The birth of Kubus Cassettes: an old, three-speed tape recorder

Kubus Cassettes
In 1979 my father drove from Ridderkerk to Leiden to bring me an old tape recorder. I was 24 at the time and the tape recorder had three speeds. That ancient machine changed my life.

I started to record all kinds of music and sounds. I sped the recordings up, and I slowed them down. In doing so I discovered strange things: there are similarities between the sounds of large animals and small animals, but you don't notice until you speed up the large animals and slow down the small ones. The connecting element is the heart rate.

A simple tape recorder with three speeds could also change the environment. Slow down music or speech that was recorded in a small room, and (the aural experience of) that room would expand. Speed it up, and the room would shrink.

If you slow down choir music, vocal harmonics that are normally too high to hear will descend within hearing range: there are voices within voices, and tones within tones.

I had to turn all those ideas into something tangible! In 1980 my girlfriend Mirjam and I had just moved to an apartment on the third floor of a large building on the edge of Leiden. When I approached that building from afar, the apartments would look like a bunch of cubes stacked on top of each other.

Because I was part of the Dutch DIY post-punk underground community of the late 1970 / early 1980s, cassettes were hot, and vinyl records were not. And so, as the Dutch word for cube is kubus, Kubus Cassettes was born.

The first release was already available: the demo of my band De Kroonluchters called Daar zijn leuke liedjes. It would be released as KC01 in 1980. Het Winnifred Complex (ritual music by non-human beings), and Transcendent 2000: Leven na de bollen (music composed and performed by a Transcendent 2000 synthesizer) would follow later that year as KC02 and KC03.

Soon afterwards I got to know other (Dutch and foreign) cassette labels: Trumpett, Exart, Ding-Dong, Muziekkamer, Insecticide, Eksakt, Roy G. Biv, Angst, Grafika Airlines, De Fabriek, Ape Tapes, and many more. It resulted in musical cooperation, exchange of tapes, and international distribution deals. All small-scale, but extremely inspiring.

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Rob Smit, 2019

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