The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57471   Message #907488
Posted By: GUEST
11-Mar-03 - 01:08 PM
Thread Name: Sound archives decaying
Subject: RE: Sound archives decaying
I've been working with Northwest Folklife to preserve the tapes that we have accumulated over 30+ years of festivals. I've also reviewed some grant proposals for funding preservation of other folk music collections.

It's a complicated problem. Up to now, there is no single, universally accepted archival storage medium for sound recordings -- some people are making new analog copies of their old tapes, while others are making digital copies on Audio CDs or other digital media.
Within the preservation community, it's understood that anything that we do today will probably be obsolete in 20 years or less, because the technology will have moved forward.

For example, audio CDs use a 16-bit/44.1 Kbps format. The best current digital converters use 24-bit/196 Kbps. In non-technical terms, that means that each second of recorded sound occupies a lot more digital bits. I don't want to get into a discussion of whetehr or not you or I can hear the difference, but the point is that an archive ought to use the highest possible quality.

Some digital formats, such as ZIP disks and the DBX digital audio-on-VHS-tapes system that was popular for a couple of years require playback equipment made by only one manufacturer. Will they be available fifty years from now? Other formats (such as DAT tapes) are notorious for mechanical breakdown. An archived recording on a format that you can't play is as good as lost.

Equally important for those of us who are trying to preserve old tapes of folk music, there are several access issues. Many of us have tapes that we've been saving for years, some of which is unique--live concerts and jam sessions, field recordings and so forth--but nobody else knows what the tapes contain. Unless the recordings are cataloged, and the catalog is available to the rest of the world, it's likely to be lost when the original owner dies.

And then there's the whole question of copyright. Who owns the rights to the music on your tapes? And who owns the rights to the performance and to the recording itself? Those could be three separate people or organizations. What are you as a public or private archive legally allowed to do with the recordings in your collection?

If you have old tapes, or wire recordings, or acetates or other unique recordings, do consider making digital copies, but don't throw away the originals. It's entirely possible that the next generation of preservationists will have new and better tools for recovering the sounds from those old media. And please, please make sure that somebody else knows what you have.