When audio cassettes revolutionised music

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Death of Lou Ottens, who invented cassette, makes musicians and music fans press memory’s rewind button

The name Lou Ottens may not ring a bell to many. It should, especially if your ears are musically inclined.

He revolutionised music the world over with his invention of the compact audio cassette. He died in his native Holland at the age of 94 on March 6.

The news about death of Ottens, an engineer at Philips who also contributed significantly to the development of the first CD, made many a musician, and music lover, press the memory’s rewind button.

Major role

“The music cassette played a major role in my development as a musician,” Vidyasagar, one of the finest composers in Indian cinema today, tells The Hindu over phone. “I recall buying the audio cassettes of the soundtracks of Hollywood films like Jaws from shops in Chennai. My Philips cassette player had a function to adjust the speed of the playback and by playing it at slow speed, I learnt more about music.”

Vidyasagar, who has composed several chart-topping melodies Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, still owns a vast collection of audio cassettes, though music has gone completely digital. “Just the other day, I received a cassette containing songs of M.S. Viswanathan, a composer I admire,” he says. “There are are so many memories associated with cassettes, like getting the one containing the songs of Poomanam, my first film.”

Late start

When Sreekumaran Thampi started writing lyrics for Malayalam cinema, way back in 1966, the audio cassette hadn’t arrived in India, though it was launched in Berlin some three years earlier. “It was only in late 1970s that cassettes became popular in India, and that wasn’t surprising because those days we were a decade behind in technology,” he says.

“As a qualified engineer, I always watched with interest how science changed the entertainment industry. There is no doubt about the fact that the invention of the audio cassette was the biggest game-changer in music,” he adds.

True. Because of cassettes, music reached the common man. Before that only the rich could afford to buy records. For the rest, radio was the only option to listen to music, but it would not play the music you wanted to listen to, at the time you wanted to.

Companies such as HMV, Echo, Tharangini, Magnasound, T Series, Ranjini and Nisari, brought out cassettes at affordable rates. And for those who wanted to make their own cassettes, unrecorded cassettes from brands such as Sony and TDK were there, and the favourite songs could be recorded – illegally – from a shop nearby.

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