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How to Scratch Tapes, Not Vinyl

Alexis Malbert built a DIY 'turntable' for cassette tapes.

Alexis Malbert isn't your average DJ. His equipment is small enough to fit into a suitcase, and it's made out of cassette tapes and a mini-motor powered turntable.

Malbert, who is based in France, just released a video clip for his work Scratchette—a project that showcases how cassettes can be mashed with other electrical gizmos like mini motors and scratched like vinyl to make the weirdest mixtape.

"I've been working on this project since the 90s, but it's gone through a lot of changes as the tech evolved," Malbert told me over the phone.

The musician first got interested in creating sounds out of vinyl, tape cassettes, and old electronics back in the 90s. "People often ask me if I'm doing my projects out of nostalgia, but back then, tape cassettes were new technology," he said.

Malbert makes his music by hacking everything from cassettes to mini-discs. He deconstructs the casettes by lopping bits off the side, extracting the magnetic tape inside, and adding motors that let him tinker with the sound. Malbert described the noises produced as similar to concrete music (musique concrète), a genre of electroacoustic music that debuted in the 1940s. The results are low-pitched booming noises and quirky electro sounds that he plays over a human voice.

Ultimately, Malbert asserts he's not some weirdo with a fetish for cassettes. Instead, he's interested in inventing new tools from pre-existing ones, and making a political statement of sorts.

While the setup looks simple, Malbert spends ages making sure he's producing pitch-perfect sounds. That means that a lot of time is spent tinkering with different sized motors and arrangements. He maintains that the visuals are also important for when he plays live.

Sometimes Malbert faces certain issues while he's DJing his dinky set—switching from tape to tape, for example, is pretty hard, and getting the perfect sounds is also difficult when you're producing a live set. In a typical performance, Malbert inserts tape cassettes into a tape recorder, scratching them as he goes along by pulling on the cassette's magnetic tape. Malbert has developed the sounds he produced over the years through a series of trial and error. For example, when he first started out, he used cheap tape recorders, but soon realized that investment in professional and higher quality recorders produced better sound.

Ultimately, Malbert asserts he's not some weirdo with a fetish for cassettes. Instead, he's interested in inventing new tools from pre-existing ones, and making a political statement of sorts.

"We're not obliged to stay abreast with the new developments that big industries thrust on us," said Malbert. "We can transform what already exists so that we can live a new experience."