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tape editing

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2006 9:36 am
by godzilla
hey i heard a thing on the radio about cutting up audio tape with a razor blade and splicing it back together

early electronic artists did this back in the 50's/60's

does anyone know anything about this
i'd like to get into it (used to do it with computers, but i'd like to work with my hands on a tangible object)

any links, stories, books, model numbers, techniques, anything at all would be most appreciated


Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2006 9:58 am
by hieronymous
I heard that Lowell George of Little Feat used to record jams, and then splice the tape apart to create new odd-time riffs. I seem to remember someone else talking about splicing lots of tape recently, but can't remember who. Frank Zappa did it a lot as well.

I remember - it was in the documentary about the original Dawn of the Dead - there's some great footage of the director with spools of film all over the place piecing it together. Not musical tape, but similar concept?...

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2006 10:25 am
by The Unknown
Splicing tape is pretty much passe these days, as computers have made editing much easier. I still record using 16 track tape, but edit using Logic Pro.

However, if you want to give it a go, you will need a splicing-block, scalpel and splicing-tape. You should be able to obtain these from Studio Spares or the equivalent.

With regard to bands who have used this technique artistically, via tape loops, The Beatles used it at the end of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but a better example is the beginning of Time, by Pink Floyd, with the ringing cash register, bag of money being dropped, etc.

Hope this is of interest.

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2006 9:25 pm
by endocrine
You mean the beginning of "Money"? I was actually about to say that.

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2006 10:16 pm
by MarkM
I used to edit magnetic tape and film. Let me tell you, digital editing is a much better way to accomplish it. Use tape and film for acquisition, and edit them digitally.

Re: tape editing

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 12:25 pm
by johnll
godzilla wrote:hey i heard a thing on the radio about cutting up audio tape with a razor blade and splicing it back together

early electronic artists did this back in the 50's/60's

does anyone know anything about this
i'd like to get into it (used to do it with computers, but i'd like to work with my hands on a tangible object)

any links, stories, books, model numbers, techniques, anything at all would be most appreciated

Try this:


Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 2:12 pm
by The Unknown
endocrine wrote:You mean the beginning of "Money"? I was actually about to say that.
Absolutely. Sorry about that - I guess I value my Time more than my Money!

Re: tape editing

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 3:56 pm
by johnll
Here's two more. They wander a bit far afield, but it's an interesting read.

Incidentally, I think the 1/4" 2 Track Tape Recorder of choice for this kind of thing was either the Scully or the Revox A77.

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:02 pm
by GregAE
As you probably know by looking at the links offered by JohnLL, tape music (the original method of sampling!) has a long history. Appearing shortly after WWII, tape recorders gave musicians a new medium for experimentation with sound. Early electronic music studios (there weren't many) consisted of nothing but a few tape recorders and a handful of patch cables, and maybe a signal generator or two. Music was created by recording and manipulating bits of audio tape - a tedious and laborious process. Only a few of the pieces created back then are well-known, and almost all seem very primitive by today's standards. You can hear a few examples of these on "Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 1948 -1980", a compilation CD from 1999.

Playing with tape will give you an appreciation for the power that todays musical tools provide. It's a nice experience to have, and doubtless you will end up wth something interesting that you probably wouldn't have created by other means.

Have fun!

- Greg

Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2006 12:30 pm
by rlainhart
Your desire to edit tape is commendable, if anachronistic.

This is the way we used to do it in the studios I worked in.

You'll need a splicing block - get a steel one, not aluminum or plastic, as they wear out after a while. But also be careful to demagnetize the steel block regularly, or you'll get noise and even possible erasures with a magnetized block. You'll want a block with both 90 degree ("butt-splice") and 45 degree (angle-splice) splicing slots.

Next, you'll need a supply of single-edge razor blades. When you open a new blade, take a little alchohol (which you'll have on hand because you'll need to clean your tape heads) and wipe off the thin film of oil on the blade - if the oil transfers to the splicing tape, you'll have a weak splice.

