While few people whisper about a tape resurgence, cassette culture has continued unabated through the digital age. As John Mathews writes, “the cassette (is) the cheapest and most versatile format for the counterculture.” Felix Kubin‘s box set is both testimony and testament, a wealth of history and a source of new sounds, all – strangely enough – in a CD box. But as the word “cassette” is derived from a term meaning “little box”, the presentation seems fitting. Chromdioxidgedächtnis is a love letter to the tape format, an expression of pure adoration. The set is comprehensive enough to appeal to every fan of the format, and original enough to draw the attention of the younger generation. To repeat a quote from 8-Track Mind, “Innovation alone will not replace beauty.”
Kubin is nothing if not thorough. Not only does the set include the charming essay, “Living in the Reel World: A Brief History of the Audio Cassette”, it also includes a friendly interview with former Philips employee Wim Langenhof (Side B of the cassette). An added appeal is that it’s not just an interview ~ it’s an interview augmented by tape manipulation. Side A is filled with “Sounds from the Archive”, a collection of Kubin outtakes, purposely rough and consistently endearing. These include snatches of melody (including one of my favorites, the baseline of Laid Back’s “White Horse”), splices of radio, voiceovers and quick cuts: an experimentalist at work, compiling a bank of sounds.
The set also contains a CD, tangentially related to the work of Kid Koala, in which the collages take on the form of musique concrète. This portion works as both aural fascination and musical piece, its only drawback for the English-speaking listener being the language barrier. Yet as the Langenhof interview is in English, the languages offset; Germans can claim the words on the disc as their own. This being said, the words are less important than the effect of the whole. The CD contains live and studio performances, featuring the additional contributions of Ninon Gloger (piano and samples) and Stephen Heather (percussion and effects). In these pieces, Kubin’s archive gets a workout; we learn that some of the samples were recorded directly from radio, while others were generated from household objects recorded by Kubin and his brother when both were children. This last fact is the most resonant, as those of us who are a little bit older remember our own experiments with cassette recordings: clumsy, energetic, innocent and pure. The very simplicity of such memories – “tape that, now play it back!” – lies at the heart of the format’s enduring emotional power. (Richard Allen)