In this blog entry I will focus on a paper published at the 20th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression in 2020 . The article is called “ParaSampling: A Musical Instrument with Handheld Tapehead Interfaces for Impromptu Recording and Playing on a Magnetic Tape”. I have chosen this paper, because it relates to my individual project research and might also serve as a source of inspiration.
ParaSampling is an interactive musical instrument based on magnetic tape technology that allows for the physical performance of various musical expressions through improvisational recording and reproduction techniques. The device consists of a reel-to-reel tape deck rotating a tape loop, as well as 3 handheld modules, each specialized for one of the following functions: record, play, and erase. The playback module is a tape head running through an amplifier, while the erase module is simply a permanent magnet attached to a stand. The record module is based on a wire recorder kit published in a Japanese magazine called “Otona no Kagaku” and incorporates a circuit that allows for the recording of voice or ambient sounds onto the tape via an embedded microphone. The tape loop is 95.3cm long and has a duration of about 20 seconds if played at normal speed (4.76cm/second), but by altering the velocity of the stepping motor, pitch and time can be also adjusted.
I find the idea of the handheld tape-head-modules very advantageous, as they allow for so much flexibility and open up many opportunities that mechanically would have been a lot more difficult to achieve. For example “by physically changing the positions of the devices, one can perform various musical expressions by varying the tempo of the sound.” (Joung Min and Yasuaki, 2020). Additionally, there is a possibility to slide the record or play heads along the tape while recording or listening back, which could also result in some really interesting effects. Besides all that, having a play, record and erase head, ParaSampling is also capable of all the basic operations such as delay or looping, but contrary to ordinary tape machines, its delay time is not limited by a fixed distance between the record and playback heads.
I think this project is also very educational because it literally lets users think outside the box. Usually there is a tendency to design products more compact and with hidden parts, but this leads to the fact that no one really understands what things are made of and how they actually operate. That was the case with tape as well, especially after the arrival of the compact cassette.
It is good to see that the age of Musique Concrète is not over yet and people still find ways to bring tape back to life again.
Han, Joung Min, & Kakehi, Yasuaki. (2020). ParaSampling: A Musical Instrument with Handheld Tapehead Interfaces for Impromptu Recording and Playing on a Magnetic Tape. Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, 543–544. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4813178