Saturday, August 28, 2010

8-Track Frame of Mind

Readers who access this blog via my Facebook page will already have lost patience with my new-found obsession with 8-track audio, which came about when I purchased an Electrophonic 8-track player (with quad amp and AM/FM receiver!) for $2.00 at a church jumble sale. In the words of one of my friends "8-tracks were an immediate object of derision when they came out. I'm sorry. They're not even bad enough to be cool." Even those who less dismissive are puzzled as to why, for example, I would make a 5 hour round-trip to Boston today to visit In Your Ear Records (a truly awesome place, BTW) in order to rummage through boxes of dusty 8-track cartridges in search of something that will actually play. So, although it's really no-one else's business, I will endeavour to explain.

As a paleontologist, I spend a lot of time dealing with extinct things. As a curator, I spend a lot of time dealing with artifacts. So it's not really surprising that I have an interest in 8-track, which combines physical artifacts (cartridges, players, etc) with an extinct audio format. There's also something inherently appealing about listening to something that you can't download from i-Tunes or order from Amazon. You can't experience 8-track digitally - you have to have the player and the cartridges. Like vinyl, it produces a deeper, "warmer" sound than digital recordings. Plus you have to love the Rube Goldberg charm of a machine that has a moving play head but which can't fast forward or rewind (you can change tracks, which is the 8-track equivalent of flipping sides, but that's it).

I like the fact that I can get ridiculously excited over getting twenty cardboard outer sleeves and a cleaning cartridge in the mail. I like the fact that I'm typing this blog while listening to a quadraphonic recording of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on a cartridge that's well over 30 years old and still works just fine. Most of all, I love the fact that while we both have a collection of several thousand songs that can fit on a thumb drive, I also have an 8-track player and you probably don't. So there.


  1. Wonderful post. Artifacts do indeed open up new (or old) worlds. I've just rediscovered the stereoscope, that very old 3-D technology.

  2. Heavy, man. And to corroborate the theory, I collect sewing machines. No plastic, no inboard computer, not even zig-zag, just cast iron. Just confirms, ya gotta be wierd to work here.

  3. Hello. Placed a link on my blog to this post. The quadraphonic aspect of 8-tracks has a rabid, avid following among the discrete quad aficionados of the quad world.