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  • A Sony Walkman Pro Cassette Tape Delay
  • Richard Lerman

Sound examples and additional images related to this article are available at <www.west.asu/rlerman>.

I engineered and built the Sony Walkman Pro tape delay in summer 1983. I still use it in performance, with the same cassettes and Walkman recorders, some 24 years later.

It became really tiresome to arrange for two stereo tape recorders at every gig, and I was determined to find a way to make this delay system. The Walkman was perfect for this purpose because it had very accurate speed control (simply leave the speed tune knob to OFF) and the recorders themselves needed no modification. I know they did not design this feature intentionally, but removing the battery pack leaves exactly enough room for tape to clear the outer edge of the machine. (Thank you, Sony.)

Using the delay is fairly simple— one need only decide how long a delay is wanted. The minimum is about 6 seconds—it takes the recorded sound on the tape that long to move from the recording deck to the playback deck when the units are close together. One can adjust this distance during use by gently pulling the two units apart. Yes, there is tape slippage and a warbling sound as the speed briefly becomes unstable, but it works. Generally, I keep the units in Dolby C mode and always use metal tape.

To build the cassette delay system, the two cassettes must be carefully taken apart—make sure to use the kind that are held together with five screws. The difficulty lies in taking off the thin plastic piece atop the tape hubs. These reduce friction inside the cassette. When this part is off, the very thin tape often curls and twists around.

In any case, one must remove the hubs and file a very narrow slot in the top and bottom halves of both cassette cases. Figure 6 shows where this slot must be. Furthermore, the splines must be removed from the feed hub of the playback (take-up) cassette. Use an Exacto blade or very fine wire cutters. Discard (or save for future use) one spool of the tape. (Leave the leader attached to the take-up spool.) Then take a thin slice of splicing tape or Scotch tape and attach the cassette tape to this leader. (Perhaps cut the leader a bit short so that the splicing tape never touches the heads.)

When finished with these operations, carefully put everything back together. I often use toothpicks or wooden Q-Tips to help guide the tape. Drafting tape can also be used to hold things down—it comes off easily. When the work is done, two cassettes will be spliced together. For storage, fold them on top of one another and take up the slack by winding the record cassette with a pencil.

To rewind the cassette delay:

  1. 1. Remove the take-up cassette from the recorder.

  2. 2. Hold it at the same height as the Walkman.

  3. 3. Push rewind on the recording cassette.

  4. 4. The tape will quickly rewind and not bind.

To maximize flexibility from tape delay, I built a 6 x 4 matrix mixer. The schematic appears on my web site [1]. The mixer allowed me to assign inputs to the recorders and send the playback from the left and right channels back into the delay at varying volume levels.

Perhaps the high point in using this delay occurred at the 1986 New Music America Festival in Houston, where my piece A Matter of Scale was performed

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Fig. 6.

Shown here is the threading of the two cassettes for the tape delay, with the tops of the cassettes removed.

Photo © Richard Lerman

[End Page 34]

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Fig. 7.

Brett Ian Balogh, When Airwaves Swing, installation detail, 2006.

Photo © Brett Ian Balogh

inside the Astrodome. I used the delay and mixer on the pitcher's mound. Other performers in left, center and right field and at first and third base played small instruments made from piezo disks with harpsichord wire and soda straws with microphones inside. I was intrigued...


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