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copyright ©1999-2004

mix it up
the fine art of mix-making

by Amber Mann
| 1 2

The mix "tape," as it is still called despite the near complete death of cassettes, is the informal but ubiquitously recognized Valentine of our time. "There is great joy in making a mix," write the editors of online magazine Art of the Mix. "If you have ever killed a Saturday afternoon obsessing over what song should go next, you know what we mean."

Since the early-80s introduction of blank analog tapes to consumers, enamored admirers have scoured stacks of records (or MP3s as the case may be) to find the perfect songs that would essentially say, "I like you. Do you like me? Circle yes or no." A step -- albeit small -- above the kindergarten note scribbled on pink, dog-eared paper, the mix tape's greatest advantage is that it largely avoids the potential for humiliation. Unlike the prescriptive love note, there's no danger of having your amorous proclamations mocked by each kid as it's passed across a long row of desks. Best of all, the mix tape can be written off as an introduction to new music if a bail-out becomes necessary.

The pop-culture references to the mix tape -- and its role in courtship in particular -- are copious. Its importance is the entire theme of the 1995 book High Fidelity. In As Good as it Gets, Jack Nicholson's character obsesses over everything, and therefore has a CD prepared for every occasion. Blair Witch fans can buy Josh's Blair Witch Mix, meant to represent the mix tape found in his car. In her book Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell spends an entire quarter of the book musing about a relationship she had that was based entirely on trading tapes. And in "Singing in My Sleep," Semisonic croons, "Got your tape and it changed my mind…I've been living in your cassette/ It's the modern equivalent/Sing it up to a Capulet."

The mix tape empowers the musically untalented to combine songs to create a soundtrack for any given period in his life. Like found objects pasted into a collage, the mix becomes something more than the sum of its parts. "Mixed tapes are a kind of creative act as well as a record of a series of decisions at a particular moment in time," explains Art of the Mix. "It is an expression, a pastiche in which a person juxtaposes songs and sounds. The completed tape has a tone and makes a statement." A mix reveals the time, the place, and the mood under which it was made; it's an aural snapshot of how an individual is feeling during a specific moment in his life.

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