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Greetings From…: RIP The Mixtape, 198(?)-2008

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Though I’d hardly describe this post as having anything to do with the Big Apple, Mr. Cedric Cheung-Lau is indeed a proud New Yorker and someone ever embracing the city’s cultural opportunities. He catches secret shows. Knows the back entrances to bars you’ve never heard of. He watches foreign films. Without subtitles. Whether in film or music (television is mine), I can always count on him for fresh, sincerely cool recommendations. I mean, he writes for the Columbia Spectator’s Arts section!

About a month ago, when Lifting Fog was locked in a death roll, I asked Cedric to write something for the site. He e-mailed me the little ditty below, a heartfelt ode to the mixtape and a lament for its passing. Morbid, right? While slightly out of date, I’ve included his original introduction to set the tone and remind our readers of the preciousness of life, electronic or otherwise. Hug the person next to you if you can. ANYWAY:

The fog, my fellow readers, seems to have fallen after the initial excitement of having formed an actual blog. For weeks I have hoped that our dear blogger, Mr. Fog, would return to the task at hand. But it seems that the mountains of work that an assistant swim coach has are draining our friend of all inspiration to maintain a daily post. With this in mind, I have taken it upon myself to perform a rescue operation and resuscitate the glory of this blog. If this goes well, perhaps I’ll make future appearances. If not, well, then at least I can say that I tried.

The mixtape is dead.

This has to do, of course, with what we have begun to call the “iPod generation.” Apple’s ubiquitous gadget has single-handedly crushed a cultural, no, artistic phenomenon. Sure, you can argue that the mix is very much alive and thriving, but the concept behind it – the very purpose of it – has been woefully shattered.

john_cusack_high_fidelity_001At its conception, the mixtape was something that took time and care to compose. The creator (Editor’s note: I prefer “mixologist”) would sit in front of the tape recorder for the duration of each song while it was copied to the cassette. He would do this for hours, switching records or cassettes when necessary, to create the ultimate gift of love — when done right, of course. And it was hard to do wrong. By sitting through each song, they could choose the next song more wisely, in conjunction with the song currently being played. This process created a logical thematic and auditory development, ultimately yielding a mix that was an expression of love, a sketch of the giver. While perhaps not always their favorite songs, they were those that fit best into this collection, the combination of which told a story and when at a loss for words, would describe their feelings. A mixtape was an item that could illustrate a deep undying friendship between giver and receiver— a sign that one was ready to share their most intimate feelings.

Things changed with the advent of CD technology. Though at its foundation still the same, mixing was simplified — the process now simply drag, drop, and burn – and somehow cheapened. Even with identical intentions, the songs were not fully heard and it began to develop into conglomerations of one’s favorite songs as opposed to a well thought out product with a coherent thesis. Still, there was a concrete object to be shown — something physical to symbolize all the fluffy stuff its contents explained and conveyed. There was still a purpose to throwing songs on there that weren’t the best as the work that was produced would be listened to continuously in a CD player; experienced, not sliced up. The end result was a physical object that could be returned to again and again, those specific feelings expressed available for repeat listens.

2510133046_4b2059082d1Today this creation is becoming lost. There is no longer a physical creation, first of all, no entity that encapsulates the creation of a mix. At times a disc might be involved but more often than not that object is quickly copied onto the computer and filed into iTunes – the brainchild cut apart in the process. One can reassemble the songs in order to create the playlist, but that is all that remains. Songs can be viewed separately — no longer a complete organism, the songs might mean less… or nothing at all. And when the computer crashes, the creation is certainly lost (the CD is most likely long gone). Even re-found (or re-downloaded) songs in a mix’s attempted re-creation mean nothing anymore. The initial feelings that were behind the formation of the mix have been replaced and with it the original meaning of the mix.

So let us mourn the death of this amazing cultural phenomenon. “Phenomenon” may not be the right word – it may be more of a “movement” – but regardless, this is a loss to be mourned and remembered. Farewell, friend.

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