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Remember the eighties? Those fond memories of driving through neon pink and blue-hued cityscapes saturated by blinking arcades and illuminated shopping malls.  Your car is buzzing with electronic synthwave beats playing from your cassette as you move towards the sunset through empty streets.

It sounds familiar, right?

Probably not. But this is what synthwave music would have you remember.

Synthwave is a genre of music that plays with our nostalgia. The genre began in the late noughties and drew its inspiration from films, songs and arcade games from the eighties. Although the music is popular, it is the aesthetic retro look that really drew fans in.

Origins of Synthwave

Our journey in synthwave begins with French house musicians from the late noughties. Although no one had heard of the term ‘synthwave’ until a few years later, many French house musicians began creating music inspired by science fiction and horror films from the eighties. For example, Justice, a French electronic duo, sampled the main theme song from Dario Argento’s popular horror film Tenebrae (1982) in ‘Phantom‘ and ‘Phantom II‘.

Similarly, M83, Daft Punk and Kavinsky inspired the genre because of their instrumental music created with synthesisers. Kavinsky’s single ‘Nightcall’ became synonymous with synthwave because of its inclusion in the film Drive (2011). The opening credits blares the electronic synth of ‘Nightcall’ as the viewer watches a skyline illuminated by city lights and Ryan Gosling’s character drive through the quiet streets.

The Longing to Drive

Driving is a consistent theme when listening to synthwave music. Drive brought the genre into mainstream media and drew attention to artists like Kavinsky. However, the music genre originated from OutRun, an 8-bit driving arcade game released in 1986.

You can listen to the game’s soundtrack on YouTube to understand how heavily the music influenced the genre and other artists.

In fact, Out Run‘s soundtrack inspired Kavinsky’s debut album (rightly named) ‘OutRun’, released in 2013. The television show Miami Vice and Dario Argento’s horror films were also influences of the conceptual album. The album pays homage to 1986 because it conceptualises a man crashing his car in 1986 and re-awakening as a zombie in 2006.

Driving + Miami = Synthwave

Okay, the perfect environment to listen to synthwave music is in the car. But, being in the car is only one part of the equation. Add driving a vehicle with Miami, and you have the perfect setting for listening to synthwave.

Miami Vice is one of the influences for the aesthetic setting of Miami. But, the primary influence is Playstation’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a driving game released in 2002. Funnily enough, the game was based in 1986.

OutRun and GTA: Vice City intertwine music within their gameplay. Both the games offer unique soundtracks built into a car radio simulation. The player could switch between tracks like they are switching between radio stations whilst driving.

Enter Tron: Legacy

The simulated radio station playing modern synth music mixed with driving in a gaming environment began the foundations for the genre’s aesthetic. Gamers feel connected, and even nostalgic, for these digital worlds built on gridlines and a glitched perception of freedom where a new world expands and simultaneously shrinks as you drive through it.

If a film could ideally incorporate the mix between arcade games, driving and synthwave, it would be Tron: Legacy (2011). Daft Punk’s electro soundtrack completes the scenes of digitised motorbikes driving through a cyber, neon and grid-lined world.

Longing For A Time Once Not

Much of synthwave’s attraction to the eighties is due to the decade being a time of new technological possibilities. As a result, many pictures associated with the genre are gaming arcades with glowing screens, colourful plastic cassettes and crackling retro films playing from a VHS tape.

If you have seen Stranger Things, then you can picture the stylised world of the eighties that synthwave tried to paint. Many of the show’s scenes include arcade games, pink and blue neon colours, and squeaky clean empty shopping malls with grid lined floors. Even the theme song of Stranger Things has electronic disco music associated with synthwave.

The consistent theme of cars, shopping and gaming, satirises the capitalist dream projected on ’80s America. The nostalgic dreamscape painted over YouTube videos, and album artwork of synthwave songs shows how idealised the eighties technology, capitalist and pop cultures was.

 

Did you love to listen to synth music in the eighties? Have your music collection digitised with a cassette to CD service like Digital Converters, and listen to all your favourite artists again.

Everyone can recall their favourite film to watch on tape. That square-cropped version you remember rewinding just as much as playing forward. There was an easiness to watching VHS tapes: the tape always remembered where you stopped; you could skip parts to your heart’s content; and no need to find a remote to select play on the menu. You may have even mastered the skill of skipping all the adverts when fast-forwarding the beginning.

We’ve put together a top ten list of classic films we all loved to watch on VHS. Find out whether your favourite movie made the cut:

1. Star Wars Original Trilogy (1977 – 1983)

Have you really seen Star Wars if you didn’t watch (one of) the original versions on VHS?

George Lucas paved the way for capitalising on films through home videos. His production company’s insistence on revamping Star Wars by issuing new releases with improved audio, screen ratios and even edits of the movies delighted (and annoyed) fans to no end.

Everyone had their version of Star Wars on tape that they believed to be the best way to watch the film. Each new release came with unique, stunning artwork covering the boxes and sometimes collectable items if you invested in the trilogy. Disney+’s version will never compare to the original Star Wars releases on tape.

2. Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is infamous for bringing technicolour to the screen. Although it was not the first video to be watched on home televisions in colour, it was still a film to marvel at when colour TV’s became popular in England through the 1980s.

