Oh, the videotape! Older people can still remember what a big thing this was, back in the day. For the first time, one could tape programs or record home movies at ease, and with TWO players, one could mix and match. VHS won their battle with Beta, and soon Blockbuster movie outlets were popping up everywhere. Today this all seems quaint. Few people still own a VHS or VCR, as DVDs and streaming have replaced them in one arena and cellphones in another. These cassettes also tend to degrade, as tape hiss rises and magnetism warbles. I still own two of these tapes, but only for sentimental purposes; I have nothing to play them on.
In the musical arena, far more attention has been paid to the audio cassette as a means of sonic manipulation. Andrea Borghi‘s experiments are a welcome change in that they inspire a different sort of nostalgia, but also a different cluster of sounds. Even the insertion of the plastic rectangle and the clicking of playback are deeper as they come from a larger machine. Borghi combines the sounds of the mechanism with mangled tape samples ~ a snippet of dialogue here, a persistent wind there. Unlike others who work with old movies, he resists the hauntological angle in order to concentrate on the intricate crunch and drone. The result is an electro-acoustic soundscape tangentially related to field recordings; the jackhammer and yelling at the opening of the sixth track remind us of Borghi’s ritualistic, fire-based Fuochi Rituali di San Giuseppe (2016). But as the hums and whirrs take over, we remember the machine, more specifically what it felt like to have a tape die and be stuck within the machine and to wonder if we would receive an electric shock should we decide to shove a screwdriver in the port. The cover indicates that Borghi takes it a step further, lending dignity to an oft-maligned format.
One of the odd quirks of the mind is that we are glad to read that the samples are from “obscure and underground cinema.” The irony is that otherwise, we would never know. We’re unlikely to exclaim, “I recognize that trickle from River’s Edge or that drill from Pi.” Borghi’s taste becomes a selling point, despite operating independently from the presentation. Ironically, and perhaps purposefully, we now have an underground album to celebrate, although our wish is that the work not remain obscure; this engaging mélange represents the recovery of a discarded object as an objet d’art. (Richard Allen)