Lou Ottens Useless: Engineer Who Invented Cassette Tapes in 1960s Was 94

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Lou Ottens, an engineer who invited the idea of the cassette tape in the early 1960s and later helped develop compact discs, died Saturday at 94, in line with information reviews from the Netherlands.

Ottens was working for Philips when he firm unveiled cassettes at a 1963 radio exhibition in Berlin. Previous to the cassette, audio fans searching for portability needed to depend on a lot bulkier recorders and gamers; there was by no means such a factor as a reel-to-reel Walkman for a purpose.

“It was a giant shock for the market,” Ottens, then 87, mentioned in a 2013 Time journal story that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the medium being launched. “It was so small in comparability with reel-to-reel recorders that it was at that second a sensation.”

Within the 2016 movie “Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape,” Ottens mentioned, “I anticipated it might be successful, not a revolution.”

“Lou wished music to be moveable and accessible,” Zack Taylor, the maker of that movie, informed NPR. “Cassettes taught us use our voice, even when the message got here from another person’s songs, compiled painstakingly on a mixtape. So subsequent time you make that good playlist on Spotify or ship a hyperlink to share a tune, you possibly can thank Lou Ottens.”

Ottens was notoriously unsentimental about his legacy and innovations. On Twitter, Taylor recalled that the engineer had confirmed a troublesome topic for his doc. “Lou was essentially the most troublesome interview of my profession up to now, but additionally my most cherished,” the filmmaker tweeted.

Though cassettes and 8-track gamers have been in competitors for automotive dashboards in the early Seventies, the truth that taking part in a cassette solely required one changeover, very like its pal the vinyl LP, made it a transparent winner. Cassettes ultimately overtook vinyl as a main format as Walkman units launched on-demand audio that was actually on-the-go in each manner for the primary time. CDs started to take over in the mid-Nineteen Eighties, however cassettes held on lengthy sufficient that, as late as 1993, the 2 codecs had parity in {the marketplace}.

“The cassette is historical past,” Ottens mentioned in 2013. “I like when one thing new comes.” However he may afford to say that — he’d had a hand in growing what later grew to become the CD, too, way back to the Seventies.

Ottens was untimely in declaring his invention lifeless, nonetheless. Many Gen-X-ers maintain on to their machines to play the mixtapes they made for themselves and their actual or potential romantic companions in the ’80s and ’90s. A pocket of dogged journalists nonetheless eschews digital recorders to document interviews on cassettes (or its downsized offspring, microcassettes). Whilst a business recorded product, it endures as a distinct segment merchandise, regardless of missing the audio constancy of both vinyl or CDs.

Most indie document shops carry a tiny choice of newly launched cassettes, which endure extra as a novelty than a medium of alternative. Cassette Retailer Day has emerged as a scrappier complement to Report Retailer Day. When St. Vincent introduced an upcoming launch final week, included as a part of it was a 500-copy restricted version on cassette. In 2020, cassette gross sales have been up 94.7% from the yr earlier than, because the medium’s cult cachet elevated, even amongst these too younger to have been round for the format’s heyday. (The largest cassette vendor of 2020, at 14,000 copies, was Woman Gaga’s “Chromatica.”)

 

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