Not only was it a fun history lesson to teach children about the wonders of colour television. But, the poor special effects of monkeys tied to string flying through the sky and painted backdrops made it perfect for watching on a standard definition tape. Who would want to see that in Ultra High Definition?

3. Jurassic Park (1993)

One of the later releases on this list, Jurassic Park earnt a place in everyone’s households for its high-quality production and epic storyline. In addition, the combination of science fiction with horror gave the film an edge that other family-friendly films at the time didn’t have. In fact, the movie ranked as the 5th most popular film ever bought on tape.

Jurassic Park answered everyone’s question about what would happen if dinosaurs were to walk on Earth again.

Disaster.

That’s the answer. The special effects and realistic T-Rex saturated everyone’s need to visualise what it would look like to walk next to dinosaurs—a fantastic film for every dinosaur lover out there and one to watch again.

4. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

It goes without saying that E.T. would be on this list alongside Jurassic Park. Spielberg’s classics ruled the eighties and nineties because of their family-centric storylines and revolutionary special effects. Likewise, E.T. touched many of our hearts as the film focused on a dysfunctional family home where the siblings learn to work together to ensure that the alien makes it home safely.

A pop-culture phenomenon, E.T. had a special edition VHS release in 2002 with higher quality effects and never seen before footage to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

5. Sound of Music (1965)

Did anyone actually enjoy watching Sound of Music?

It didn’t matter. The musical tracks composed by Robert Wise and sung by Julie Andrews meant it was ideal for any parent wanting to catch a kip whilst entertaining the kids. The Sound of Music was a comfort film through and through. Although not as popular today, it will always be in our hearts as the tape to watch on a rainy day.

6. The Little Mermaid (1989) – and every other Disney animated film released on tape.

I’m going to be honest with you if this list matched the top 10 favourite films watched on VHS, then it would have been a top 10 of Disney animated films. Of course, there were many popular choices for us to choose from, such as The Lion King. But, The Little Mermaid is one many of us fondly remember only watching on tape.

Let’s not forget the controversial artwork on the original VHS release that banned the tape in shops and caused a new cover released in 1990. The original artwork looked very similar to the one kept in many of our houses. But, if you looked closely at the golden castle in the background, you would see that one of the spires resembled a not-so child-friendly male body part. This rare but naughty version of The Little Mermaid now sells for up to £200 on eBay.

7. Ghostbusters (1984)

A film smeared in our minds for its ghostly horror. Bill Murray earnt this tape’s place on our shelves as we fell for his sardonic Dr Peter Venkman. Ghostbusters‘ infamous theme tune and logo have left a lasting memory in everyone’s minds. But, sadly, we will only remember the VHS edition for its poor aspect ratio that cropped Ernie Hudson out of so many scenes.

8. Grease (1978)

Loved by all, Grease is still watched on repeat today. The film encompasses the rollercoaster of young love with some of the best musical hits ever written. And, let’s not forget the eye candy of John Travolta.

Grease stood the test of time when released for home viewing. The film’s 20th Anniversary Edition release made an extra $28 million from cinema and home movie viewings in 1998. To make you feel really old, Grease has recently been released on Blur-ray in 4K Ultra HD for its 40th Anniversary in 2018. Please take me back to the days of tapes!

9. Jumanji (1995)

Okay. I never said that this list was for the best films ever released on VHS. Jumanji may never be a cult classic – but people did love to watch it on tape.

Ever thought you could hear the drumbeats too?

Finding a dusty covered tape of Jumanji on your brother’s shelf added a whole new layer of meaning after watching this film. The fear of participating in this game lingered over any child watching it at too young of an age. The fear of participating in the game was not helped by physically pushing this tape into the VCR player, making any tape viewer feel involved with the game.

10. The Snowman (1982)

“Does anyone know where The Snowman tape is?”

It always felt like a ceremonious occasion when my Mum would finally find The Snowman tape behind the Christmas decorations. The film’s short duration always made it the perfect movie to watch between decorating the Christmas tree. Even the physicality of owning the tape always made the whole occasion feel unique and personal to my family. Unfortunately, this participation in a family tradition of rewatching the one Christmas film you owned will never have the same feeling thanks to the convenience of streaming services.

 

Is your favourite VHS tape still sitting on your shelf? Bring it back to life by using a film digitisation service like Digital Converters.

The beauty of film digitisation means that we can now edit our cine reels without cutting or damaging the film. Mistakes can be unmade, decisions can be adjusted, and colour can be manipulated to our heart’s content. However, the ease of editing was not quite so simple when motion pictures began.

The French magician George Méliès introduced the skill of film editing in 1896. His stage shows constantly reinvented the art of illusion through tricks of the camera. Méliès’ inspiration for creating motion pictures began after witnessing one of the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph shows. His short productions paved the way in film editing as he invented jump cuts, dissolves, double exposure illusions and splicing.

Jump Cut

One of the first editing techniques happened by accident when Méliès was filming the streets of Paris. His camera jammed whilst filming a bus entering a tunnel in Paris. When his camera began working again, his film had jumped to capturing a hearse entering the tunnel.

The illusion of the bus magically transforming into a hearse gave Méliès an idea. He could manipulate films by stopping the camera, changing the scenery, and start filming again. By cutting partway through a single shot, Méliès introduced the jump cut. It is a valuable technique for showing a passage of time in a film narrative or creating optical tricks like a bat turning into a man in Le Manoir du Diable (The Haunted Castle, 1896).

