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Tape: Or, Rewinding the Phonographic Regime

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2017


Magnetic tape follows the contours of the twentieth century in striking ways, from the overtly sonic and musical to less obvious political and social transformations. This introductory article sets the tone for this special issue, an effort to connect discrete histories of tape through a focus on its materialities. We posit the existence of a phonographic regime that coheres around a loose set of assumptions that often appear in tandem with broad claims about what ‘sound recording’ or even ‘analogue media’ are. This regime dates back to the invention of phonography but persists through many contemporary histories of sound recording. We challenge the regime by thinking with and through tape recording. One of tape's critical media operations, ‘rewind’, serves as a central focus for our push-back against the regime. As a button-interface, it highlights the physical engagement of humans with materialities, including the corporal labours of using technology, with iconography that digital technologies still employ. As a mechanism of respooling, it points to the industrial histories of various spooling forerunners from textiles to film reels. As we explore its cultural techniques in musical practices, we consider rewind, above all, as a temporal gesture that offers new paths backward into history.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press, 2017 

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We are thankful for comments by and conversations with Brigid Cohen, Michael Heller, Julian Johnson, Clara Latham, John Durham Peters, Alice Shields, Jason Stanyek, Jonathan Sterne, and Benjamin Tausig, as well as the collaboration with the contributors to this special issue.


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