field recordings, cassetete tapes
Fragments of my sound diaries from 2012 make up the project titled with the same name. In that year, I recorded one cassette of memories per day, each side running at least 15 minutes long. Sometimes they would go longer, adding up to 30 minutes per side. I have been making field recordings since the late 80’s with a handheld cassette recorder. While I have previously recorded with no preconceived plan, in 2012, I did things rather differently.
When I first began using a cassette tape recorder thirty some odd years ago, I obsessed over finding something in utter darkness. I did not follow any particular direction or know where things would take me. It was as if I was drifting with the tides of a boundless ocean without a compass, letting my collection of recordings organically accumulate.
While continuing this for a decade or two, I had gained a reputation as a “cassette specialist,” and I had also begun to project this image onto myself. For better or worse, “cassette specialist” became my art practice. I mused on a whim what would happen if I carried out this specialization to extremity? What would happen if I changed my habits 180 degrees and begin making all decisions consciously?
Before the New Year of 2012, I purchased one whole year’s worth of cassette tapes online. It was a leap year so I bought a total of 365 tapes. There were still a few remaining cassette manufacturers at the time (and still there are…), but they would likely soon cease production after a decade or so. It is only a matter of time that the obsolete animal is expelled from the market.
In the last few decades, cassette tapes have significantly degraded in quality. High-fidelity metal, cobalt, and chrome tapes are no longer produced. Magnetic tape is made thinner and thinner, and so its frequency range has gotten narrower and narrower. The plastic cassette shells these days are made cheaply, and thus much more fragile than previous designs. None of these changes are good—they signify that the golden era of cassette tapes has sadly ended. I am aware that it would be difficult to create cassette-based work in the future.
I decided to color-coordinate the tapes and chose one color every two months—starting from light green, then wisteria violet, deep red, pure white, and finally bright yellow. I thought of On Kawara’s Date Paintings Today (1966–2013) as I dated each tape with a stamped, clear sticker. This was a new system for me, as previously I had always made a messy collage on my cassette surfaces with memos and notes, glued-on images and magazine cut-ups. I wanted to create a completely new aesthetics and the systematic order based on clear ideas.
During this project, I maintained a conventional notion of a diary—I would ask people around me what had happened on a certain day and try to depict the events as they had occurred. Many of the sounds I used were recognizable with a clear meaning attached. This was contrary to my natural preferences of making recordings that are more abstract and impressionistic. After devoting myself to this agenda for an entire year, I played back more than one hundred-hour’s worth of the recording from the beginning to end, then randomly selected several dozens of my favorite segments and sequenced them chronologically. The result had more of a documentary feel and a cinematic quality that allowed the listener to easily relate each sound to a visual scene.
Lastly, I would consider this project as an unorthodox, durational performance—a non-stop year of seamless actions. I was curious to see if, in the process, some sort of revelation about the essence of our lives could be found; to see if I could go deep into the microscopic details of daily life, then zoom out from the micro to macro to take on a bird’s-eye view. To be honest, I am not sure if this has been achieved or if I could get any closer to it. But at least I remember that I often felt excited over anticipating what I would hear next. This world is full of noises and there is almost never silence. It is thrilling to go on a non-stop adventure with the ears.
2013 Sonósferas at Fundación Teatro Odeón, Bogota, Columbia