The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57471   Message #903801
Posted By: Steve Parkes
05-Mar-03 - 03:57 AM
Thread Name: Sound archives decaying
Subject: Sound archives decaying
We all know about wax cylinders disintegrating and old movie film turning to jelly (jell-o, if you're over there!), but shellac 78s, vinyl discs and audio tapes are also starting to die too.

There's an article in this week's UK New Scientist about it. Unfotunatey, it's not on their website so I can't link to it; it will be in the archive, but you need to be a subscriber to access that. It's far too long for me to attempt to copy out, so I'll try and make a préis.

"Acetate" discs were used for personal recordings from 30s to the 50s. They comprised a glass or aluminium disc with a coating of cellulose nitrate into which the gramophone recording was made. The coating hardens as it dries out, eventaully turning to white powder. [I have a couple, and it's not a pretty sight.] If they are stored without jackets they can stick together.

Magnetic audio tape even as little as thirty years old can go soft as the binder oozes out of the base. Even when the tape doesn't break, the binder can stick the turns together on the reel and gum up the tape machine. The master for The Eagles' "Hotel California" has gone that way. The only solution is to bake the tape for up to eight hours at 55 degrees C, but the tape can only be played once after that.

The signal can fade in the oxide, even if the tape is intact; and can "print through" to adjacent sections of tape, if stored for long periods.
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Even CDs "aren;t as permanent as archivists had hoped", although they don't go into details. I'mm planning to digitally record my collection of 78s and mag tapes in the near future -- although what I'll have to do to to maintain the CDs, I don't know!

There's a couple of links from the article: Save Our Sounds at the Smithsonian (there's an interesting interview with Jerry Garcia on another page) and the National Sound Archive in Britain.
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If you have any old recordings, start thinking about saving them!

Steve