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ARSCLIST  July 2003

ARSCLIST July 2003

Subject:

Re: Long-term/preservation audio

From:

George Brock-Nannestad <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 5 Jul 2003 21:48:01 +0200

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text/plain (66 lines)

From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad

It is nice that so many of the usual crowd are getting philosophical about
this issue.

In the old days, those who wanted to preserve a sonic event used a cylinder.
Then came the instantaneous disc, and people rented disc recorders or
experimented with attachments for their gramophone. Those who could afford it
or who could count on a limited sale had processed records made via a
professional recorder. It is a good thing that we have traces of that sort
going back to the 1890s. Post-WW2 the tape recorder took off, and usually the
quality got better than before. However, in the early 1960s a huge change
took place.

Just as the Brownie (Kodak) became the means of documenting innumerable
visual activities performed by private individuals, the Compact Cassette
became the medium of choice for private individuals for documenting sonic
events."You press the button, you do the rest", only there was nothing else
to be done but to rewind. The medium, the CC, was the universal medium, not
just for this, but for small-volume publishing as well. Naples, Sicily, and
Sardegna share this with Papua New Guinea and a lot of minority interests
worldwide, and because the cassette medium is a difficult one in the long
term, we do not regard it as archival. However, so much of our recent audio
heritage is in that format and a reasonable selection of it must be preserved
under public responsibility. I regard the Compact Cassette as the largest
preservation problem for the future, just because of the variety and the vast
quantity available now. The system and the medium were truly the most
democratic and simple to use for a long time. The MiniDisc at quarter-speed
is similar in functionality, if you remember to switch on the automatic
marker facility. Otherwise it is hell to find a particular spot. But I doubt
that the system will survive as long as the CC.

Selection is one of the professional activities of an archivist. However,
those who search in vain for stuff that has not been selected deplore this
activity. Why can't we keep all of it? The main reason is that indexing for
retrieval is so expensive. I have put forward the heretic view in the
International Association for Sound and Audiovisual archives - IASA that a
trace of the sound is better than no sound at all. Which would mean that data-
reduced versions are better than no versions at all. And, honestly, they do
not take up much space in that form. And we do accept data-reduced versions
in other connections; the Flötenuhr music written by Haydn and Mozart and
encoded on spiky cylinders for small mechanical harmoniums are data-reduced
versions of contemporary performances.

Back to the indexing: because sound is a linear medium in time, indexing
requires linear listening, which however is computer assisted in our times.
With an audio file it is no great thing to automatically flag changes of
sound quality according to pre-defined criteria, so possibly the actual
listening may be limited to 30 seconds before and after a change, in order to
identify the next item. The more there is a need for this kind of processing,
the easier it will be available.

Now, that was only the publicly funded archives. Private individuals may do
what they want - destroy or keep it all are the extremes. However, if private
individuals would agree to use recognized data formats, both for the sound
file and for the indexing (cataloguing, metadata - call it what you like),
the greater the likelyhood that such private material may some day be
integrated into a public archive, in which it will be accessible, but which
does not put any burden on the archive. They will already be using a large
amount of their annual budget on migrating stuff from one hard disk to
another.

Well, keep your ears open!

George

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