his Slaapwel roster. It’s gentle and soothing, but active, with acoustic guitar underpinnings and light electronic glitch. In other words, it’s not a tape to put folks to sleep, but a tape that won’t wake the baby. Even the children playing on Side A seem to be respectful of the need for restraint.
The project began when Wixel’s wife found “a dusty old Revox B77 tape recorder” and the artist began to use it to record music. But then the machine caught on fire! (Better check those vintage machines, folks.) Fortunately some segments of sound were preserved, which became the basis of this recording. As such, Revox Tapes represents both nostalgia and preservation in a way that many recordings do not. It’s not just an image of memory, but memory itself. Becoming a parent connects past to present with vivid imagery: all of a sudden, we are no longer just parents, but children again, digging in crates, recording on dusty devices, making mistakes, letting them go. Revox Tapes says, I remember.
If the recording sounds less crisp than a digital copy, it’s also more authentic. What track are we on? ~ I don’t know. And that’s the beauty of the experience. It’s not about tracks, not about the value of any specific passage, not about any potential single. When the music begins to warp on Side B, one doesn’t know (at first, at least) if the warp is intentional or even if it is a flaw in our own tape deck. The listener forges a connection to the artist through the act of playing the tape. Cassettes are fragile, and so is life. We hear Wixel puttering around a bit on the second side, even as traffic passes nearby: an exquisitely personal juxtaposition. Perhaps most lovely is the pop at the end of Side B, as if the artist had been recording a tape over a tape, and had been unable to erase that final note. Those who have experienced such a dilemma remember the feeling: it’s not perfect, but it will have to be good enough. And so it is. The unwanted sound, in the hands of someone else, has become something to cherish. Would this sound the same in digital form? No, and that’s the point. The digital form will sound the same each time, while the magnetized ribbon may not, ephemeral as music and memory and all the more precious as a result. (Richard Allen)