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ARSCLIST  March 2015

ARSCLIST March 2015

Subject:

Distressing data point for upcoming ARSC tape playback workshop

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 1 Mar 2015 09:46:38 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (86 lines)

I am right now working with tapes from 1959 and 1961, 3-track 1/2" tapes, with splices "replaced" in 
1971 (according to documentation on the boxes) and, in the case of 4 reels, splices cleaned and/or 
replaced in the early 1990s. Alas, every splice so far has needed new cleaning with Naptha and many 
of them -- even those cleaned and successfully played in the 1990s -- have required full 
replacement.

The replacement splicing tape put on in the 1990s has proven mostly stable but there has been some 
ooze and stiction around some splices. I tend to believe that is leftover ooze from non-complete 
cleaning of the original splices before replacement, but it could be new ooze over the past 20 
years.

Bottom line is that there seems to be no "permanent" splicing tape, it all seems to ooze and/or dry 
out over time.

Another distressing datapoint ... This is the second batch of late 1950s Audiotape acetate-backed 
tape I'm dealing with that has become very brittle, like most of the plasticity has dried out of the 
backing. I suspect this is made worse by over-dry storage conditions intended to somehow "prevent" 
or "mitigate" sticky-shed in later tapes (and remember that there is no proof that dry storage does 
either). I wish some scientists would do some chemistry on acetate tapes and come up with better 
storage recommendations. There are millions of acetate tapes and films being stored under the same 
"keep it super-dry and cold" mandates that are imposed on polyester media (and these conditions 
DON'T stave off sticky-shed and DON'T make sticky tapes play longer after baking -- all credible 
research and experience so far shows that ALL tapes prone to sticky-shed go sticky on their own, 
that baking allows playback, and that ALL sticky-shed tapes go back sticky a certain time length 
after baking; the only exceptions might be -- still not widely tried or proven -- the Richardson 
method of chemically removing the back-coating).

Incredibly, these old tapes still sound damn good on playback, and are able to move through a tape 
transport correctly after the splices are cleaned and repaired. I don't know if this will be the 
case at some future date. Luckily, these tapes I'm working with are backed by funding for Plangent 
Process high-resolution transfers and defluttering, so the resulting digital assets will be very 
high quality.

My recommendations, based on this experience:

1. I've now cleaned enough gooey splices with Naptha to be convinced that it is effective and safe 
for this job.Note that many hardware stores carry a can or two or no Naptha at all. It doesn't seem 
to be widely used by professional painters anymore.

2. It's been helpful to carefully detach the reel flanges -- while the tape end is taped down to the 
adjoining layers and the reel is not loose-wound -- and carefully (on a flat surface) clean all 
visible splice ooze (bubbles and chunks of white goo) with Naptha. I put the flange back on and flip 
the reel over very carefully, then do the same on the other side. Sometimes -- not always -- this 
mitigates stiction between layers around the splice, preventing even slight oxide damage on the 
edges.

3. It is important to inspect the layers before and after the splice, and clean all residule goo off 
both sides of the tape.

4. Very gently deal with the splice itself. It can sometimes be gently coaxed up intact -- this 
happens about 50% of the time with original splices on these tapes. When that happens, clean the 
splice edges and center in particular, this is where the ooze will be. When the splice separates, I 
put a good dab of Naptha on the side stuck to the tape-pack, cleaning especially the center of the 
splice. Almost always, a gentle coax with the Q-tip with them lift the splice up so it can be 
repaired. When this doesn't happen, I used a chopstick that I whittled down to a blunt but 
pronounced "shovel" point. No splice points mangled so far with this. I then clean both sides of the 
splice, both sides of the tape, with a good dose of Naptha. By the way, change Q-tips regularly 
because the accumulated sticky ooze stays on the Q-Tip after the Naptha evaporates. Then I repair 
the splice (use a high-quality, non worn-out splicing block, which isn't always to acquire these 
days). I use early 2000's vintage white-colored semi-clear splicing tape. I don't at all like this 
newest thicker blue-colored splicing tape (which seems to be the only option these days). Luckily, I 
have a large store of old-style splicing tape.

5. When playback and transfer is complete, make sure to attach the end of the reel to the adjoining 
tape layer (if it's stored on a hub) or to the reel flange with NEW and EFFECTIVELY STICKY tape. An 
enemy of old tapes, especially acetate tapes, is storage under loose-wind conditions. The acetate 
expands, contracts and sometimes gets vinegar syndrome. If it is stored tight-wound with the end 
taped down, it is less likely to get edge-warp.

6. Under ideal archival conditions, without tight production deadlines and with unlimited funding, I 
would say replace all old splices as SOP. Under real conditions, this is not always possible. 
Because of that, expect to go through this same procedure again if the tape is played again in the 
future. And, given my experience with 1990s splices, I'm not sure that modern splicing tape is any 
better about eventually oozing glue or drying out.

7. This probably goes without saying, but demagnetize the tape path, all metal tools, and work on 
the splice repair on a non-magentic surface.

8. It also probably goes without saying, but use Naptha in a well-ventilated area. John Chester 
turned me onto putting in a little squeeze-bottle with a needle tip and then squeezing a few drops 
onto a Q-Tip rather than having an open container and dipping Q-Tips into that. This method really 
keeps the fumes to a minimum in a normal-sized room. I keep a low-speed fan blowing air across the 
tape transport to move what fumes do escape away from my face.

-- Tom Fine

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