However, when restarting the camera after a jump cut, the camera would create a light burst before returning to the original lighting. Plus, the frame rate would be different due to the camera needing to be hand-cranked. So, to maintain continuity and fluidity in frame rates and lighting, Méliès manipulated the film reel through splicing.

Splice

Thankfully, Méliès already had experience in splicing before he discovered jump cuts. Historians have examined his work and found he had refined his motion pictures by trimming the beginning and end of each of his cuts. However, Méliès was not the first person to introduce splicing.

Thomas Edison invented the splicing technique when creating a stop motion film in 1895 of The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. He spliced together the shots of Mary’s decapitation by cutting the frame after the axe strikes her neck and joining the shot with the frame of her head rolling on the floor. The following year, Méliès used the same technique to create the magician’s illusion of a lady’s body disappearing in The Vanishing Lady (1896).

Before film digitisation and auto-stabilisation in editing programs, splicing was much more difficult due to physically cutting the film. The frames had to be trimmed and rejoined together carefully to ensure the reel plays seamlessly between cuts. It involved trial and error as the director could not easily control the frame rates and lighting.

Double Exposure

Méliès’ technical abilities expanded after his innovative jump cut and practice in splicing. He began using photographic techniques to create illusions during filming after realising that film reels could be stopped partway through shots. Méliès implemented the double exposure technique by shooting a scene and rolling back his reel to the beginning and filming over the original film.

This technique was a favourite of his to make films where he appeared on the camera twice. He would use mattes to cover parts of the film emulsion to film two things happening in the same shot.

In Le Portrait Mysterieux, you can see how Méliès covered up the frame with a matte for his first shot and then rolled back the camera and covered everywhere outside the frame to film his second shot. By using double exposure, he created the illusion of his character interacting with himself.

Dissolve

Finally, one of Méliès’ most effective editing techniques is the dissolve. This film transition softened transitions between scene changes. Unlike the jump cut criticised for its jarring shift in image, the dissolve helps the viewer understand the temporal continuity in a film narrative. Méliès would commonly use fade-in and outs to establish the beginning and end of the film.

Méliès created the dissolve by using double exposure between the beginning and end of two shots to soften the cut. It meant he could avoid damaging the film between shots by using dissolves instead. Dissolves were hugely beneficial for audiences to understand the continuity of a narrative.  For Méliès, it meant that he could minimise his jump cuts to only illusionary trick shots created to surprise his audience.

 

In the early 20th century, George Méliès’ innovative editing techniques inspired many filmmakers to experiment with film narratives. Whereas today, the origins of these techniques are a humbling reminder of how excellent film digitisation services are today.

If you want to edit your cine reels without cutting into your precious film, get your reels digitised with Digital Converters. To start your editing journey, click the link here.

Welcome to the Eighties! The transition from legacy media to digital technology is beginning, and within this strange decade of mixed medium comes the rise and fall of the audio cassette magazine.

Audio cassette magazines (or ‘tapezines’) were an experimental journalist platform used to promote a music niche generally not promoted by mainstream platforms. They combined songs, news and interviews with artists and sounded much like podcasts released today. The trend began around 1981 across America, Australia, and the UK. However, the cassettes never lasted longer than a couple of years, with only one audio magazine in Manhattan outlasting the market by ten years.

The Variety of Tapezines

Each of the magazines focused on a particular music genre or geographical location producing music.

The founding cassette magazine, Fast Forward, focused on post-punk music based on the creators’ passion and knowledge of the Punk genre beginning in the ’70s. The tapezine was available worldwide for music lovers to learn about Australia’s post-punk music. The magazine gained attraction in America, particularly by Bruce Pavitt, the founder of Sub-Pop. Inspired by Fast Forward, Pavitt created cassette compilations to accompany his magazine, promoting undiscovered talent from Pacific Northwest.

On the other side of America, a new challenge against mainstream radio  began. Tell Us cassette magazine was an art project documenting New York’s downtown music. The cassette spliced together spoken word, music, and performance pieces with a visual accompaniment.  It favoured avant-garde and no wave music, experimenting with different genres of sound. Tell Us’ fluidity with sound and art gave the magazine a longer lease of life, lasting for ten years before the project ended in 1993.

Unlike America and Australia’s underground music promotion, UK’s SFX Cassette Magazine was inspired by MTV’s promotion of New Wave music. An experiment in music journalism created by Hugh Salmon and Max Bell, SFX was advertised as the first audio cassette magazine ever published. However, Fast Forward had defeated SFX to the punch a year earlier.

Audio Cassette Magazines Offered a New Medium For Journalism

The benefit of producing cassette magazines was the freedom to experiment with editing spoken word with music. The manual splicing and combining of interviews with sound gave a new found freedom in promoting music compared to printed press.

Bruce Milne from Fast Forward explained that he wanted to create a medium for promoting new music not restricted by the number of adjectives in the English language.

“I’d spent a number of years writing about music and you definitely get to the point when you’re writing about music that this is ridiculous, I’m trying to describe something, and I’ve sort of run out of adjectives.” – Bruce Milne, One of the two founders of Fast Forward

Likewise, radio stations had restricting guidelines on what music was appropriate to play. This meant DJ’s had to discard other lesser-known musicians who did not fit the genre. The cassette magazine combines the two forms with the freedom to play songs not advertised in mainstream media.

