This tape jockey has a thousand of walkmans and uses them to play
“You have to stop the stigma of the tapes. They can sound even better than a vinyl.” With this sentence Lorenzo Charlez, after whom TJ Autoreverse is hidden, begins a lit defense of the cassette. “When I’m DJ’ing music at a disco, people are amazed that the sound comes from a Walkman. After me the bar then switches to their standard music, which comes out of a computer, and it doesn’t sound so well.” Dressed in a T-shirt from the Tachenko group from Zaragoza, he greets us at his house to show us part of his collection while Neil Young‘s Harvest Moon plays in the background. On tape, of course: original US release from ‘72.
His furor for the tapes began in January 2011, when a friend collector showed him the sound of an Aiwa walkman. “I was so surprised by its quality that I recovered the ones I had at home“, he tells us. He found his father’s walkman, which turned out to be the very first one, a Sony TPS-L2. Then he bought some more gadgets to listen to music on the street, replacing his iPod. “The sound has nothing to do, the iPod has much lower dynamic range*. In addition, there is the problem that many people put the mp3 files to lower quality so that more songs, is quantity versus quality“, he explains.
* NOTE by WA: He refers to the loudness war, which made the digital music more and more (dynamic range) compressed while old releases in vinyl or cassette offered much more dynamic range.
But the definitive push came when a friend called him after seeing two boxes of Walkmans on Zaragoza’s flea market. There were 227 pieces for 150 euros. “I was not going to make a collection, but suddenly having these will open the doors. If I had this sony in gray and black, now I look for it in red and so I have the complete series.”
His friends started giving him the walkmans that they no longer used, and he carefully gives them a piece of paper with the date and the name of the one who gives it to him. For the rarest specimens he looks on the internet, and in every country that visits the market flea hunting for bargains or rarities. “On long trips I always go with a walkman. It serves me to distract me on the plane, and also to get around the language barrier by asking for them“, he explains. “It happens that sometimes the salesmen take offense. In Hanoi they told me that it was already very old, and they tried to stick a small thing with radio and mp3 telling me that it sounded much better. And in the Canary islands the shopkeeper was upset because he thought I was kidding.”
A “wikiwalkman” to show its rarities
Lorenzo has this enormous collection divided between his houses of Zaragoza and Monzón, in Huesca province. He is sorting all his pieces in a database to make a “wikiwalkman” where to expose them and keep alive the sound of the walkman. “Sometimes the designs are impressive, much more sophisticated than today Apple’s gadgets. I look forward to making an exhibition soon.”
Among his most precious gadgets the Boodo Khan by Sony stands out, whose name derives from the stadium of Tokyo famous for its excellent acoustics. It is the best walkman in terms of sound, and today can reach 3,000 euros if it comes with box and accessories. “They brought out a special edition of 250 units with headphones and a vibrating cushion to the rhythm of the music“, he tells us.
Other curious pieces of his collection are the Japanese walkmans that, besides the radio, also tune the sound of the television. Another example, nicknamed “the chameleon“, changes color according to the angle from which it looks, and comes with a single button that, depending on the number of times it is pressed, starts, stops or rewinds. In other smaller units the radio does not come integrated, but it is a tape-like complement introduced to it. Another device comes with a video game, and there is one that even has pitch control to the play speed.
And, of course, not all of them are “Walkmans”. That is the commercial name of those manufactured by Sony, which has become a word commonly used to designate all portables. But each brand launched its own line, and among the collection of Lorenzo we find Aiwa’s Cassette Boy, Grundig’s Beat Boy or Panasonic‘s Stereo To Go, names that almost nobody remembers today.
Regarding cassettes there are no less rarities. Lorenzo shows us one labeled as “special for hot countries”, where the case is airtight to avoid damages due to temperature and humidity. Another is only a housing to which different coils can be mounted, which allows greater portability for travel. It even has “cassette singles”, where a single song appears on each side. “I bought them last September in A Coruña. In the store they told me that they had been the first to bring them to Spain, but they had not sold anything.”
The only “tapejockey” that uses walkmans
All this took him to drive a cassette party for the first time in May of 2016 using only walkmans. It was in La Lata de Bombillas, in Zaragoza. “I saw on the internet that two or three people used tapes, but no walkmans. I think I’m the only one in the world that does it“, he says. For that time he used six walkmans, plus a deck to rewind. “It was very complicated because each song required a lot of preparation time. I rewound and left the tapes ready in a Walkman, that was plugging and unplugging to the mixer.”
His selection covers the whole spectrum of music edited during the life of the cassette, since 1968 with Adriano Celentano’s Azzuro until 2001 with Is this it? of The Strokes. Between them, ZZ Top, Michael Jackson, Los Planetas, or their beloved Nada Surf and El Niño Gusano (the worm boy). Most are recorded from vinyl or CD, calibrated to each tape and each device. And, accompanied, of course, by the occasional scratching, which here consists of slowing or accelerating with the finger the rotor of the walkman.
After all this beats a deep cult to the music and the sound. First, by putting value in the effort of groups that make albums as a unit to listen from beginning to end and not as a collection of loose songs that can be skipped. And second, in the search for a perfect sound. Lorenzo says the friend who started him, Hugo from The Walkman Archive, has many AC/DC’s albums from six countries: Australia, Greece, UK, Germany, USA and Spain. “Our country usually only came the copy of the copy, so it is important to get the release of the place where the album was recorded, which is probably the most accurate to the original recording“, he explains. In addition, Hugo has taught him to get the best result of his recordings. “If someone rescues their old walkman today and puts some tape on it, it may sound like crap. Probably the device is made of plastic and tape is a type I one, which are the most basic”, he clarified. I remember in the 90’s we recorded the tapes in any way, double speed, from one to another and without adjusting anything. But if we can record a tape well, it can sound like a vinyl.”
Lorenzo’s love of “cassette sound” does not end with the Walkmans. In the cabinet of his living room, under three framed El Niño Gusano tapes, he has six decks connected to a mixer. “Each one has different characteristics, and sounds better with one type of tape or another“, he explains. One of them has the play key painted in green and is used only by his two-year-old son. “I have recorded the songs of the cartoon series he likes to watch. He already knows that he has to put this here, he tells me picking up an orange phosphorite ribbon“, and give it to this button. He sits there and waits until his favorite song comes out. Instead with the iPad start ‘this one not, this one not’, and starts skipping fast. I think this teaches him to be patient, and not succumb to the culture of the here and now in which we live immersed.
TJ Autoreverse will be DJ’ing next April 7 at La lata de bombillas de Zaragoza.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 9th, 2017 at 7:55 am
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