Tape-Sponding

Many tape recording club members also belonged to ‘tape-sponding’ circles or triangles. The term ‘tape-sponding’ means, quite literally, correspondence by tape. As tape recorders became more widely available there developed a trend for communication by tape. Special 3″ reels were produced with designs that featured slogans like ‘Links Absent Friends’ or ‘Voice Letter’. They included space for an address and a stamp on the box like a postcard. It was an excellent way for families and friends separated by great distances to keep in touch. These ‘letters on tape’ were sent all over the world. There is something far more personal about hearing the actual voices of loved ones, the subtle nuances, inflections and idiosyncrasies of the voice that a pen and paper couldn’t begin to emulate. For a time there were also ‘tape-sponding’ clubs – people who had never met would record messages to each other sending them around the country like pen-pals. Sometimes these tapes would be sent around a circle, each person adding their message as the tape was passed along.

Since the first tape message I discovered at Paddies Market twenty years ago I have been collecting these found recordings and incorporating them into my own compositions.


Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)

Framework Seasonal: Issue #5 Summer 2013

The summer 2013 edition of the Framework seasonal CD series is a compilation of location recordings from East Midlands tape recording clubs edited and compiled by Mark Vernon. This collection is a follow up to a radio show by the same name produced for Framework:afield in 2012.

The CD is available for a €20 donation. All proceeds go towards the running and upkeep of Framework. Click here to order a copy.


Reviews:

“An audio periodical accompanying the Framework radio show, this issue compiled by Mr Vernon and subtitled ‘Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)’. On it, we have an outline of an unusual UK phenomenon from a time when enthused amateurs would make their own tape recordings, armed with portable battery-operated tape recorders, and did it in a semi-organised way by joining local “tape clubs”. Two such clubs – I had no idea these things even existed – are represented here, the Leicester Tape Recording Club and the Derby Tape Recording Club, and hence we have 40 aural snapshots and field recordings of life in the UK as captured by their roving set-ups and questing microphones, and now lovingly preserved in Vernon’s personal collection.

Unlike today’s field recording types who are mostly self-styled artists in search of some sort of mystical or aesthetic experience, these tape recording club members were simply interested in documenting things around them, much like any 20th century Brit who owned a Polaroid or Instamatic camera. They taped fairgrounds, factories, zoos, markets, trips to the beach, sports events, dances, parties, and – since it’s probably fair to say this activity isn’t too far away from the harmless pursuit of the gentle trainspotter – railway stations and trains. Some of the recordings have added live commentary from the members, an unobtrusive audio caption just to put it in context. What we hear is like a low-key form of Radio Four, except all the material is generated by the public instead of by the so-called experts, and – despite the apparent banality you might expect – it’s absolutely fascinating and a compelling listen. Given the current interest in audio recordings of under-appreciated urban sounds previously held to be too “commonplace” for our attention (The London Sound Survey is the place to start with that), this release is a timely gem.

Another dimension which Vernon calls attention to is the sound quality itself: the tapes “bear many traces of their age and origin: tape hiss and distortion, harsh pause button edits, wow and flutter.” Vernon correctly identifies these characteristics as an inherent part of the integrity of the records, and, implying that we should appreciate and enjoy these aural qualities, has done nothing to correct them or clean up the tape quality. Come to that, there is nothing in the way of editorialising or commentary in his strictly factual description of the collection, nor in the arrangement of the tracks; he has adopted a correct archival approach of objectivity in the arrangement and the presentation. That said, the collection has obviously been curated with a lot of loving care; after all, the material comes from his personal collection, and he allows the warmth and idiosyncratic personalities of these tape clubbers to shine. This is an understated release, but also an unalloyed joy”.
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, July 27, 2014.


“Thank God for the nerds! The Framework Seasonal series continues with an amazing set of archival recordings from the Derby Tape Recording Club and the Leicester Tape Recording Club. Yeah, you read that right. Tape Recording Clubs! These represented two regional clubs which operated in this little known phenomenon that reached a peak in the late ’60s and early ’70s with commercial grade technology becoming readily available. Many of these clubs would actually record onto reel-to-reel tape, organizing outings upon which the participants would pool resources in order to collect primitive field recordings of motorcycle races, the howler monkeys from the Paignton Zoo, bowling tournaments, a guided tour from a power turbine… and yeah, there’s a recorded example of trainspotting with a young man reading off the line and make of a particular train to the heart of England. Many of these recordings show their age with lots of tape hiss, compressed frequencies, clunky hard-stop edits, and a few bits of blown-out microphone distortion; but, really when is that a criticism here at aQuarius? But the charms of these recordings are not just found in the patina of crackle and flutter; the documented sounds themselves are often accompanied by narration from the various club members. One of our favorite field recordings is the bicycle ride of Leicester’s John Buckler, who huffs and puffs his way through traffic noting the fish and chips shop to his left and how out of shape he is from a two minute bike ride uphill. There’s a couple extracts from the Derby club’s Christmas Party including a spirited round of musical chairs; and another gem is the radio advertisement from the Derby club complete with Derbyshire-ish bleepity electronics and an earnest call to join the club. Library Music enthusiasts will be rapt with joy over these antiquated sounds! What a gem of an album!”
Aquarius Records


