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Recently, I dug up an old C90 audio cassette from when I was a kid in the early to mid 1990s. It's possible that it was already a few years old then, used by my parents and possibly others.

I set up an old tape recorder and connected it with its headphone output to the line input on my computer's soundcard, and recorded both sides in AudaCity.

The first side had expected audio recordings I remember making as a child on it. The other side seemed to just have some random music recorded from the radio on it. However, I noticed strange patterns here and there in the audio "waves", causing me to jump to those parts.

What I discovered shocked me: exploded into the otherwise continuous music were short recordings where, apparently, I or my parents had pressed "record", said some stuff, then stopped it, and then fast-forwarded a random amount of time to repeat it. It's impossible to tell how long time passed between each such voice recording. Maybe it was days, weeks or months. Even years? To be clear: the music does not play at the same time during these "voice clips"; it's interrupted entirely by the voice clips. I felt that I should clarify that.

I cut out all these parts and put them together. It's just random instances of one of us pressing "record" and saying or singing something silly. It's the first time I've heard this for 25+ years. But how is this technically possible, unless we went out of our way to actively fast-forward, start recording, stop, fast-forward, etc., on top of the previous recording of music? Why would we or anyone do that? Why aren't they all in one long series? Why are they split up into many different seemingly "randomly sprinkled" locations throughout the long recording of music that was previously on the tape?

I find this extremely bizarre and cannot offer any explanation from memory or asking the family members. Frankly, it freaks me out. Could this be explained in some technical or logically way?

To be extra clear: there is no "faint music in the background" or anything while the voice clips are playing; the recordings are not "mixed" in any way except in the sense that they overlap on the "timeline".

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  • $\begingroup$ Pre-recorded tapes usually had the record tags punched out, but if you covered over them with tape then you could record… $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 13, 2022 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ "Why would we or anyone do that? Why aren't they all in one long series? Why are they split up into many different seemingly "randomly sprinkled" locations throughout the long recording of music that was previously on the tape?" If the tape was popular with the family and left in the machine all it takes is one child to press the record button in error any time they try to start it. When the music doesn't play they would stop and press play. A related thing might be that if pressed lightly the capstan wouldn't engage and the take-up spool could fast-forward. $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Feb 13, 2022 at 8:25

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This is very easy to do if your tape recorder had a recording function called "punch in". This lets you switch from playback straight into record mode without first stopping the tape. So, when the music was playing, at any desired time you could punch in and record something random, then punch back out and continue playing the pre-recorded music, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that for studio stuff. I don't recall any of my several GE cassette recorders being able to do that. But maybe I just didn't know about it. I finally got rid of my last shoebox of TDK SA-X 90's a few years ago. Also had Harmon Kardon, Teac, JVC, and briefly a Nakimichi Dragon decks that didn't do that AFAIK. $\endgroup$
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 13, 2022 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilSweet, this was a hypothesis. mini-portastudios from teac and tascam did this. even if the deck in question did not have punch-in, that does not rule out the slower method of recording, stopping, playing for a while, stopping, recording for a while, etc. Drugs may have been involved as well. ;-) $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2022 at 20:56
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My best guess is that the music tracks were recorded over the voice tracks. If you made a mix tape off a dubbing deck, you would space the songs a little and maybe the earlier voices didn't get erased. I used to erase tapes using a different machine before rerecording on them. The cheapy wiper erase heads ganged to the record head often left short artifacts because of the space between them.

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Recording anything on a tape erases what was there before.

You will never hear sounds "underneath" without fancy equipment that doesn't erase while it records.

So the music is either recorded over the voices or the voices were recorded over the music. There is nothing odd about this - the sounds were recorded on the tape where they now are either by letting it play then record, or by fast-forwarding to the recording points.

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