Plus, cassette tapes were cheap to buy!

Fast Forward managed to buy their cassettes cheaply by recycling erased pre-recorded tapes and repackaging them.  Similarly, Sub Pop’s cassette compilations were said to be worth making as long as they sold 200 copies. After completing three unique cassette compilation magazines, Sub Pop decided to use cassettes to supplement their printed magazine.

Popularity Has Its Challenges

However, copyright laws and the creators’ limited access to music restricted tapezines production. SFX had to fight for their right to play 20 to 30 seconds of a song by persuading the Performing Rights Society that previewing music is an excellent way to sell music.

Likewise, Bruce Milne and Andrew Maine from Fast Forward used their radio show to find and access music to play on their cassette magazine. These mainly consisted of cassette or reel to reel demos sent in by independent musicians.

Both magazines struggled to avoid record labels paranoia around home taping destroying music. The creators of Fast Forward learnt a lot about copyright infringement and avoid playing music from large record labels. Meanwhile, before SFX even hit the shops, it was under criticism for using re-useable tapes because it might encourage home taping of music. Hugh Salmon disputed the criticism insisting that listeners would view the tape as a collectable.

Salmon was right to dispute the criticism. The success of SFX led to one of the most famous interviews with Paul McCartney that now sells for profit on eBay. The recorded conversation was the first time McCartney openly talked about the murder of John Lennon. However, SFX’s reign quickly ended after only 19 issues due to the high production costs. Most likely due to their focus on mainstream New Wave music.

The Downfall of the Audio Cassette Magazine

Sadly, the novelty of tapezine quickly wore off as mainstream printed magazines began using cassettes to promote new music. NME created a collection of cassette compilation albums to accompany their magazine. Their most famous compilation album released in 1986 (simply named C68) had huge success. But, it marked the beginning of the end to mixtape culture and sharing independent music via cassette tapes.

At the same time, publishing music magazines on cassettes began to feel limited compared to the popularity of MTV. Cassette tapes poor audio quality caused interviews and music to be challenging to listen to. It had nothing on the visual captivation and audio clarity offered by music channels on TV.

Although MTV and copyright laws brought the downfall of the tapezine, these magazines have left a mark in music journalism. Today, Tape magazines are collectable items holding a slice of authentic music history from the ’80s.

Okay, let’s face it. Film photography is expensive and downright time-consuming. Even disposable cameras are more of a burden than a present these days. Many stores have stopped developing film, never mind the time and effort it takes to digitise and share the photos with friends and family.

Thankfully, app developers have also clocked on to the faff and inconvenience film cameras are for the consumer. So, with spring cleaning and fresh beginnings in the air, I have reviewed the most popular vintage photography apps to help you pick the right one.

These apps are free to use but may include in-app purchases (much to my dismay).

HUJI:

 

HUJI has been my go-to app for the last few years. It imitates disposable film photography from 1998 by changing your phone screen into the back of a disposable camera and date stamping your photos with 1998.

I love HUJI’s simplicity and filters. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have drunkenly recommended this app to one too many strangers on a night out. It can’t be helped – the filter detracts from all that HD ugliness your normal phone camera captures (and make your legs look great!).

The only downside is the time it takes to process a photograph. I would not recommend giving this app to your mum because the seconds it takes to process can be confusing and cause blurry photographs.

GUDAK Lite:

This app is the embodiment of someone taking a project brief a little too literally. GUDAK has caused controversy, and there is a good reason for it. The app is designed to completely imitate a disposable camera, with the time taken to develop the photographs included in its design.

Basically, this app is designed to bring back the element of surprise you get when waiting for your film to be developed. You must wait for three days until you can view your photographs as the app pretends to develop your film. Not only that, but you can only take 24 photographs per roll and must wait an hour before starting a new film roll.

However, it misses the beat.

The developing time means you cannot correct your photographs, forgetting the purpose of taking photographs on your phone. Also, the viewfinder is tiny and cannot be expanded! An infuriating function since it does not work as an actual viewfinder.

Perhaps this app’s novelty is better when taking photos at a party rather than photos of my house in lockdown.

CALLA Cam:

Photo edited on CALLA Cam

This app is different to the others I am reviewing because you cannot point and shoot on Android phones.

CALLA Cam is good for editing your existing photographs by playing around with film camera filters. The filters are easy to switch and play around with on your phone. Although, I did have to create a folder in my phone’s gallery to save my photos which were quite confusing.

The main problem with this app is the in-app purchases. It is very apparent how limited you are with the free app. They have included an advertising feature to give you a limited range of paid filters for free. However, you must watch 33 adverts before you can download them. That’s a TV show’s worth of adverts to watch for a film effect!

NOMO Cam:

 

In terms of novelty, this app blows the others out of the water! The app is designed to imitate a collection of film cameras. NOMO changes your phone’s interface to replicate the film camera you have selected and includes authentic sound effects to really take you back in time.

At first, I was disparaged by the subscription fee service to access all the cameras available. However, after scrolling through the menu, there are a few cameras for you to use for free.

NOMO takes other film photography apps’ ideas but executes them better by incorporating the phone’s functionality. For instance, their Instax-Mini camera imitates the processing time of polaroid film but gives you the option to speed up the process by shaking your phone (like a polaroid picture).

