Confronting how playlists make us feel during the pandemic
Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
Cynthia Tran Vo // Illustrator
Part One: A Mixtape for the Pandemic.
The modern-day mixtape bridges the existential gap between digital and physical worlds. While a mixtape may not hold the same significance now as it did in 1983, the craft is still very much alive despite the digitization of the medium. When done in the true sense, regardless of the time period, the mixtape is a collage of feelings that form a story or embody a thematic ideal. Each song is a sentence whose cadence creates a narrative of the creator’s making. Finding the right tracks, selecting an order that resonates, maintaining a flow and crafting a proper pace—these make mixtapes an art form.
In tribute to a year that screwed me harder than the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge ever could, I’ve crafted a mixtape for the pandemic. I’ve dedicated two songs to every month, from January 2020 until March 2021, with a bonus track for April. There’s no way to truly capture what a mess these fifteen months have been. Regardless, I endeavoured to capture the feelings of dread, hope, anger, grief, and love that so defined this rocky period of our lives.
Find Joss’ pandemic playlist here.
Part Two: The Age of Analogue Audio.
I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas.
Yes, in 2020. I didn’t even ask for it; it was just… there, under the tree. I remember thinking, ‘I have AirPods—when will I use this?’ I decided to look through the tapes that were part of the gift anyway. Among that small starter collection was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Curious, I pulled the tape from its casing and slotted it into the yellow Walkman. The cover shut with a satisfying click, and then all I had to do was hit play.
I pressed the big button with an arrow on it. It went *Thunk*
I heard an electric pop, a static sizzle and then…
And then there was sound. Such a sweet sound.
I sat there, completely floored as a guitar from 1984 echoed out through cheap headphones directly into my ecstatic brain.
In those first five seconds, I was hooked.
In the digital age, things tend to feel intangible. The digitization of schooling will surely become a classic example of this. Theoretically, online classes don’t differ much from in-person teaching—but in reality, the two aren’t comparable. The classroom is an environment: the whiteboard is seen, the teacher is heard, and the desk is felt beneath bored fingers. It’s flawed but real, and we lose that realness when things go online.
Analogue audio is, similarly, a tactile experience. You can hold a tape in your hand and watch, as magnetic tape slowly spools out from side A to B. Dropping a needle onto a spinning LP feels right, as does the buzz a CD makes as it’s inserted into a car deck. Pressing ‘play’ on Spotify, just doesn’t feel the same as holding music in your hand. Simply put, it pleases our monkey brains to press a big button.
Music is not a typical form of escapism like most other entertainment. You don’t go anywhere when listening to music. The brain doesn’t shut down; it spins up. A connection forms when you slot in a CD or un-sleeve an LP. What happens is you begin to actively listen as music becomes more through a physical medium. That’s where the magic in music lies—not in the background but as a piece of the moment.
It’s easy to write this all off as nostalgia for a dead era. The inherent fallacy of arguing in favour of analogue audio is that it’s better than digital audio, but this isn’t an argument for quality. What matters is that a moment is enjoyed. Music is music, after all, the medium doesn’t change the song. But the medium does make the experience, and now more than ever, it’s important to find things in life that make the world feel special. The age of analogue audio died before I was ever born, but hell, it’s a wonderful memory to hold onto right now.