50th Conference of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections: Recorded Sound in the Twenty-First Century: Preserving, Collecting, Collaborating, Connecting.

For a few days in May, as spring was just beginning to show its colours in Montreal, I had the pleasure and honour of attending the 50th Association of Recorded Sound Collections’ (ARSC) Conference as well as the pre-conference workshops held from May 10th to the 14th at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana University, Bloomington Campus at Night

Indiana University, Bloomington campus at dusk

As reflected in this year’s theme, Recorded Sound in the Twenty-First Century: Preserving, Collecting, Collaborating, Connecting, the conference and workshops brought together industry professionals, librarians, archivists, record collectors and audio enthusiasts to share their knowledge and expertise on a variety of subjects from preservation, restoration, copyright, as well as media and cultural research on a range of musical genres.

The pre-conference workshops served as a primer for the topics which were to be addressed during the week’s conference sessions. Over the course of two busy days, we were invited to participate in a variety of workshops which enabled us to get hands-on experience, as well as an overview of theoretical considerations regarding many aspects of media preservation including phonograph disk playback and digitization, phonograph disc equipment setup and alignment, managing media digitization workflows, open-reel tape machine setup and alignment, open-reel tape playback and digitization, as well as video formats, file types and best practices. These workshops were provided by staff members from MDPI (Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative) at Indiana University and Memnon (a division of Sony, working in partnership with MDPI).

The three-day ARSC conference covered a wide range of topics from historical perspectives on sound recordings to metadata, digitization, emerging technologies, archival practices (from small to large archives, crowd-sourced to institution-based), restoration, preservation and accessibility. A number of the presenters hailed from academic and governmental institutions including the Library of Congress, Indiana University, University of Louisville, Library and Archives Canada, and Rutgers University, as well as a few private firms dealing with media restoration and preservation such as Richard L. Hess Audio Tape Restoration, George Blood Audio, and Meyer Media.

Other highlights from the week included tours of The William and Gayle Cook Music Library at Indiana University, the Archives of Traditional Music (including the Hoagy Carmichael Room), and the MDPI and Memnon facilities.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of ARSC, and, in conjunction with this, a new collective of Women in Recorded Sound was created to unite women working and sharing an interest in recorded sound, whether as archivists, librarians, collectors or general enthusiasts. TWomen in Recorded Soundhe kickoff meeting was held at Nick’s English Hut in Bloomington on Friday, May 13th, and was attended by close to 50 members! This welcome initiative was launched by Maya Lerman, Archivist at American Folklife Center, Library of Congress and Sandy Rodriguez, ‎Digital Special Collections Coordinator, University of Missouri-Kansas City. More information about the Women in Recorded Sound collective is available on the official Twitter page and Facebook group.

A number of social activities were planned during the week, including An Evening at the IU Cinema, also held on Friday the 13th, which was hosted by Rachael Stoeltje (Indiana University) and Matt Barton (Library of Congress). Over the course of the evening, we were treated to a carefully curated selection of films from the IU and LOC vaults. The evening began with Edison “Kinetophone” films from circa 1913. According to Matt Barton, Recorded Sound Curator at the Library of Congress, the Kinetophone films and oversized Edison Blue Amberol cylinders (on which the soundtracks were recorded) were digitized and synchronised before being output to ProRes video for the screening. This impressive restoration was made possible by George Willieman (nitrate film curator at Library of Congress) in collaboration with Gerry Fabris at the Edison site. The evening came to a close (quite appropriately given the date) with a screening of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on pristine Technicolor 35mm film!

In all, the week was rich in both content and presenters and was made even more memorable by the generosity of spirit of ARSC’s members. Not only were they willing to openly share their knowledge and insight, but they were also eager to engage ARSC newbies such as this archivist in conversation and give us a very warm welcome. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Marvin Duchow Music Library’s Audiovisual Archives Celebrate World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

In celebration of UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, the Marvin Duchow Music Library’s Audiovisual Archives opened its doors on Monday, October 27, inviting visitors to learn more about its collections and services, as well as its ongoing preservation efforts.