It is an enjoyable and creative app that I am definitely keeping on my phone!

FIMO Cam:

This app is like NOMO but offers a selection of film rather than cameras.

The interface of this app is what really makes it stand out compared to the other apps. Your phone screen replicates an old school camera (including the scratches). The viewing screen is big and easy to view on your phone screen and gives you the option to zoom in and out!

Unfortunately, the processing time when taking photographs is quite slow and tends to blur many photographs.

 

All in all, film photography apps are great for saving money and time. However, they never quite touch upon the authenticity of using a film camera.

If you have printed photographs that you would like to preserve and share with friends, get them digitised with Digital Converters.

The interest in neon sounds found in retro pop has had a resurgence much like how Stranger Things reminded us of freewheeling through the neighbourhood on an 80’s summer evening.

Music recording has changed a lot over the past century, and many elements that became synonymous with these eras of time have been lost to advances in recording methods. As a result, there is a huge amount of cutting-edge tech dedicated to replicating these sounds without the need to acquire any old gear.

We’ve previously touched on some modern artists known for their vintage sound, but what makes music sound vintage? 

To answer this question, we have to touch on how music is recorded in the digital age.

Digital Audio

Before digital recording became the standard in the music industry, most music of the 1950s to 1990s were produced using multi-track cassette recorders.

These came in the form of large desks with gauges and sliders galore, as well as a slot for a tape to record sound onto. A microphone plugged into the tape recorder would record each track onto a different area of the tape. Producers combined the recordings together to create the finished product.

As audio technology progressed through the Digital Revolution, studios began using increasingly high-tech methods to capture musicians’ vibrations.

This culminated in cassette recorders phasing out favouring computers with a program known as a “Digital Audio Workstation” (or DAW for short). The process of capturing sound remains similar but with huge improvements in cost and versatility. 

Sounds could now be edited in ways which were previously impossible due to the limitations of cassette recorders. DAWs use VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins – these are digital effects that distort your sounds any way you like. This could be adding echoes, delays, reverb or synth.

Now with context established, let’s go through some ways in which studios use plugins to replicate cassette recorders.

Tape Delay

One of the more notable subtleties saved by the magic of plugins is the sound of tape delay. Adding a delay to a sound makes it echo and repeat itself.

Tape delay has a different sound to the digital delay due to the wear on the tape, causing slight pitch changes. Before the tape delay, musicians would have to record in a naturally-echoing area to capture any delay sound. This was not cost-effective, hence tape delays being developed.

A physical tape delay unit would essentially record a sound onto a tape (for example, the sound of a guitar coming through an amplifier) and play it back alongside the live sound.

“EchoBoy” is an industry-standard plugin that recreates the sound of a tape delay. It features ready-made presets which replicate the sound of many of the most famous tape delay units of the 1950s to 1980s.

Wow and Flutter

Wow is a subtle pitch variation heard in music played on cassette. Tiny changes in the recording speed causes the pitch to change. This results in the classic, warbling sound of a vintage cassette.

Flutter is a similar occurrence, but at a higher frequency. The perceived pitch of the sound changes faster and can cauae vocals to sound more shrill. A worn capstan most often causes flutter in the tape machine itself.

Tech-drenched studios can recreate this sound with a plugin called “Wow Control”.

This plugin lets you adjust the amount of flutter and the speed of the “tape”. There’s even a randomisation button if you need some inspiration!

Record Scratch

What? You thought we’d do the entire article without mentioning the glorious vinyl?

Impossible.

Arguably the most iconic “retro” sound is the subtle crackling of a dusty LP. Static buildup or dust and dirt in the vinyl’s grooves causes the crackling sound heard on a vinyl record.

Of course, there are many plugins striving to give producers the option to add this iconic crackle to their tracks in the digital age.

However, there is only one plugin that does this and much more – iZotope Vinyl.

iZotope vinyl is a vintage sound titan. This plugin produces vinyls’ crackle sounds, the audio cutout caused by big scratches in a record, and the pitch wobble of a record warped out of shape.

Prefer your vinyl artefacts a different flavour?

iZotope Vinyl can even switch its entire sound to resemble LPs from the 1930s, ‘50s, ‘60s, 70s, 80s and 2000s!

With complex yet affordable technology, even a beginning bedroom-producer can create vintage music straight with digital plugins.

Of course, nothing beats the real thing, so why not use the UK’s number 1 media digitisation service to get your classic audio tapes/reels converted to digital!

The mechanical clicking of a slide projector is something familiar to even the most sheltered iPhone photographers. Of course, not many of us have frequent interactions with a slide projector, but the shh-kunk sound remains unmistakable. While the projector was a great source of entertainment, the fundamental mechanics of it remain a mystery. 

What Are Slides?

The innovation of slide photography begins with how it prints the picture onto the film. Unlike negative film, which inverts the picture’s colours when printing onto the film, the see-through film used for slide production keeps the colours the same. 

The film for slides was a much cheaper option for amateur photographers because they did not have to fork out for their film prints to be processed. Instead, the photographer had to mount their film into a glass frame. The slide could then be inserted into a projector to view the photo.

How Are Slides Viewed?

The main downside to slide photography is viewing the photo. You can hold the film up to the light to see what has been photographed. But, the photo’s size is much too small to see the photo’s beauty – or show it to larger groups. So, many observed the image through a projector. 

