Sometime in the 1980s we got our first family computer, a Commodore 64.
I think at the time it was the market leader in the UK and shipped with the game ‘Purple Turtles’ and possibly another, but the main reason for going with the C64 was the fact that a guy in my Dad’s office had one and we could get copied games from him! It was easy in those days, a simple double tape deck could copy a cassette in real time and would work most of the time, so we quickly had a huge choice of games to play. I guess it was through doing this that I first heard the sound of the data stream on the cassettes. Normally C64 cassettes were loaded using a specific cassette player with an output/input designed for it and the sound was inaudible while it played into the computer. I picked up a Datassette unit in a charity shop a little while ago, I had no memory of what I assume is an earthing cable attached to the plug, interestingly it isn’t pictured or mentioned anywhere in the manual either!
For years we were awed by the impressive graphics in “Way of the Exploding Fist”, would become immersed in the “Zork” series of text only adventure games and frustrated by long loading times and the increasing difficulty in copying games!
By the early 90s we had hundreds of cassettes, many thanks to an Action Replay/Freeze Frame cartridge device that helped copy games. The C64 not only had the now legendary SID chip for generating pioneering computer sound FX and music but had a graphics chip that could produce 16 different colours.
As games design developed with more sophisticated programming we started to see mini games appear during the loading screens, some were even judged better than the game we were waiting to play! I have a memory of a loading screen for the Thalamus Ltd game “Delta” which presented a set of instrument choices allowing us to mix different elements to creat our own loading music mix! Both that and the in-game music (a rework of Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass) were by master C64 composer Rob Hubbard.
The cassettes were still found in charity and second hand junk shops here in the UK for many years after the C64 was discontinued and superseded by 16bit systems like the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST and subsequent Sega and Nintendo games consoles.
I sometimes like to use a cassette in my experimental sound works so keep an eye out for them, but they rarely appear.