Thursday, March 11, 2021



In this day and age, listening to music in audio form is undoubtedly done by digital medium, purchased online via Apple Music or Spotify or some such. At the risk of being tagged as an old guy, we must point out that mere decades ago, music was available in physical form, whether in audio CDs or, older still, in compact cassettes or cassette tapes. Introduced in 1963, cassette tapes revolutionized music and audio recording, especially for non-professionals, due to their sturdier design and ease of use. Not until the 2000s did cassette use decline significantly. Its longevity can be owed to its inventor from the Netherlands, who died last week.

CNN reports that Lou Ottens, the Dutch inventor of cassette tapes, passed away last Saturday, March 6 at the age of 94. This was reported by his family, who gave no further details on his death other than it happened at his Duizel, Netherlands home. Ottens worked almost his entire professional career, beginning in 1952, at Dutch multinational electronics giant Philips, first at Eindhoven and then at Hasselt, Belgium. There Ottens developed the two-spool tape system eventually used in cassettes.

While not exactly a success from its 1963 introduction, the cassette tape format gained international attention after its system was copied by Japanese manufacturers. While originally designed as an aid to dictation, the sheer convenience offered by cassettes later led to it being adopted by music recording companies as a popular format. The fact that blank cassettes are also available led to widespread use in recording, leading to the “cassette culture” of the late 1970s with numerous mix-tapes featuring music from assorted artists and genres. Remember Star-Lord’s “Awesome Mix-Tape” from “Guardians of the Galaxy”? That was thanks to cassette culture, realized thanks to Ottens’ invention.

Lou Ottens was blessed to have lived long enough to see the golden anniversary of cassette tapes in 2013, where he was honored with an exhibit at the Philips Museum. But Ottens is not identified with cassette tapes alone. Before retiring in 1986 he was also part of the team that developed the audio compact disc or CD, which gradually became the successor of cassettes.

Image: Shacknews


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