Once you insert a slide into a projector, a light shines through the film and into a lens. The lens works similarly to how our eyes do: it corrects the photograph by flipping and focusing the image for you. The photo is also enlarged by the lens and then projected onto a surface of your choice.

Funnily enough, the invention of projectors came before photography.

The Magic Lantern

You may have stumbled upon this article while reading about slide photography. In that case, you may already be aware of the Magic Lantern slide projector. But for those who are not experts in projection technology, I will give you a quick recap:

Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, developed the magic lantern in the 15th Century. Huygens was a little camera shy and regretted inventing the technology as soon as he realised its popularity. He even planned to sabotage his invention upon finding out his father had intended to present the lantern to the King of France, Louis XIV. Huygens reportedly urged his brother to make sure no one used the Magic Lantern.

Unfortunately for him, schools and theatrical productions used the magic lantern for centuries to come. It also remains a product of interest today – although mainly in the minds of vintage enthusiasts and collectors.

The Magic Lantern’s main mechanics remains the same in projectors. The components needed are the same: a light source, a lens, and the see-through slide image. The only difference between the original lantern and the projectors today is the content of the slide itself because the lantern used paintings and drawings instead of photographs. 

An example of a painted slide by Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926)

An example of a painted slide by Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926)

Two hundred years later, photography entered the world, and the magic lantern’s mechanics came back into the limelight.

Slides in the Present Day

Of course, most people prefer digital photography nowadays. However,  nothing beats the sensory feeling of loading a slide into a clunky, vintage projector, clicking the switch and hopping in and out of worlds frozen in time. If you, or your family, have boxes of tiny, old pictures stored in the attic, these will likely be slides!

Unfortunately, the labs which previously churned out thousands of processed slides are now slowly disappearing. To save your slide photos from disappearing, get them digitised today with the UK’s #1 photo digitisation service! Digital Converters will ensure the preservation of your photographs for years to come.

Substandard is a harsh review of 3-inch reels. There is beauty in watching 4-minute home films recorded on small reels, and it stems from the beginning of cinema when moving images began.

Recently, it has irked me as to why 3-inch reels are still a popular form of media to have digitised. They are so short and meek in their prowess. Especially compared to the marathon-long VHS tapes or touch-of-a-button, high-definition filming available on our phones. I even enjoy watching these jittery, discoloured and (mostly) silent videos — even those that are overexposed and covered in dirt.

Something is enchanting in these incredibly short, moving images of documented life. I can only liken it to the beginning of cinema itself. When films were called moving images, and the spectacle was in the newness of video technology itself.

The Personal Touch of The Kinetoscope

It isn’t easy to pinpoint where the art of moving images began due to many people creating video technology around the same time. Yet, Thomas Edison’s invention of the kinetoscope in 1891 definitely began the capitalisation of a spectator watching a moving image.

The kinetoscope’s intimate and self-contained showing of moving images paved the way to why home filming became popular. It was a personable attraction designed for one person to view at a time. The kinetoscope displayed its films inside a cabinet with a window for spectators to peer inside and watch the show. The small size of the attraction meant the kinetoscope was installed in many tourist hotspots like amusement parks and hotels.

So, what has this got to do with filming onto a 3-inch reel?

Well, Edison genuinely believed that moving image technology would not make as much money if larger groups could watch the show at the same time. A faux pas on his part since cinemas and television are incredibly successful even to this day.

Yet, his belief did touch upon one part of the truth. That the technology of moving images is incredibly personal to the consumer. There is a love for creating films yourself, whether this is documentations of your life or Oscar-worthy dramatizations. The beauty of 3-inch reels is in the hands of the creator.

Yet, this is only part of the answer.

The Cinématographe’s Technological Amazement

The second answer to the question is the content of these moving image films.

The Lumière Brothers began the worldwide attraction of moving images as a spectacle of life with their invention of the cinématographe. It was a lightweight camera and projector that displayed short videos for audiences to engross themselves.

One of the most famous moving image clips was of a train arriving at La Ciotat station. Let’s be honest; if this video were at a cinema today, it would not entice audiences to flock to the screens. (Or maybe it would if it meant we were out of lockdown?) But, back in the 19th Century, the film’s novelty shocked many audiences, with some spectators hiding behind their chairs in fear of the oncoming train hitting them!

The novelty of watching menial moments on a screen captivated audiences and later introduced the market for home video cameras. Soon, everyone was documenting their own ordinary moments of life. There was a captivation in watching the variety of lives and cultures displayed on 3-inch reels. Their rawness in content and novel technology is a spectacle to watch even to this day.

The Sudden Burst of Presence

The sharp cuts and abruptness to 3-inch reels can feel like they lack in substance. Yet, similar to how the Lumière Brothers captivated audiences with their short clips, which lacked narrative, 3-inch reels have a familiar charm.

“Rather than a development that links the past with the present in such a way as to define specific anticipation of the future […] the attraction seems limited to a sudden burst of presence.” – Tom Gunning

Tom Gunning created the term “Cinema of Attraction” to categorise moving image cinema before the development of narrative storylines. These early shows enticed audiences with surprise through momentary appearances of moving images.

Much the same, home videos filmed on 3-inch reels have a “sudden burst of presence”. They contain 4-minute time capsules of the present. Most of the reels were documentation of life that lacked the temporal structure shown in films we see in later years. The videos would have people interacting with the camera or a voyeuristic approach where the viewer sees a glimpse into the camera holder’s life.

