Curatorial Challenges of the Cassette Culture Revolution
Until just over a decade ago, the cassette tape was one of the most popular mediums for prerecorded music. In the West, it was the dominant format of the 1980s, until the shift to compact discs in the mid-1990s; in the developing world, cassettes clung to preeminence for another decade. Perhaps spurred by the resurgence of the phonograph record, cassette tapes have also seen a minor reinvention as a niche format for new, experimental and re-released music. The ease of which tape duplicators can be acquired, and the relative low cost of blank media that is otherwise considered obsolete, means that cassette tapes have become an optimal choice for independent labels and D.I.Y. artists to physically distribute music; a 2009 article on Rhizome.org identified no less than 101 active, contemporary cassette labels. More recently, major labels have started to partner with indie labels to license major-label releases on limited edition cassettes. This poster addresses the cultural factors that led to the cassette tape’s resurrection, but will also discuss collection development challenges presented by such a revival. Librarians and archivists actively curating collections that include cassette tapes will have to cope with the medium’s usual preservation challenges; however, since most modern cassettes are often produced in extremely limited quantities (in some cases with unique artwork) and sold through the internet or merchandise tables at concerts, curators will also need to deal with the added difficulty of acquiring and describing a music format that is as impermanent (and, in some cases, as disposable) as other ephemeral artifacts.
cassettes; cassette tapes; popular music