Behind The Colortones Mixtape Series


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Some of us still habitually call them mixtapes in this new era. We were probably those kids who lived and breathed DIY cassette culture, carefully compiling moods and themes and trying to be clever about what to do with the last ninety seconds of blank tape to end our perfect mix. And even if we didn’t have the best penmanship or drawing skills, we were still thoughtful with presentation. It didn’t feel unusual to spend an entire evening making a single mixtape because it was ridiculously fun or because we were ridiculously in love. Whatever the impetus, mixtapes are awfully personal statements. Sean O’Hagan wrote about mixtapes in The Guardian years ago, and his description sums it up pretty perfectly: “And, if a cherished record collection contains, on one level, a sketchy map of the human heart, a mix tape is a smaller, more intimate map, and a kind of diary of where you once were, and even who you once were.”

I’m sad to say that the last time I made a real mixtape was in the late ’90s. Even if I did so now, it wouldn’t change the fact that most people lack the means to listen to them. Over the last year, though, I’ve thought of copious ways to make and share digital mixes that retain the true spirit of the mixtape, taking into consideration that since they will be published on Colorcubic, they should also be thematically linked to design in some way. During this thought process, I remembered that as a teenager (and I still do this with other things now), I’d organize all my cassette tapes and CDs by color. Countless hours were spent replacing the original cover art with custom ones so that my shelves would look like a museum of Pantone swatches, all encased in glossy blocks of plastic. I disregarded genre, and instead, organized my albums based on mood. It was all sorts of lovely, and I felt strongly that it needed to make a comeback, but this time in the form of a digital mixtape series. It only seemed appropriate, then, to call the series Colortones; tones of color, mood, and sound to accompany our creative lives.


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Like Frank Lloyd Wright, I also champion the concept of limitations. He once said that when limitations were at their greatest, we built most nobly. The thing about old technology is that the limitations were a blessing in disguise. A limited duration meant an enforcement of quality; we adapted by including only the best cuts. Cassettes also forced patience upon the listener; we had to more or less listen to the mix continuously and in sequence, which is how it should be, anyway. For Colortones, each episode is limited to 12 tracks, mixed in one continuous file as an enhanced podcast. A wonderful feature of enhanced podcasts is the ability to include chapters and unique artwork for each track. Each Colortones track is associated with a unique Pantone color, and therefore unique artwork. If you pay attention to the artwork while listening, you’ll notice the subtle motion of the tape spool being wound up as you progress through the mix. Additionally, every track’s artwork contains a label in which the title has been handwritten just like you’d find in a mixtape insert. It’s a tedious making process, but it feels good, and more importantly, it’s ridiculously fun.

For now, the monthly episodes will be curated by yours truly under ‘Wolfe+585′ (a moniker inspired by Wolfe+585, Senior, a Philadelphian typesetter known to have the longest personal name in history), but there will likely be guest mixes in the future. My wish is for these mixtapes to become a soundtrack to your creative unfolding, just like my teenage color-toned albums were for me. Lastly, I hope you enjoy listening to Colortones as much as I enjoy making them.

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November 14, 2011

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Color, Culture, Music

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