The beginning of home filming were private spectacles. They encapsulated moments in time and attracted others to watch what the camera holder had experienced. The beauty of 3-inch reels are in their abruptness: they erupt with the presence of a time once had and spilt with the ordinary person’s intimate documentation of the familiar.

 A film franchise 28 years in the making; Jurassic Park has reigned success again-and-again with each sequel it makes. With the third instalment of Jurassic World coming this year, we reflect on how the original film captured the public’s attention and became the 5th most popular VHS tape of all time. 

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) is a culturally significant film in Hollywood for pioneering new visual effects and reflecting the changing political climate in America. In the opening weekend, Jurassic Park achieved a record-breaking $50 million box office sale. After a year of being played in the cinema, the film had obtained $916 million before being released on VHS. To know that their budget was only £96 million, you get an idea of the magnitude of this film’s achievement.

The success of its box office and VHS sales were driven by the film’s production, marketing, and commodification. Combine this with a family orientated storyline of a group working together to escape the monstrous danger surrounding them – and you’ve got yourself a Spielberg blockbuster.

However, before we can understand Jurassic Park’s success, we first need to delve into America’s politics during the cinematic release.

The Republican Revolution

6 months before Jurassic Park’s release, Bill Clinton was welcomed in as the United States’ new President. Within the first month of his presidency, he had reversed the family planning restrictions prohibiting women from getting an abortion. 

6 months after Jurassic Park’s release, the Republicans won most of the seats in Office. There became a focus in American politics to maintain traditional American ideals.

Since the Republicans had won most seats, Clinton signed a bill called the “Defence of Marriage Act”. This act was designed to “protect” the institution of marriage as a union of one man to one woman – the conservative, nuclear ideal—an ideal which was heavily focused on Jurassic Park’s storyline.

“…those stories that become consumable by a large popular audience provide a good guide to the more conservative cultural narratives of the present.” – Laura Briggs and Jodi I. Kelber-Kaye, “There Is No Unauthorized Breeding in Jurassic Park”: Gender and the Uses of Genetics.”

Science fiction films tend to show us a narrative different from the Western cultural norm. Moreover, they highlight the dangers of living in a world different from the political situation that we live in. In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs represent the dangers and uncontrollable nature of experimenting with genetics.

Life Will Find A Way

The dinosaurs represent the anxiety around the science of controlled breeding. Through being created in the lab, they represent the mix of being technological and organic. In the film, the dinosaurs were designed by extracting the DNA from a mosquito’s blood found inside an amber stone. The visiting characters learn that they created all the dinosaurs as females to prevent the dinosaurs from breeding and control their test environment.

However, the scientists used frog DNA to fill the genetic make-up needed to clone the animals. Little did they know that the frog’s DNA they had chosen to use was of an ambisexual breed – meaning that they had the capability of changing gender to procreate. The famous words of Ian Malcolm ring true as the female dinosaurs find a way to evolve and represent the uncontrollable danger of meddling with genetics and controlling breeding.

Natural vs Unnatural

Since Spielberg directed Jurassic Park, there had to be a family-friendly spin on an army of monstrous dinosaurs rampaging around an island. At the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler: a couple struggling with their differences over having children. Ellie being all for beginning a family, and Alan thoroughly against it. The couple’s arrival to the theme park brought new responsibilities as they (well, Alan) were landed with protecting the owner’s grandchildren from the danger of the dinosaurs.

“It’s like a treehouse. Your dad ever built you one?” – Alan Grant rescuing Tim after their jeep falls over a cliff edge and lands in a tree.

By the end of the film, Ellie and Alan are surrogate parents holding and leading the children to the helicopter to escape the island. The message is clear that their survival is based on the group of characters working together as a nuclear family; with Alan showing his paternal leadership, he puts his arm around the now elderly-appearing Hammond and guides him to safety.

Scientific progression with cloning and manipulating genetics is shown as threatening the natural and traditional family. Like the Republican anxiety about marriage and abortion, Jurassic Park tells us there is safety in tradition.

Captivating the audience

Without the political agenda, it is hard to deny that Jurassic Park’s attraction was the visual effects. The CGI was an iconic development in Hollywood’s film production. Hence, the original film trailer avoided displaying the CGI dinosaurs to lure film lovers into seeing the cinema’s pioneering technology.

The fascination, adoration, and apprehension created in Jurassic Park are a homage to the monster film. By limiting big spectacular displays of the monster, the audience’s imagination is left to fill in the gaps. The dark setting and stormy weather in the film plays into this as Spielberg purposefully uses partial, close-up shots or shadows of the dinosaurs to build suspense. In fact, by using clever camera angles and lighting, the film only had 14 minutes of visual effects – only four of those minutes were the iconic CGI we remember Jurassic Park for today. 

Spielberg captured the public’s attention and left them hungry for more by withholding the spectacular visual display of the dinosaurs.

The Mirror Image

If there is one thing Jurassic Park satirises, it is our capitalist desire to commodify anything new and exciting. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it is at the expense of the consumer. Ian Malcolm outlines this problem after Hammond explains his idea to make a dinosaur-themed park:

“Yeah, but John, if Pirates of the breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” – Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

The irony being Universal Studios building a water ride simulating the fear and adrenaline rush of being attacked by dinosaurs. This year also welcomes a new Velociraptor rollercoaster ride paying homage to the success of ‘Jurassic World’. It is an inescapable thought that experiencing a dinosaur-filled theme park is (and dare I say it?) sexy. 