You'll also need a thin grease pencil for marking the splice points on the tape.

Next, you'll need splicing tape in the appropriate size for the tape you're splicing. Splicing tape for 1/4 inch tape, for example, is slightly less than 1/4 inch wide, so it doesn't hang off the edges of the splice. You'll also probably want some leader tape as well - we used to use paper leader, because plastic leader would sometimes pick up static electricity and make noise as it rolled over the heads.

Finally, for all this to work, you'll need at least a semi-pro tape deck with three heads that lets you unlock the reel motors and capstan. Most consumer or prosumer decks don't allow this, but it's essential for finding your splice points on the tape you're working with. With this kind of deck, you place the reel on the deck, wind it onto the takeup reel, roll to roughly the point where you want to make your mark, stop the deck, then unlock the transport. (On the Scully decks I worked on, this button was called Edit.) Then you manually put tension on the tape and rock the tape back and forth over the playback head while listening to the playback to locate the exact point where you want to cut. Then use the grease pencil to put a light vertical mark on the back of the tape right over the crown of the playback head, making sure not to get any of the grease on the head itself.

If, for example, you're cutting out a length of tape from a recording to make a loop, you'd then find the loop end point, and put another mark there. You'd then either make your cut there or wind back to the first mark. Either way, then lift the tape out of the guides and up onto the splicing block, which is usually mounted on top of the head stack, being careful not to touch the active side of the tape. Some tape editors would wear white cotton gloves to avoid getting skin oils on the tape, which would affect the playback. The tape goes face down in the block, of course.

The tape slides into the guide on the block, and you then push it down into the guide to sort of lock it in place - it's a snug fit. Then slide the tape a little until your mark is directly lined up with the butt-splice slot - for this kind of editing, you usually want to use the butt-splice, although some editors liked the 45 degree angle splice, as it's a little less abrupt. Get your razor blade, being careful not to cut yourself, and make a single clean cut down through the slicing slot and through the center of the grease pencil mark. It usually takes a little practice to make a clean cut at first, and it's essential that your blade be sharp - we used to throw them out after every edit session. (Wrap it in paper or foil, or tape the edge, so you don't get any unpleasant surprises when you empty the trash.)

So now you've got two pieces of tape on two reels, the source and the takeup, with the section you want to cut out on either reel, depending on if you cut the first mark or the second. You'll then manually shuttle the appropriate reel ahead to locate the next mark, and cut it as above. You now have three pieces of tape, two very long and one short (for a short loop, say).

Now take the short piece, put both ends into the splicing block, and line up the two ends exactly, making sure not to twist it into a Moebius loop (it's usually easy to tell which is the audio side, as the back side of the tape is usually shinier than the oxide side). Next pull off a short piece of splicing tape, about an inch long, and stick the very end onto the razor blade so that most of it hangs off the end of the blade. (A piece of tape this short is pretty stiff, so it won't actually hang, but stick out straight.) This way, you don't have to handle the splicing tape itself, which is quite sticky and tends to stick to your fingers, and it's easier to line it up with the splice. Then use the blade as a tool to carefully lay the chunk of splicing tape down across the splice, making sure that the splicing tape is centered on the splice. Check to make sure the splicing tape is exactly in line with the tape, and tap the free end with your fingertip to tack it down. You want only the lightest contact here, so you can still remove the splicing tape if it isn't aligned.

If it looks aligned, now you can use the back of your thumbnail and rub the splicing tape down so it's firmly attached to both sides of the tape. You want to buff the splicing tape a bit with your nail to remove any bubbles or non-contact points, so the splicing tape is fully attached - if you use white splicing tape, it will get almost transparent when it fully buffed down. Gently lift the tape out of the splicing block guide, again being careful not to touch the surface.

And there you have it - your first tape loop splice. It's unbearably tedious compared to computer editing, as you can probably see, but it was the only way to do it in the old days. I have to say, I don't know if you can even buy splicing blocks, paper leader, and splicing tape today, or professional editing decks, but if you can, good luck.