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Cassette Recovery

23 Mar

candlestick script marlene - sony audio cassette tape
Today at work I had a minor Twitter triumph with a post about restoring audio tape by baking it in a convection oven. And while I didn’t have to do anything that advanced, I also successfully restored my first cassette at home this weekend.

I found this tape last time I was home in Sacramento, with “Candlestick Script Marlene” handwritten on it. Marlene is my mom’s name, so I was hoping it was something she recorded, maybe even with her voice on it. The tape had come off one of the reels, so I opened it up, Scotch taped it back on, and wound it back up.

Nothing earth-shattering on it, though. Just a collection of Benny Goodman songs. But maybe they were all my mom’s favorites, and maybe she would listen to it in her little Datsun, and that’s pretty cool.

The opening song, now a little warbled due to my shoddy handiwork:


Record Your Own Story Tape

14 Nov

record your own story cassette tape
While I was home in Sacramento, cleaning my old room and preparing to move, I found a shoe box labeled “jewelry + childhood.” It contained a handful of necklaces I’ve never worn, some drying up sparkly nail polish, and a stack of storybook cassette tapes. This one was the hidden gem.

My cousin Jojo and I recorded this probably around 1998, when I was 12 and he was 5, judging by our voices. My desire to document began at a young age!

jojo + elisa
The first part of the tape is a news show, in which we cover a recent flood and speak with a few survivors. If you listen to any of my “Phoning It In” episodes, you’ll notice that my interviewing skills have not improved. How twisted is it that we invented a character whose family died so he declines an interview?

I remember writing that song “Down in the Meadow” with Jojo — possibly the first songwriting experience for both of us. As I listened to it last month for the first time in probably 15 years, I could still remember the words.

In the final part, I’m pretty sure Jojo made up words to a song from Gradius III, our favorite SNES space fighter game. He sings another weird song by himself, and then I interview him and make some poop jokes. Golden.

Related Listening:

Kacapi Suling: Indonesian Flute & Strings

10 Sep

kacapi suling cinta
Among Indonesian musical styles, kacapi suling is the West Javanese antidote to Balinese gong kebyar. Instead of a lightning-paced metallic frenzy, it’s slow and soft with only the suling flute and kacapi zithers. The multi-layered melodies are still there, but there are few enough that your brain can actually wrap around it.

I found this CD at Long in the Tooth in Philadelphia and was excited because 1) it was only $1, and 2) it inclues multiple songs from the UC Davis Gamelan repertoire. Here’s a couple of my favorites:

This song “Kalangkang” was written by Pak Nano S, a famous Sundanese gamelan composer who blended traditional and contemporary pop styles. We were lucky enough at Davis to host him for a week; he sang along with us and made me feel pretty nervous to be on bonang.


This is listed in the liner notes as “Jeruk Manis” (which is also an excellent song; check out this funky version by the Acadia Gamelan Ensemble), but I’m pretty sure it’s “Lutung Bingung.” The intro gives me butterflies.


Pavement Live on KDVS

25 Aug

pavement kdvs cassette tape
When we recruit new DJs at KDVS, there’s a few things we tell them: DJ Shadow started out here. Blackalicious met here. Noam Chomsky was interviewed here. Pavement played their first show in studio here.

But it’s always been a bit of a thing of legend, because even if there was a reel-to-reel recording, it has long been missing. A couple of tracks from a listener recording surfaced last year on Youtube and then Pitchfork, but it seemed like the whole session was lost.

So imagine my surprise when the following occurred:

I was exchanging contact info with the web director of Smithsonian Folkways at the beginning of my internship, and he noted my 916 Sacramento number.

“That’s pretty close to Stockton, huh? I’m a huge fan of a band from there called Pavement,” he said.

“Oh yeah? This is debatable, but we like to say that at my college radio station…”

“KDVS?” [Surprise #1]

“Yeah! You know it?”

