The MiniDisc Rediscovered through Changelings (Panasonic SJ-MR50)

For the aesthetic of Changelings, I originally wanted to use cassette tapes for a sort of diary medium for the characters. I love old technology. I enjoy the tactile nature of it and the aesthetics, their miniaturized, mechanical parts moving in synchronicity. The tiny sounds of those parts moving. From cassette tapes, to laserdiscs and floppy drives, I grew up with them all and miss their presence. I love digital equipment, but technology has grown so invisible that the human elements are missing, having been assembled – necessarily I might add – by machines.

A few weeks ago I was cleaning out my closet and rediscovered my old, Sony MiniDisc player / recorder! I had forgotten how beautiful the player and discs were. Their multicolored cartridges and luminous discs makes each one feel like a gem. I love how futuristic it still felt, knowing that they were an obsolete technology.

I knew this had to be the aesthetic of changelings. It’s time to move the needle forward in terms of what old tech we use as a tactile medium in film.

So, I went and bought a MIniDisc recorder / player that’s an analogue of micro cassette, dictation recorder. Feast your eyes on the Panasonic SJ-MR50.

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Those large buttons, the Japanese lettering and that wonderful silver case that matches my MacBook Pro so well. It’s perfect for my horror / sci-fi world from another timeline. In my world, MiniDisc was as popular as the CD and lives on in every kind of format.

The SJ-MR50 is the smallest MiniDisc auto-dictation machine ever built and very difficult to find. In fact, I can’t find one with Roman characters anywhere and I got this one at a steal. Other units I see on eBay go for close to $400, which in my opinion is a rip off. I know they’re rare and all, but c’mon! I was able to find this unit in Vietnam, and when it arrived there was an album of very romantic sounding Vietnamese music on the disc. I erased it in order to test the functions and thankfully everything works! The unit looks practically new, but it didn’t come with all the accessories like the remote, charger or gum stick battery. That’s okay though! It did come with a handy, external AA battery back. Whew!

This is the unit that our main character Other-Smith will use extensively in the short film. In the sizzle it will serve as the prop that will drive the entire piece with his voice over. It’s perfect for the task. Old, futuristic and cinematic.

MY FIRST MINIDISC ALBUM AND VAPORWAVE

In my search for the perfect MiniDisc recorder, I discovered a unique music sub-genre, Vaporwave. Not only do they produce music that is reminiscent of the 1980’s and 90’s, which is the point. Variants of the sub-genre include Mallsoft and Slushcore. Some companies like Band CD’s even produce newly minted MiniDisc albums despite the fact that most of the world has moved on from the format. They even use UV printing to imprint album art right on the discs and new jewel cases to create gorgeous products that makes me wish the medium would catch on like Vinyl has (Full disclosure I do not, nor will I ever acquire a new vinyl record. I just don’t get it). Look how beautiful these pressings can be!

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So, after diving deep into this subculture, I just had to buy one, so I chose the first one I could get my hands on, Summer Electro Hits by Van Jack Why? Because the new MiniDisc runs are always so finite they ususally sell out in a couple of hours or days. Van Jack had just been released and so I snagged it. Unfortunately it wasn’t one of the UV printed discs, but it did come with a lot of other surprises.

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The album itself captures the essence of the genre quite nicely, as does the compression artifacts that accompany the medium (not Hi-MD, which is a much improved version of MiniDisc), as does the artwork. It’s crunchy, distant and nostalgic. The vocals sound like degraded recordings played in a cave, like through a radio enabled time machine. I quite enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed receiving the album. The anticipation of it coming was an emotion I had not felt for music in quite some time. Our instant-always-on culture has completely destroyed it for music, and though to a lesser extent, also films. Tripping the opening mechanism on the Panasonic and hearing the tiny gears inside the player whirr up was extremely satisfying. You can hear the MiniDisc laser searching and reading the data. I LOVE IT!

It just goes hand in hand with how I want Changelings to feel. Kind of old, but new. Familiar and strange.

I think it’s going to work well.

THE SURPRISES

The other, and more surprising bit of receiving the album were the gifts that came with it. When you download a product, that’s all you get. No personalization and no gratitude – not to mention the very low payout the author receives – and no connection with the artist. When I opened my package, a bunch of fun doohickies fell out to make me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

Stickers, secret decoders and temporary tattoos, oh my!

Not to mention the personal, hand written thank you note from the publisher.

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What fun!

Though I love digital technology, these are some of the aspects of the artist consumer relationship we’re losing with its ascendence. I feel more connected to this album than almost any other I’ve listened to in the last year, like I did when I had to carefully choose which new CD to buy as a teenager. Maybe I’m being an old fuddy-duddy, but there’s value to having to be selective with what you buy. You’re supporting your favorite artists, and when you buy albums in this way the artist receives a far greater share of the profits as opposed to the $0.005 they get from a Spotify stream.

THE CHANGELINGS MINIDISC

I’ve decided that when I finally get Changelings off the ground and have it scored, I’m going to release the full album on MiniDisc and probably go with the UV printing for the highest quality product I can get. I think that’ll be a fun way to honor this great medium and participate in a subculture that I appreciate.

So, if you’ve got a MiniDisc player, check out Vaporwave and pick yourself up an album on Bandcamp if you can snag one before they sell out.

It’s quite a satisfying experience.

Phil


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