Tue, 15 August 2006
I can remember the first time I saw an audiocassette. They were invented by Philips in 1963, and trademarked in the U. S. the next year as Compact Cassettes. Initially used principally for low-fidelity dictation recorders, by the late 1960s, 3M and BASF developed higher quality tape stock which (combined with improvements in recording electronics) permitted cassettes to be attractive for music recordings, thereby guaranteeing the doom of the 8-track tape.
My first encounter with a cassette was through the father of a high school friend who had done some professional recording work. He showed us a Compact Cassette while driving us to school (I can still remember him mentioning the fact that they were developed by Philips), and then told us that this little assembly of plastic had a big future (shades of The Graduate!). This was at least a decade before Sony invented the Walkman, by means of which this piece of plastic produced a minor cultural revolution, inaugurating a new way of relating to music (and to the people around the listener).
When MARS HILL AUDIO first began in 1992, our principal product was distributed exclusively on cassettes (and thus called the MARS HILL Tapes) since few cars had CD players and CD duplication was quite a bit more expensive than it is now. To speak then of "burning some CDs" may have conjured up images of angry fundamentalists rendering mute some of the devil's troubadours. But around the turn of the millennium, when we were certain there were enough listeners interested in CDs, we eventually began offering the Tapes on CDs, as the newly christened MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.
We're now commencing another big transition, which will no doubt be much more momentous than our change six years ago. Beginning with volume 81 of the Journal, listeners have the option of subscribing to a downloadable MP3 edition. We'll continue offering cassettes, as long as we can find suppliers with tapes of sufficient quality (which is getting a lot harder).
I have to confess that the technophiliac in me (I owned one of the first iPods) is delighted, but the more sober cultural critic, suspicious of gnosticizing tendencies, is more ambivalent. I think there is an advantage to having around us objects, like books, tapes, and CDs, which retain knowledge and are not re-programmable. We need the presence of substantial and fixed things in our lives, to testify against the suspicion of the unbearable lightness of being. That's why I still like hymnbooks. Their weight and texture bears existential witness to the Church's existence in space and time in ways a projected image does not.
So we're providing MP3 subscribers with instructions on how to burn CDs (the creative kind of burning), and with templates for labels and jewel case liners. We'd like these more accessible products not to be regarded as eminently disposable. Besides, we realize that most people are more likely to have CD players than MP3 hardware available while they drive.
One of the greatest advantages for us in this new format is the ability to produce programs that may be of interest to a smaller audience. Right now, given the economies of scale, it doesn't make sense for us to offer Conversations or Anthologies that aren't of potential interest to most of our subscribers. But because we aren't paying a printer or media duplicator for set-up costs and a minimum run, we can make available interviews without the necessity to liquidate a large inventory of stuff. When I was starting MARS HILL AUDIO, I toyed (briefly) with calling the company HAND CRAFTED AUDIO, and this new technology makes certain ideals of craftsmanship available to us for the first time.
Finally, this technology is a great boon for overseas subscribers and would-be subscribers (not to mention the overland subscribers in Canada, eh?). By eliminating extraordinary shipping costs, customs forms, and (in some instances) repressive postal representatives, MARS HILL AUDIO can reach wider to extend the sort of conversation about Christian faithfulness in contemporary culture that will remain our deepest commitment.
If you're new to with the work of MARS HILL AUDIO, find out more about us at www.marshillaudio.org.-- Ken Myers
Producer & Host
MARS HILL AUDIO
Category:MHA info -- posted at: 11:45pm EDT