The commodification of Jurassic Park is the final reason why the film has captured so many people’s hearts. The initial VHS release came with a special edition gift set of a DNA carry case, an educational book on dinosaurs, an InGen security pass, 3D hologram watch and map of Isla Nublar.  The gift set toys with the theory of dinosaur cloning being plausible as it mixes the factual with fiction.

“…before you even know what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a lunch box” – Ian Malcolm speaking about the dangers on capitalising on dinosaurs.

The risk, wonder, and adventure: Spielberg’s film captivates us by showing a world we could never live in. The VHS to DVD releases combined with playful commodities has placed Jurassic Park into a staple part of Western film culture. Furthermore, its innovative visual effects and theorisation around the dangers of creating dinosaurs with a capitalist agenda cultivate a world in which Jurassic Park could exist.

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It is evident everywhere humans go we pine for times long past and places long forgotten. Whether it is watching your favourite Disney films again on a rainy evening or running your fingers along the torn edges of your favourite book – we all love that hit of nostalgia. 

This, of course, extends to music too. (And I’m not just talking about blasting your old Robbie Williams CD in the car)Sometimes the medium takes a back seat to the sound waves themselves. A lot of our favourite music being produced today uses sounds and techniques plucked straight from legendary recording studios of the 1980’s and ignites that same nostalgia. 

From global acts, such as The Weeknd and The 1975, to critically-acclaimed indie darlings like Tame Impala, a huge slew of artists are aiming to encapsulate the sounds of the past. Whether this be the 70’s, 80’s, or other sounds which capture the essence of a world different to our own today. 

Here are two techniques used in music today which encapsulates that retro nostalgia which music fans love:  

The Snare Accident 

The drum sound of the 80’s is something unmistakeable: huge cymbals and punchy snare drums. Just listen to the drums tail off after each thwack on Phil Collins’ monumental hit “In the Air Tonight” and you’ll hear the quintessential 80’s drum sound executed to a tee. Usually, the sound of a record in the studio is something which is meticulously planned by the artist or producer, but this drum sound (which came to define the 80’s pop music scene) was something of a happy accident. 

A year before this smash record was released, Phil Collins had developed his own technique of drum recording with his former bandmate, Peter Gabriel. While recording in The Townhouse Studio in London, Gabriel recruited Collins to play the drums on his breakthrough third solo album ‘Melt’. In the studio, Collins’ drums were picked up by the overhead microphone used by the engineers to speak with the band.  

This microphone was not designed to record instruments, and as such was set up differently to recording microphones. The most notable difference was that this studio microphone included a noise gate and a compressor. Essentially, this means that the microphone amplified quiet sounds, turned down loud noises, and tuned into sounds when it hit a certain volume. It was designed to stop picking up sounds when they dropped below a certain threshold.  

While recording Collins’ drums, the studio microphone caused a massive, cacophonous sound that was abruptly cut off after no more than a second. Hugh Padgham, one of the music producers, explained it best as “going from all to nothing in milliseconds”. This drum sound became a staple of Phil Collins’ music, as well as the music of many other 80’s superstars. 

This drum recording technique is still used today! Lorde, a pop artist from New Zealand, adorned her latest album with retro drum sounds sprinkled over brooding pop evolved from her first hit album, ‘Pure Heroine’. Meanwhile, MGMT have been long known for using retro sounds in their techno music. But this is best encapsulated in their 2018 album ‘Little Dark Age’ which amplifies that typical 80’s rock drum snare. 

Synth Pop 

As technology evolved, synthesizers became integral to the sound that would largely dominate popular music for the past 50 years. This change in music began in the 1960’s swirling cauldron of countercultural attitudes, distorted guitars, and exciting new tech. Psychedelic Rock was birthed. Bands, such as Pink Floyd and The Doors, were early synth pioneers and set a lot of the groundwork that many popular artists have built upon today.  

Speaking on the synergy between rock and electronic music developed in the 1960s, Louis Marcheschi said:

“Rock and Roll is electronic music – because if you pull the plug, it stops”. 

This is largely due to the reliance on electronic effect pedals to achieve the spacious, echoing sound of the 1960’s. The sound produced by the guitar itself is manipulated and repeated so much that without the electronic tech and synthesizers, the music would lack the depth and produced sound. This kind of effect-laden sound manifested itself in different ways throughout the popular music of the 80’s, 90’s and present-day music.  

To understand the potence of this heavily produced sound listen to Beach House’s psychedelic modern music and Danish critically acclaimed synthetic “Space Pop” band Mew. 

Bands such as Depeche Mode and The Pet Shop Boys took it through its first boom in the 80’s. The torch was then handed over to Lightning Seeds who scored two UK Number One Singles – one of which being England’s Football Anthem “Three Lions released in 1996. However, the best modern-day practitioner of the “Synth Pop” sound is likely Tame Impala, who have created two albums in the last 6 years which have been in the Top 10 UK Album charts. Most recent of which is their 2020 albumThe Slow Rush’. 

As it stands, these retro revivalists are here to stay, and they bring a great soundtrack.  

 

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