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A Sound Education

Recycling Audio Cycles


"I think reincarnation is possible. Hopefully, we all get recycled."

Christina Ricci

We should all do our part to recycle. Musicians have been doing it before recycling was cool. French composer Pierre Schaeffer started the music concrète genre in the early 1940s by "recycling" recordings to make music. It all started at the same studio in Paris that was the center for French resistance radio. Schaeffer's new way of recycling audio could almost be described as "resistance music."

Hip hop artists are probably the ultimate audio recyclers. In the beginning, affordable drum machines using samples (audio snapshots) of recorded drums provided the backbone beats. Later on, producers and groups such as Run DMC started sampling popular songs and rapping over the rhythms. Sampling is still a major part of hip hop music today.

In my May 2020 newsletter Free music!, I introduced Brian Foo's DJ remix project using early twentieth century sound samples from the vast collection of the Library of Congress. The average citizen can mashup sounds into some really cool beats. What's this called? History Hop?

As the digital age started to sweep away some long-standing audio formats, people forgot about their old record players, Walkmans, tube radios, and amplifiers. Most were trashed along with records and tapes, but some survived in the backs of closets and up in attics. Years later they would be pulled out by youngsters fascinated with those cool-looking knobs on those old wood grained boxes. This ignited the resurgence of vinyl records (yea!) and cassettes (huh?) with both the young crowd who had never experienced that sweet analog sound, and the older crowd who had surrendered their ears to the digital age. Those old records you find at yard sales and thrift shops are part of the audio recycling program we should all take part in. The slogan should be

No Vinyl in a Landfill!

We're also seeing another type of audio recycling, or should I say "upcycling." Back in the 70s and 80s, one of the cool ways to repurpose audio equipment was to take an old console stereo, strip out its guts, and make it into a liquor cabinet. I've used old gutted antique radio cabinets for plant stands. If you've been to my studio, you might have seen my red Panasonic radio on the counter. I actually inherited two of them, so I painted them both red after fixing the electronics. I hot-rodded one of them by putting in an oversized speaker. I now listen to NPR in full fidelity in the mornings on that one.

Red Radio
iMany enterprising antique radio enthusiasts are tapping their mp3 players in to their old tube powered radios. This can give the listener a mellow and rich sound that only a pre-war Philco radio can give, such as Bill Reeves did in the picture below. Reeves gives details about how you can build a circuit that will safely turn a working tube radio into an amplifier for your player.

Philco mp3

Pete Verrando took something I used to work with, a Nagra professional Swiss reel-to-reel recorder, and did the same thing...sort of. Verrando had four machines in disrepair and renovated two of them into fully working models. This left the other two "donor" machines with a lot of missing parts. So he did what any crazy audio engineer with a sense of humor and a soldering iron would do, he Frankensteined it to not just play mp3s, but to record onto a looping tape for scratching to the music. You have to watch his video to fully grasp how outstanding his creation is.

Nagra mp3

Don't have time to do any of that? How about buying some upcycled time. Allan Young takes small portable record players and makes wall clocks out of them. In this example below, he took a Concert Hall player and mounted a clock mechanism through a 45 record. This is one of the coolest clocks I've ever seen.

record player clock

And he didn't stop there, Allan Young also upcycles many other objects into clocks, including film projectors, bicycle gears, cameras, kitchen items, computer parts, and tape reels. Look in wonder in his shop on Etsy.

Reel clock

Not unique enough? Analog Outfitters created "The Scanner," a guitar vibrato and reverb effects unit made from old Hammond organ parts. They repurposed vibrato scanners, reverb tanks, and even the wood from unwanted organs. Though no longer available new (or old?), you might be able to find one on the used market.


And not to be outdone, a budget-conscious filmmaker has adapted an old iPhone into a wireless microphone system for capturing audio during filming. Eric Escobar gives details on how to adapt a current or older model smartphone to record a lavalier microphone in an audio format suitable for high-end productions.


People everywhere are either turning old audio gadgets into something else, or turning old items into audio equipment, like suitcase speakers and typewriters.

suitcase speaker

steampunk typewriter

Left to the imagination, one could transform just about anything and save a piece of audio gear from going to the landfill. Maybe our slogan should be

No sound in the ground!