Three mixtapes

How to Remember

“Somebody loan me a dime. . .”—Boz Scaggs

The Museum of Obsolete Media has some rankings of germane media that are worth pondering.

There are the Media Stability Ratings for various types of audio formats. The ratings are from one to five with the assessments:

  1. Stable
  2. Low Risk
  3. Moderate Risk
  4. High Risk
  5. Very High Risk

So, for example, the acetate/lacquer discs that were used for recordings starting in the 1920s rate a 5. It isn’t simply age that matters: 10-inch 78 rpm records that were in production from 1901 to 1960 are ranked 1.

The 12-inch LP format that we are all more familiar with is also at 1.

Compact cassettes and 8-track tapes are both rated 4. Audio CDs are at 2.

If you have concerts or movies in VHS or Betamax formats, good luck: they are both at 4, High Risk.

The curators have also devised Obsolescence Ratings. This goes to the point of whether there are the means by which the media can be played.

Again, similar rankings:

  1. In current use or low risk
  2. Vulnerable, or some risk
  3. Threatened, or moderate risk
  4. Endangered, or high risk
  5. Extinct, or very high risk

Perhaps it is the addition of works to the descriptions, but these seem more ominous than the Media Stability Ratings.

So the relevant media:

  • Vinyl LPs: 1
  • Compact cassettes: 2
  • 8-track tapes: 3
  • CDs: 1

(And for the sake of those wondering: VHS bests Betamax once again, ranking 2 and 3, respectively. The tapes may both fall apart at the same time, but if you’ve had the opportunity to hang on to some good ones, the issue is accessing a player.)

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According to Spotify, there are more than 100,000,000 songs on the platform. While there are some other large numbers that are said to be how many additional tracks are added daily or weekly (60,000? 100,000?), the 100 million number is good for purposes of context.

Let’s say that the average length of any given song is 4 minutes. So this means that there are 400 million minutes of music on Spotify. That’s 6,666,667 hours. 277,778 days. 761 years.

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Let’s say that when you were in college you and your, as Boz Scaggs described it, “old time, used to be” made a mad fling and traveled to Europe. While staying in Paris you decided to take a day trip to Epernay, to splash out large and to tour Moët & Chandon.

You opted for “The Imperial Moment” directed wander through the once-monastic cellars, and the price of admission included two glasses of the good stuff. The really good stuff.

It was rather silly, but you both were having a wonderful time.

Once your visit ended you found that the next train back to Gare de l’Est wasn’t leaving for a couple of hours, so you went to the outdoor café at Epernay station and ordered a bottle of Moët. Not the good stuff. But the more than good enough stuff.

And you slipped the cork into your pocket.

Years later, you find the cork in a box along with some papers from your past.

And that physical object makes you think about your old time, used to be in a way that brings back that day with its joy and its subsequent heartache.

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When I was in college my roommate studied Earth Science. While I’ve lost track of him, I always thought that even though it was a science, his job prospects were probably not much better than my pursuit of linguistics (yes, we claim that it is a science too, but that’s really a definitional squint).

He used to spend weekends collecting rocks, which he would deposit around the apartment. For the most part, these rocks were not the sorts of things that you sometimes see with remarkable, colorful crystals and such.

They looked like rocks.

One type was particularly interesting: sedimentary rocks. Thin layer over layer over layer. Millions of years. (“Lithification,” my roommate told me.)

And while those songs on Spotify are virtual and accessible in a way that getting to one of the central layers of a laminated limestone isn’t (well, you can break it, but. . . ), isn’t it the case that the earlier ones may be mentally covered with sediment and unlikely to be brought to the surface?

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In the box with the cork you find something else.

A mix tape. Maybe you received it. Maybe you made it and never delivered it. Maybe you made it and you, painfully, got it back (painfully both emotionally and physically because the return involved throwing).

The Museum of Obsolete Media has it as being at High Risk in its Media Stability Ratings.

I’d put it at Music You May Have Forgotten But Will No Longer Forget.

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