“Yeah, they played their first show there. I have it all on tape.” [Surprise #2] “I’ll make you a copy.” [Surprise #3]

Well, here it is: 46 minutes featuring Stephen Malkmus, Spiral Stairs and Gary Young on December 14, 1989, transferred from cassette to cassette, acquired in a tape trade in the ’90s. Download here.

And here’s a little preview of “Debris Slide” live followed by a pre-recorded “Box Elder” that they kind of played over:

Mi Llamo Craig

30 May

couch guy
Craig has been one of my best friends (whether or not he realized it) since we shared the misery of winter quarter 8 a.m. Friday discussion sections. We detoxed by flopping down on the couches at KDVS promptly at 9 a.m., listening to “Cool As Folk” and sleepily greeting Michael Leahy’s in-studio guests.

He’s a cassette collector like me, so when I last saw him he revealed a tape he found of himself practicing conversational Spanish with a classmate at age 15. In honor of Craig’s birthday today, here’s a little time/language warp:

Answering Machine Answers

14 May

panasonic answering machine
What can you tell about a person from the people who call him?

Today I paid $5 for this old Panasonic micro-cassette answering machine at Berda Paradise Thrift Store in Silver Lake to find out.

Paul Gray is a man who tunes pianos, lives in Echo Park with a 666 home phone number, stands up two women on a date, and supports his local credit union over a major international bank. Not a bad aural portrait painted.

Upon further investigation online, I also found out that Paul is a Registered Piano Technician and is USC and LACC’s official piano tuner. Ha!

answering machine microcasettes
Sidenote: I had ended up at the thrift store on a mission to find some silly sounds. I considered recording the shopkeeper and a customer who were chatting away, especially after the latter mentioned doing a photo shoot in a hot tub. Turns out it was Anna Maria Horsford from Friday and Friday After Next.

A Mother’s Day Message

12 May

mom and me
When I record people’s voices, it’s usually for the pure novelty and silliness of it. I’ve always enjoyed eavesdropping, and the pocket-sized ability to document little snippets of other people’s lives and replay them for my own amusement opened up a whole new world of audio voyeurism.

It’s more daunting to think about audio recording as a real preservation of voices. When my grandma was recovering from a stroke, my cousin and I decided we better take the opportunity to interview her while we still could. We set up a recorder and asked her about growing up in the Philippines, moving to America, and if she really thought Obama could win the 2008 election just because he’s handsome. She turned out to be fine.

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer not long after, I knew I should do an audio interview with her, too. I knew I should ask her about growing up in Okinawa, crying when she first rode a boat across the Pacific Ocean and saw that the Golden Gate Bridge was not actually gold, and raising my brother and me — all stories I know but wish I could hear again and again.

For two years while my mom was fighting sickness, undergoing chemotherapy and altering her diet, I knew I needed to record her, but I couldn’t. It meant it would be my last chance to ask her questions I always wanted to ask. It meant admitting to myself that, soon, she wouldn’t be around to tell me stories.

The last time I talked to my mom, it was a Gmail video chat while I was in Okinawa and she was home in Sacramento. It was a short conversation — the sun had just come out after days of rain, so I showed off my new Japanese haircut and told her I better go to take a walk. I couldn’t have known that was it.

That was three years ago. I’ve searched Google in hopes that they secretly archive video chats (they don’t). I’ve gone through old cassette tapes in case of some long-lost home recordings (none, yet).

Each Mother’s Day, I try to find something to put on this blog in memory of my mom, but the only audio I’ve dug up is this from our home answering machine:

So here’s the real Mother’s Day message: Don’t wait. Don’t wait until your mom is sick or it’s your last chance. Document her voice now, frequently, whenever she wants to tell you tales about her life. Get a voice recorder, download a phone app, or unearth your Walkman, because these are stories worth preserving.

It’s nice to think you can rely on your memory of a person and everything they’ve ever told you, but, even if you can, it would be comforting to have some audio memories backed up.