Monday, January 16, 2017

Cassette tapes and other innovations.

Rummaging through a cabinet yesterday, I found a cassette tape of the Moody Blues' "On the Threshold of a Dream," an album I found both musically brilliant and romantic at the time of its release. Forty-five years later, it seems to have less of both qualities.

But, as I played the tape on a stereo we've had for years, I realized how many musical recording formats I've lived through and used. The cassette tape was a copy of the LP album I had bought while in college. I continued to buy LPs and play them on the stereo I sank what seemed at the time a small fortune on. When I added a cassette player to the system, I began copying the LPs, which would sometimes get scratched, no matter how careful and protective I was.

When car stereos became practical and I added a cassette player to the small station wagon we bought in 1983, I thought I had reached music listening perfection. No longer would I have to search the radio dial on long road trips. I could take my music with me.

About three or four cassette player/recorders into this era, everyone began switching to CDs. I was skeptical at first, partly because of the cost, compared to cassettes or LPs. But a Christmas gift from my sister about 25 years ago pushed me into the CD world. I now own bunches of CDs — between 100 and 200, I would guess, without taking an inventory. The CDs, tucked into a CD wallet, were easier to carry, and we eventually graduated to a car with a CD player sometime after the turn of the millennium. For 10 years, we owned a car with both a cassette and a CD player, all in one unit.

Then came digital music. An early Apple user, I quickly added iTunes to my collection, playing music on my computer and streaming it to my stereo via WiFi. The next step was digital in the car, which we achieved by loading an iPod with music and connecting it to the car stereo. That connection was the primary reason I wanted to trade my 12-year-old but still reliable coupe for a new car with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Now I carry 1,129 songs on a device half the size of one cassette tape, and I can scroll through the music and find the song I want (though it's best to have a passenger do the scrolling if you are under way).

I cannot help being astounded at how far recorded music has advanced in less than 50 years, and how easily I have sailed along through it all. At least I missed the 8-track era, but only because I could not afford those tapes and the cars that went with them.

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