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From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad


Friends,

I think that each person who is occupied with preserving knowledge about
sound phenomena for the future (and far future) as well as the sounds
themselves should realize which part they wish to play in that game.

Properly understanding what we hear requires a knowledge about the tradition
in which the sounds were emitted (spoken language, performance practice). So
preserving the sound is not enough per se. Discography (in the sense that it
documents facts about commercial recordings that are not generally known)
contributes to a large measure, as do field notes about the recording
location, participants, etc. in ethno and other one-off recordings. Knowledge
about the recording equipment provides useful information for properly
interpreting the original sound carrier. Readers on this list collectively
have specialist knowledge in all of these fields, and that is a vast amount
of knowledge.

Traditionally (or at least for a long time), information was passed from
generation to generation by writing; music by notation, language sounds by
phonetic transcription. It has over the centuries been demonstrated that this
is efficient, because the only prerequisite is interpretation by a trainable
eye-brain combination. In converting the information from e.g. sound to
writing there are some conversion losses, partly due to the individual doing
it and partly because there are some things that need not be transcribed -
you are expected to be "in the tradition" to see what is transcribed in the
proper context. This, obviously, means that there are things that are not
documented and which cannot be found in the writing later. But writing it
down was still more reliable than passing it down by word of mouth.

However, given the durability of writing and that you only need literacy in
the human coding system used, this is highly efficient in the long run. This
means, though, that for the bits that were not written you need to make
reconstructions, and that is precisely what has happened in early music
already now and will happen (as said on this list) with improvised jazz, if
we cannot hear it as recordings.

Now, we have seen the most durable system. However, even that system has been
under attack: the paper that the writing was printed on (in those cases where
wide distribution was aimed for) was suddenly (and for 70 years) made by a
cheap process involving converted wood particles, and the result has been
known for better part of a century as "acid paper" (a modern photocopy
outlasts the original). So, anybody desiring to rely on this system has to
become a specialist in acid paper? Perform deacidifaction of the personal
library? Not at all: either copy onto a more permanent medium (migrate the
information) or pay a service to perform mass deacidification. Only you are a
cheapskate and prefer to do it yourself.

The systems that we now use are much more complex and are definitely not open
to interpretation by training an eye-brain combination. Those concerned with
preservation of sound and knowledge have taken it in their stride:

Richard L. Hess [23 Feb.] wrote:

"As Scott [Philips, 22 Feb.] said earlier, it's a shame that we all need to
become IT professionals, but that is, I fear, indeed the case. Now, I need to
go back to rearranging my online storage systems."

Like in the case of mass deacidifation, it is only a question of money, and
it is only you cheapskates who cannot afford a mainframe system with a
service contract that need to become amateur IT handlers.

Why try to fight windmills: there are problems that are too large for the
individual and small archive to solve, because they are too costly. You are
all forced to go outside your respective areas of expertise, to spend time on
something that is remote from your interests and in consequence less time on
the things that you are good at. So, instead, go about and document the
knowledge you already have. And search for individuals - and there are many
out there - who have bits of information to be collected to contribute to
create a whole picture. And put it on paper - still the most useful and
durable medium we have. And educate your children to read. And obviously, do
make available what is still playable.

I still remember reading Edward Tatnall Canby writing in Audio Magazine
sometime in the 1970s about the Columbia Oral History project. He scorned the
project for having reused the tapes after having transcribed them. There was
not enough money to spend a tape on each person, so they used them the best
they could. However, it is quite likely that the content of the tapes would
have disappeared anyway in some funding cut "no refreshment this year", and
then what? So, we have the written transcriptions and that is still
infinitely better than either "nothing" or "fewer interviewees".

I will not trust you to become IT professionals (because you have started too
late in life), and the more time you use on that, the less I shall trust you
to know about sounds, recordings, performances. Which rôle do YOU want to
play?

Kind regards in a tough world,

George