Magnetismo Sónico

Agustina Checa, Music
Faculty Advisor: Eliot Bates
Project Website: Magnetismo Sónico
NML Awards: The New Media Lab Digital Dissertation Award (March 2022), The Joshua Brown Visual Culture Award (June 2021)

Magnetismo Sónico is a public access digital archive showcasing and connecting the work of labels that edit music in cassette format in Latin America. It was conceived and always visualized as a non-profit platform to support the work of independent labels by harvesting the potentials and affordances of both analog and digital media.

In a time in which songs circulate mainly in the form of ones and zeroes, independent labels across the world have found in cassettes an affordable, accessible, and do-it-yourself medium to construct value, meaning, and community around music. For some years, I have been conducting a multi-sited ethnographic study of cassette labels in various cities in Latin America. Unlike analog “revivals” in the Global North, cassette production outside of central hubs is more restricted, determined by limited manufacturing resources and precarious cultural infrastructures.

Magnetismo Sónico serves as the public-facing component to my dissertation, which intersects independent music, value, material culture and economic ethnomusicology. In my work, I frame cassettes as objects with different kinds of agency, relating actors in independent music scenes through alternative economies both for their physical qualities and particularities as technologies of music media. Magnetismo Sónico, and its particularities as an Omeka-run site, enriches the storytelling component of my ethnography while providing a one-stop service of information that helps the communities I study support their small-scale local economies. The website is centered around cassettes through design choices that highlight the communicative affordances of tapes’ materialities -from stickers to scissor marks and “thank you” notes. Every item has a substantial database constructed around it, with information that links cassettes musically (via tags) through production and social associations (via collections) and geographically through a location feature. Abiding by the practices of circulation and exchange that are privileged in the communities I study, where cassettes are produced primarily to connect people, Magnetismo Sónico is not a digital market to purchase cassettes but a platform that allows tape enthusiasts to connect with different cassette labels across the region.

Pairing the relational agencies of both new and old media, Magnetismo Sónico aims to be an interactive and participatory cultural database helping actors of these niche socio-musical spaces connect with each other. With the help of the New Media Lab, I will be working on facilitating access to contributions from users, in order to make this public archive increasingly interactive and fundamentally participative.

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