Hi Fred:

I actually love the ambient noises that come through in the recordings. For one thing, they can date 
the timeframe. For instance old WECO phones just aren't around in most people's lives anymore, but 
they were around and ringing all the time in the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. Then, after the Bell 
System got broken up, you get the 3rd-party phones with all the strange electronic ringers, and 
nowadays you get cellphone sounds (and leakage into microphones, especially from Blackberry 
devices). When I did the big project for the state of NM, I noticed how often people would be 
interviewed outside, probably because it was hot indoors, and how loud the old cars and trucks were. 
It's also interesting to hear the old planes flying overhead in the 60s and 70s, very different 
sounds from today. All of this is great, of course, if it doesn't drown out the interview voices!

The other thing I love is random audio on the heads and tails of the interview tapes, stuff like old 
off-air radio recordings, needle-drops of old records, etc. It firmly dates and locates the 

Having been able to pull out audible human communications from some really poor quality recordings, 
I am much more supportive of the intent of the amateur recordists, rather than critical of their 
recording skills. I do think that if one uses the controls properly on a smartphone and places it in 
the close viscinity of the interview subject, and makes sure the thing doesn't go out of record or 
makes all kinds of notification noises that drown out the interview, it's possible to do much better 
than the old cassette recorders could do. Some of the phones have very good mics and DSP built-in.

I just did a small-ish transfer job of oral history reels that hopefully will end up publicly 
accessible one day. Very interesting content and generally superb recording by the interviewer, so 
the net result is lifelike high-fidelity voices, the whole sense of the people speaking. I told the 
archivist in charge, this is what people covet in oral history recordings.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Fred Calabretta" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, January 22, 2016 10:33 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Cassttes - Re: [ARSCLIST] One more sticky-shed data point - Richardson 
treated tape

Hi Tom:
I think you make a great point.  I do think it's very important for oral historians to strive for 
the best possible sound quality. At the same time, I believe capturing any recorded information is 
better than nothing. The idea of a smartphone app could simplify the recording process for many. 
Capturing - for the historical record - information that would otherwise be lost is a key element of 
the oral history process.
A number of amateur (and some professional) oral historians are intimidated or overwhelmed by the 
many equipment and recording format options available, especially in the digital era. Things were 
much simpler when the only practical choices for most projects were cassettes for original 
recordings and " open-reel tape for masters.
One important reality of the oral history process is the urgency, especially with the elderly. 
Therefore, any delays while waiting for equipment selection or the introduction of a forthcoming new 
recording format can result in a missed opportunity.  Individuals or project organizers with limited 
technical expertise or support can become stalled in their efforts while trying to decide on a 
recording format.  I've seen potential oral history projects come to a dead end because of this. So 
again, I'm with you on the idea of a smartphone app or any technology that could result in the 
creation of more and better quality oral history recordings.
On a related topic, I also feel compelled to put in a good word in defense of oral history 
recordings in general. I do know there are lots of poor quality interview recordings out there, 
including some in our collections here.  A major reason for this is that oral historians generally 
work in the field, not in a studio, which means they are often working in an unfamiliar environment, 
and one in which they have very little control.
I've conducted several hundred interviews and the vast majority were recorded in homes or workplaces 
I had never visited or seen.  Upon arriving, there is a bit of a quick scramble to decide exactly 
where to do the interview. I always look for a room or space that seems as free as possible from 
interruption or background noise.  In addition, I have also often requested that we move furniture 
for better microphone placement, turn off fans and air conditioners, etc. Good technique is very 
important and can compensate for other shortcomings; even, to some degree, the quality of the 
recording equipment.
Still, there are always variables such as the sudden operation of a gas-powered weed wacker directly 
outside of a condominium window.  My point is that field recording has its challenges and they can 
contribute to less than ideal results.  I know that in doing tape transfers or other work with oral 
histories it is frustrating to work with poor quality recordings.  I agree that oral historians 
should get the best sound they can and there is often room for improvement. Still, the oral history 
process isn't a simple matter. In addition to having a comfort level with recording equipment, 
interviewers need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and often have to 
deal with narrators who are un-talkative, uncooperative, or even intimidating. Then there are the 
chatty spouses, cuckoo clocks, barking dogs, and the occasional weed wacker.

Fred Calabretta

Curator of Collections

& Oral Historian


The Museum of America and the Sea

75 Greenmanville Avenue

PO Box 6000

Mystic CT   06355-0990  USA

tel: 860.572.0711  ext. 5168

fax: 860.572.5313

[log in to unmask]

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of 
Tom Fine
Sent: Friday, January 22, 2016 8:13 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Cassttes - Re: [ARSCLIST] One more sticky-shed data point - Richardson 
treated tape

I keep hoping someone, like Storycorps, will create a smartphone app for capturing oral histories.

The app would include a step-by-step about where to place the phone, and a little super-simple and 
large-button recorder control. Maybe also a way to directly upload the oral history to Storycorps or or some other appropriate venue. I really think the emphasis should be audio-only, 
because video makes a wide swath of people nervous and thus they clinch up on answering questions or 
any other participation in the interview. The beauty of putting a phone on a table, hitting record 
and talking is that it's super-unobtrusive, even less so than a 70s cassette recorder. The goal 
would be a friendly app that is made for people with no technical experience, particularly family 
members who want to get the old-timers voices and stories before they pass on. I think it would be a 
very popular app.

-- Tom Fine