“Sound artist and composer Mark Vernon compiled recordings made by Tape Recordings Clubs during the 60′s and 70′s in the UK and published them as part of the Framework Seasonal series. The result is a collection of captures that transports the listener 40 and 50 years ago to times when things sounded different to what they sound now: cars sounded different, popular music sounded different, people spoke differently…and recorders recorded differently too.
Sometimes pleasant results arise when artists convert a research process in a creative publishing process, resulting on an actual release like it happened on this case.
On a first listen what interested me the most are the subjects of these amateur recordings. Cars, bikes, circus fairs, markets, shops, alarms, ballroom parties, birds, children singing…quotidian stuff that the members of these recording clubs believed relevant or simply fun to record.

But it is not necessarily any car, any bike, any circus or any children what we listen. On many of these recordings we hear environments, objects and people who had an emotional personal connection with the recordists. For us as listeners they just become random and impersonal things and people.

On many of these recordings we can listen to the recordists making some sort of verbal introduction to the recordings, usually talking about the subject that they were recording. It is like they felt that the sound alone was not illustrative enough unlike it would happen with photo or video.

They are also many dialogues between the recordist and the people subject of many of these captures. Seems to me like most of the recordists of these clubs were primarily interested in the subject and the action of recording it than in the sound per se. Their quest was documental within their own ‘amateur’ approach. It was the possibility of leaving a trace of the people and things that mattered then and preserve it on time what was important for them. People disappear but photos, film and recordings might not.

To me the main value and interest of ‘Framework Seasonal -Issue #5 Summer 2013’ is its potency to activate the listener imagination in terms of not only depicting environments, objects and people, but also depicting them on a different moment in history that many listeners didn’t happen to experience and can only relate to via archive media and spoken word.

All the descriptions from our parents and grandparents, all the photos and footage from that time that we have seen are now activated by the sounds on ’Framework Seasonal – Issue #5 Summer 2013-’ in a rewarding and stimulant listening exercise that, as a listener, I largely enjoy.”
David Vélez, The Field Reporter.

The Leicester Tape Recording Club

The past is often said to be a foreign country. This programme features audio postcards from some of the inhabitants. The Leicester Tape Recording Club was a club for tape recording enthusiasts active in the sixties and seventies.

Like a latter day Mass Observation, amateur radio producers and documentary makers sometimes unintentionally captured the minutiae of a now surreal suburbia. A forgotten world of bri-nylon, briar pipes and tank-tops met an arcane society who spoke of tape-speeds and soldering irons. These programmes takes a nostalgic and humorous look at the club and its members.

Ex-members memories wow and flutter like their disintegrating reel-to-reel recordings. This is a story not just of a club but a community, a community of hobbyists, amateurs and charming personalities who captured otherwise long extinct phenomena like ‘The Golden Wonder Boy’. Memories are made of hiss…

“They’d Got It all Taped For Me – SAYS MR. LEICESTER”
News article – Leicester Mercury, Tuesday, January 6th, 1959:

“Leicester Pen Pals Keep in Touch – By Tape”
News article, publication unknown, 1959


A four-part series about The Leicester Tape Recording Club, ‘Imagination Unlimited’, was aired on Resonance FM in 2008. Condensed versions of the series were broadcast across the RADIA network, on NE1 as part of the AV festival, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and as part of Sonic Arts Network’s Brighton Expo 2008.


Nottingham Co-operative Tape Recording Club

Following the Derby Tape Club programme on Radio 4 several former tape club members got in touch including Patrick Everest from the Nottingham Co-operative Tape Recording Club. He shared with me a number of vintage productions by the Nottingham club some of which had been originally intended for radio but unfortunately never quite made it to the airwaves. Consequently they were broadcast in their entirety on Resonance FM in 2005 – nearly thirty years after they were first produced. The audio example here is a sound collage composed using material from several of these pieces.

The Derby Tape Recording Club

Programme note: “A few years ago radio producer Mark Vernon bought a hoard of old reel-to-reel audio tapes in a car boot sale in Derby, as a job lot with an elderly and very heavy tape recorder. Coaxing the old machine back to life, he realised he had rescued the jettisoned archive of the Derby Tape Club – a group of amateurs who made, played and swapped recordings in the 1960s and 70s, when domestic tape-recording was in its infancy and before the audio cassette had conquered the world. A radiophonic elegy to an anonymous group of people and their forgotten enthusiasm: domestic tape recording and amateur radio in the 1960s and 70s.”

The Derby Tape Club started out as a six-part series of one-hour programmes on Resonance FM in 2002. The programmes were haphazardly constructed from a ramshackle archive of disintegrating open reel tapes bought from a car boot sale in Derby. A thirty-minute version was commissioned as a programme for BBC Radio 4 by Loftus Productions in 2003.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Monday 1st March 2004, 8.30 pm