The Tape Machine 10th April 2017

Recently I needed to listen to an old ¼ inch tape and so I retrieved my Re-vox from storage. While there, I noticed a small and very old reel-to-reel tape recorder that had been in my father’s study, alongside some tiny tapes. Once at home, the little tape machine on inspection was not as I’d remembered an audio device for my uncle to listen to music. But was in fact, an early Dictaphone, an Ehrcorder, which worked briefly enough for me to hear a voice I recognised, even though at a very slow speed. Using my fingers to encourage the tape to play faster I heard my father’s voice, dictating letters in his surgery.

The letters were about his patients. Day after day, ailment after ailment it struck me that this was life powerfully realised. Mundane letters dictated in an objective voice - somebody’s bunion, someone else’s back pain, people coming and going, my father dispensing medicine and diagnosis. There was nothing glamorous or exciting. People moving through their lives and my father fixing up their bodies and their minds, going about his work and his tasks. It was very moving; it was a kind of Indeterminacy.

The Re-vox was in a bad condition and I decided to try to have both this and the Ehrcorder repaired. I looked everywhere locally for a repair firm but there was nothing. I did as I usually do and waited for messages. Eventually an ex-student posted their excitement having purchased an old Re-vox. I contacted them for the firm. And so I found myself delivering to an address in Lichfield, a two hour drive from my home, to a man I’d never met before, the precious Re-vox and the even more precious Ehrcorder, the only means to hear my father’s recording.

I heard nothing for two weeks and tried not to worry. Then, late one Saturday night, the repairman rang me, in a high state of excitement. He had managed to mend the Ehrcorder and, remembering that he also had a tape of the same size he had stored for years without knowing what it contained, had put it on to the machine. He had heard his mother as a young woman, singing along with her brother, and his grandparents, long dead, talking. His grandmother had given him the tape to experiment with recording, but he had never used it.

When I collected it, now repaired, we talked for a long time about this chance encounter. And also, how happy it had made him to hear the tape and to be able to play it to his now elderly mother. We noticed how the sound of their voices and the room altered time and took us back to that day more powerfully than any photographic image.

He told me that the Re-vox had a pinch mechanism which would mean that anything recorded on it would play at the same constant speed. But that the Ehrcorder did not. This meant that the mass of tape of one side, being pulled to the other would slow the sound of the recording down, and once the mass was on the pulling side the opposite would happen, the sound would speed up. Only at a point of balance between the two reels would the speed be constant enough for the sound to be as recorded.

Time is elastic. Using the Ehrcorder it slows down and speeds up. The effect of mass on the sound is to alter its nature. The physical presence of the tape shows this visually. Gravity also alters according to mass. Attraction and resistance.
Thoughts - can the mass of sound alter time?