I’ve long been wary of “advances” in technology and of “progress” in general. Introducing hedgehogs to the Hebrides thirty years ago to control slugs was a great idea – until they starting wiping out the ground nesting birds. Remember the ‘paperless office’? That was a good idea…
As V. Vale said in “Incredibly Strange Music Vol. 1”, “vinyl is archival – not cds”. You can buy an LP or 45 rpm single, play it once, stick it on a shelf and it will play just as well 20, 30, 50 years later. I had copies of Mel Blanc’s “I Tawt I Taw A Puddytat” and Phil Harris’ “The Thing” on 78rpm shellac until recently, pressed well over 40 years ago and playing fine. In contrast, we’ve already seen the first generation of compact discs decaying after 10 years and we don’t know how long the current ‘improved’ stock will last.
What about cassette tapes? I have home-taped stuff going back to the late ’80s which plays as well as any C90 ever played. But how long will they last? I got to thinking about this after reading Martin’s comments on the pre-web tape underground of the ’80s and early ’90s. And lo and behold a reference arose before me as if by synchronous magic.
BBC Radio 4 broadcast a repeat of “Mother’s Mountain” today, with a sequel next Friday, the story of a mountaineer who died on K2 in 1986, which includes lengthy extracts from a cassette of her audio diaries which were lost on a glacier in ’82 and only rediscovered in 2003. And the tape played perfectly. This may be an indicator of how rugged cassette tapes are, or perhaps only in certain conditions of extreme cold and possibly moisture. Still damned impressive, and the programme itself is very moving.