Cassette tape inventor Lou Ottens dies

Audio cassette tape inventor Lou Ottens dies aged 94.

Cassette MicroArts-tw2.jpg
Micro Arts MA2 Data cassette

Micro Arts distributed computer art via data cassettes, which were ordinary audio tapes with data bits recorded on them as sound (familiar amongst older readers as the screechy sound made by old modems). These were professionally copied on short (5 minute) tapes, then printed inserts added, with information about the contents.

The cassette was developed by Lou Ottens at Philips and released in 1963. It was a huge popular success compared to high-end reel tape, although at a lower quality, a bit like MP3 encoding of audio files. Huge increase in portability and much lower costs.

Led to proliferation of cassette decks of all qualities from small portables (Walkman etc.) to hifi separates with excellent sound. Music fans often bought a vinyl LP, recorded to cassette, then stored the LP and used the tape for play. Could also be used in the car.

100 billion cassettes made since the 1960s. Not very sustainable!

They are having a revival in the indie music scene (eg Bandcamp, SoundCloud) as a physical format to go with a download, as much cheaper than a vinyl LP, and easier to make in small, even hand made, runs.

There was a big cassette bootleg culture, as well as friends copying LPs, and mix tapes, which led to the music industry’s promotion of the Home Taping is Killing Music campaign – of course the opposite was true.

Pete Shelley XL1 computer art with music Buzzcocks

Pete Shelley, the Buzzcocks founder and writer, went solo and produced records such as Homosapien (banned by the BBC). It makes you wonder what the BBC is banning nowadays, for our own good, supposedly.

It seemed a good idea to make a ZX Spectrum lyrics/graphics piece for the LP (coded by friend Joey Headen). The computer program code was recorded on the 1983 Genetic/Island vinyl LP. This created lyrics and visuals. It was coded for an Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48k, issue 3).

This video has the album with the computer graphics and lyrics.