In addition, special guests Gaétan Pilon and Meggie Savard from the Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner provided a wealth of information regarding the museum’s preservation and conservation efforts, while regaling us with stories of Montreal’s unique audio heritage.

Musee des Ondes Emile Berliner Berliner World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Gaétan Pilon, President, and Meggie Savard, Development Director, from the Musée des Ondres Emile Berliner

As the preservation of unique performances on obsolete formats is of global concern, the McGill Audiovisual Archives plays a vital role in providing continued access to its unique collection for current and future students, teachers and scholars. In order to shed some light on the precariousness of some of these audiovisual formats, visitors were invited to view a display showcasing a sample of audio and video objects of interest.

Here, we see a few items showing various degrees of deterioration: the long-term effects of fingerprints on a shellac 78 disc, the delamination of an aluminum-based lacquered transcription disc, as well as a CD showing signs of “bronzing”, a form of CD rot.

Unstable formats, deteriorating materials, scarcity of playback equipment and parts in addition to qualified repair technicians are but some of the challenges audiovisual archivists are faced with when it comes to preserving content stored on the multitude of formats typically found in their care.

The open door event in celebration of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage provided us an opportunity to share with our peers, students and faculty the importance of these preservation initiatives as we continue our efforts to ensure the accessibility of our audiovisual collections for generations to come.

Audiovisual Archives: A Room Full of History, Treasures and Curiosities

In my first few weeks as audiovisual archivist at the Marvin Duchow Music Library, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the archives and the vast array of projects that await within; from sorting through stacks of audio/visual material (various tapes, LPs and 78s) and assessing the digitization and dissemination of 10 inch 78 RPM jazz recordings, to planning the ongoing preservation and conservation of our collections. There is much to be done and much to be shared. Being given the keys to the archives is like being granted access to a musical Shangri-la. Discoveries abound and possibilities seem endless, much to this archivist’s delight.

In our trust are some impressive collections including the David Edelberg Handel Collection, the world’s most complete collection of Handel long-playing recordings, as well as the Noel Vallerand Collection of Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner recordings.

One of the projects we are currently working on involves a unique collection which belonged to the late Ted Comben, head of the jazz department of the much-lamented Sam the Record Man store, formerly located a few short blocks away from the Library on Ste. Catherine Street. Tucked into the one of the shelves among the LPs, was a copy of Mr. Comben’s obituary, paying tribute to this iconic and notoriously acerbic jazz buff.

J J  Johnson - Dial J J  5 (3)

Dial JJ 5,  by J.J. Johnson

Working our way through the collection in order to eventually bring it all to the public’s eyes and ears, we find some top rate jazz LPs such as Thelonius Monk’s Five by Monk by Five issued on Riverside’s Contemporary Series (Thelonius Monk, piano; Thad Jones,  cornet; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums) and J.J. Johnson’s  Dial J.J. 5 released on Columbia (J.J. Johnson, trombone; Bobby Jaspar, tenor sax, fl & cl; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Wilbur Little, bass; Elvin Jones, drums).

 

Part of the fun of going through collections is finding bits and pieces of related material, as well as some choice recordings. Among the great LPs in Mr. Comben’s vast collection were a few quirkier selections such as this gem, from Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman dubbed “Haunting themes for the Theremin… an unforgettable musical experience.”

Hoffman Theremin LP (3)

Music Out of the Moon and Music for Peace of Mind, by Dr. Samuel Hoffman

After an early start as a violinist under the name Hal Hope, Dr. Hoffman (a podiatrist by trade), went on to become an accomplished thereminist, recording on various soundtracks (Spellbound, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World, etc.) as well as releasing three albums under his own name.

This LP features two of these three albums: Music Out of the Moon (1947) with works composed by Harry Revel and arranged by Les Baxter, and Music for Peace of Mind (1950) with works composed by Revel, and arranged by Billy May.

Part lushly-orchestrated lounge jazz, part ethereal mood music, this is the stuff space-aged easy listening dreams are made of. In fact, Music Out of the Moon is reported to have been brought by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11…

Did you know the Music Library has a theremin expert on staff? David Curtis could tell you more about the history of this unique and historically important early electronic instrument.