Audio Visual – Cassette escapades

Well that was definitely an interesting session. We started out with watching a short film about solvent abuse called „Illusion”. The twist was that the commentary had been replaced with strange and noisy background music, which for the last two minutes turns into a beautifully calming ambient track that’s like something from a Trent Reznor soundtrack. I also adore those small voice samples that were used, and echo away.

Our task was to pick an object from the central table, take it apart, see how it works, and then try to make sounds with it in various ways, which will then be used as the soundtrack for the same film. I chose a cassette player, which had a tape full of classical music in it.


First, I connected it to a speaker using the jack port, then I unscrewed the back panel. There seem to be two main parts to this device: a mechanism that uses a small engine to spin the tape, and the motherboard which has the sound chip on it. I tried poking that chip in various places with the end of a screwdriver, and sure enough, the little metal parts sticking out produce sharp cracks when touched. I also attempted dragging my finger across those, and the result was a very high pitched sound, reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard.


I then put in the tape, and tried the same things. It resulted in the same sounds, except if I applied a bit too much pressure the audio from the tape would cut out, giving way to the noise. Slowing down or even temporarily stopping the tape by applying pressure to the little when that turns it also produced some great effects.

It was at this point that I got the idea to attach the tape-turning mechanism to the wheel of my skateboard, so when I roll on it the tape would advance slightly, thus producing sounds. I quickly ran into problems however. First off, the elastic band connecting the tape to the engine was way too short to reach the skateboard’s wheel, and all replacements I could find were too thick for the groove on the tape-wheel, so they easily came off. Things weren’t better on the other end either, since the band kept slipping off the skateboard wheel, mostly because the edge of the deck forced it to curve around a bit.

I tried solving the latter problem by adding a groove to the wheel made with a lot of tape. It didn’t work, even when said tape was on a few millimeters thick. The sideways force was just too much. I think the solution may be to find a way to position the tape player so it perfectly lines up with the wheel, thus only applying a straight force to the rubber band.

As for the elastic band being too thick, we got that sorted out. Someone suggested gluing a few coins to the wheel that turns the tape, and that did the trick.


We actually managed to get this thing working while rolling. It only lasted for a minute, and because the cassette player was on the wrong way the tape unraveled and got stuck, so we had to take off the tapes, and fix that. And then the rubber band we were using snapped, so we just gave up until next week.


Speaking of next week, we will be using cameras to make films and stuff. That got me thinking: would it be possible to also rig a camera on the board along with the tape player, and then hook both up to a small computer, like a Raspberry Pi on the underside of the deck. That way we could have someone skate around with the board, and they’d have a video of the ride with a custom soundtrack afterwards.

Of course I have no clue if that is feasible. Right off the bat I have a bunch of “is that possible?” questions:

  • What would be the optimal way to set up all this stuff without affecting the balance and stability of the board?
  • Can audio be recorded straight from the tape player, without using speakers, by connecting it to a computer using a 3.5mm jack?
  • Can video be streamed to a computer from a Canon camera in real time? Or if that’s not an option, then automatically copying the file after the recording has finished?
  • Can a Raspberry Pi even store that video and audio data? Raw media files are HUGE in terms of file size.
  • How would we turn both the tape player and the camera on at the same time so that the audio and video sync up?
  • Can two separate video and audio tracks be cut together and rendered automatically?Is a Raspberry Pi even strong enough for that?
  • How would we display the video? Would it require connecting a USB drive to the computer, or would it be possible to just transfer it over WiFi?

Putting all that aside for later, when I got back to my room I DID record some audio just using the tape player, and a headset. Then I put it under a degraded version of the Illusions video. I used an old Nokia C2 phone’s camera to record the short film playing on my monitor. Then I took that video file and decreased its saturation to give it an even lower quality feel. And finally I put my audio recording under it and rendered the final version. There is one scene (when the police car stops at the house, and the officer knocks on the door) when the sound really matches the video. I assure everyone that that was entirely accidental.

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