Monday, March 13, 2017

Audio Cassette tapes - now only memories!

In the 1980s and 90s when we so dearly recorded, collected, protected and stored cassette tapes, we did not imagine them being forced to extinction only 20-30 years later.  Millions have done that globally and built cassette libraries in their homes containing rare audios, music and whatnot. Computers are doing everything now.  So what did the geeks do to soothe the worries and save those audios trapped in cassettes for 'eternity'? They found out ways of converting those golden possessions into digital formats like MP3, etc. In other words, 'digitizing', using computers.

My music collection - mainly of old Hindi and Kannada movie songs.  All of them were selected and got recorded, paying a fee of Rupees twenty for each cassette, almost the same as the cost of the cassette.  

Music and song clips from movies are available on the Web but none can recreate the original golden memories of relatives and kids whose voices in speech or song were recorded on 'magnetic tapes' housed in cassettes. The main danger is of the record players going into oblivion faster than the tapes themselves. Manufacture of cassette players and spare parts have stopped already.

Now the only option left for those who want to preserve their beloved audios is to 'digitize', sooner than later.  If the cassette player/recorder stops working, it is the end of it due to danger of non-availability of spares.

Even a decade ago people had started to digitize tapes, but due to software cumbersomeness many could not do it easily.   Magnetic tapes have a life and if we keep them beyond their time, we may not be able to reproduce the sound at all.  Luckily, I have my dear cassette player whose 'playing head' is still in order. I replaced the rubber belt of the motor myself. It had gone brittle over time and being idled. I was able to digitize some of my rare tapes.  How did this start off? 

One day I was having an informal chat with my friend Krishna Rao who was heading the computer section [at the workplace].   A computer geek - because he was the first one in the early 80s to get trained in 'computers'.  Having known my interests he raised the subject of digitizing old audios.  He was in delight telling me how he had digitized his mother's songs in her own voice from two very rare and special wax-coated gramophone plates, which have been saved by him with great effort.  They were recorded in 1953.

Rao then introduced me to a user-friendly software called 'Audacity' [click], a downloadable freeware to digitize audio to MP3, etc.  On first look, it looks complicated, but with a bit of guidance which is also available on the web, one can do it quite easily.  For me, Krishna Rao provided that initially.  In fact, he digitized one cassette tape containing the only recording of my late aunt playing on the Veena [stringed musical instrument].  She was a good artiste.  Later, I was able to digitize using 'Audacity' a few rarest sounds of my tiny tots from cassette tapes. 

So let's get going!

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