The Present Time

No gift is more personal than one that's made by hand. The mix tape, though, is especially intimate -- after all, when you're making one, you can use anything in the history of recorded music to create a personal message. The technology has, of course, evolved over the years, and these days mixes are ripped and burned -- and they take only as much time to produce as the recording speed of your CD burner. But many of us remember (some of us fondly) the days when mixes were laboriously taped and took hours to complete, and the recipient knew that your time was part of the present.

A new exhibit at the Glassell School of Art harks back to this labor-intensive process. Actual cassettes with song lists, cover art and personal narratives about the tapes' origins will be on display in "Magnetic Letters -- The Lost Art of the Mix Tape." "I want to underscore the notion that the cassettes themselves are cultural artifacts," says curator Heather Colvin. "They can be viewed as relics from a time that doesn't exist anymore. There's a very strong element of nostalgia in this project."

Finding a mix tape these days (if you're lucky enough to still have a tape deck to play it on) is like coming across an old letter. Whether it expresses love, hate or total confusion, someone took the time to communicate it to you.

"One of the things people have been saying to me is 'Hey, people still make mix tapes; they just don't make them on tape anymore. People still communicate the same way with a mix CD,'" says Colvin. "But it's not the same, because it's so much easier to do now.

"Time is the most important factor lost in the transition from mix tapes to mix CDs," she continues. "It brings up the question of authenticity. If someone didn't spend four hours making it, is it as heartfelt as it would have been?"

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Lisa Simon