Size (speed, amplitude) matters

15 10 2010

How to permanently preserve audio materials is a major concern of archives around the world.  Us included.  After all, isn’t that why we’re here?

But ARC does not migrate, i.e; make a copy of an audio object in another medium, ideally more stable, in order to preserve it.  Increasingly archives are abandoning this route, as large collections would be barely started before a new, better, improved preservation system would supplant it.  The daunting problems of saving our audio heritage are the subject of an important recent report via the Library of Congress, The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. If that’s daunting there’s a pop summary via the AP wire.

We’ve often joked that we should be taking our CDs and cutting vinyl albums in order to preserve them – a sort of audio reverse osmosis – on the order of a dub plate, that Jamaican genius system of direct cut vinyl one offs.

Lo, the sky’s have parted.  The path has been shown to us.  Vinylrecorder.

This platter cuisinart is available from German vinyl cutting specialists and manufacturers, Fritz & Souri Sourisseau.  Their site is only somewhat illuminating, but hints at wondrous potential.  I learned about it from the WOMEX folks, who will have their annual get together next month in Copenhagen. Now the home enthusiast or indie archivist can work out of the basement, cranking out the latest Lady Gaga MP3s on a disc of their own.  Hey, we could even do it as a 10” 78rpm!

The only logical conclusion is that an ARCangel comes forward with the $10K to donate the machine to the library!  That way when batteries for i-everythings are no longer made, and silicone chips have turned back to sand, we’ll be churning out archival copies of the latest hits in all their vinylized splendor.

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Turn Around with Confidence (when the internet can’t dance)

28 09 2010

Like you, I look for records all the time.  But there are over two million here @ ARC, so it’s difficult to know when what you’ve found is what’s needed.  Not everything in the library is cataloged, and my computer is not always with me.  I’ve found that by just seeing the cover, I can keep about a quarter of a million items straight.  In general, when deciding if I should buy something or not, I guess.  The upshot is that I mostly buy junk.

Junk here, is of course, a well defined, highly selective term – an unusual item, in good condition, that catches my eye.  Under a dollar is a plus; completely bizarre, a must.  Nestled in the 40 or so discs I found this past weekend were a few gems, like…

What I liked about this misguided masterpiece is that some of the bandmembers were “unavailable for photographs due to hectic schedules.”  Now does that show confidence in this recording?

What amazes me is that there is little or no info on these recordings available on that internet thing.  The best known artists here, pioneering Calypsonian Sir Lancelot, is the subject of some online ink, but even WorldCat fails to deliver any sense of his recorded output.  i-tunes sez: “No results were found. Please try a different search.” (but he is on some compilations).  This is a 78rp ‘album’ containing 3 pristine discs, including one of his best-known recordings, “Ugly Woman.”

Sometimes there’s real musicianship buried here, like the trippy and yet unexplained People’s Victory Orchestra.  I’ve been searching for years for more than snippets of their history (70s releases, from Queens, principals William (or Richard or Robert) and Carla (Lund) Alt (or Arlt). Bill engineer @ Atlantic, with Carla ran vintage clothing store) and they have had the good grace to keep a secret, secret.  ‘Victory’ is seriously non rock-ey, unlike the other two LPs (The School and Weltschmerzen), but a nice hippy concept concerto of an LP, complete with a 64 page booklet chronicling a Canadian train ride.

Here’s another no informationer, recalling that fateful day, August 27th, 1965, when American and British royalty partied.  It’s by Lady KKK, sometimes Lady KinKyKarrot, but I bought it for the Chris Jones cover, he a major penciller for DC Comics.  This 10” is a soundtrack for the no doubt intriguing eponymous film, claims to be Various Artists but all the tracks are very much alike – filled with bad MS and BR accents doing mock-doc over very nice, moody lounge, with an occasional side of sitar.

It’s on Rockinbones Records, but their webthing has never heard of the Lady.  She’s from Brescia – Parma, Italy, and just a bit o’info @ http://www.myspace.com/ladykinkykarrot

Rounding out and down, here’s a late blooming singing nun, for our growing, and never listened to, singing nun section @ the ARC.





vacance, puces et…we’re back!

13 09 2010

To celebrate the new year, the end of summer, strikes in France or as the kids say, “whatever,” I took the day off and made a trek way uptown to the Whitney Museum.  Prime reason was to see the Christian Marclay exhibition and then walk back downtown to see some friends.  Well Christian’s show was nice, The Lee Friedlander exhibit shot from inside his car was terrific, and the Charles Burchfield paintings were a revelation.  Not someone I would have gone out of my way to see.  Glad I did.

Marclay’s galleries are a lot like the ARChive’s basement –rows and rows of audio–related bibelots and bilia, suggesting meaning through juxtaposition.  One nice assemblage was a rack of clothing with musical imagery + themes.  That’s a good lead-in for last weekend’s finds at an upstate flea.

Who knew Canada was the home of the Twist?  Beyond the French Twist, there’s a big CAN C&W line dance fascination with the Honky Tonk Twist, and you can practice the chorégraphe via the 600 plus videos on that u-tubby thing.

The real deal weekendwise was the Wal-feld 5000!  This children’s 78 rpm player has a Bakelite resonator/pick-up/needle holder (UK Made) on a tin tonearm, and a brightly lithographed tin body, covered with fairy tale and children’s story imagery.  I see a lot of early playback devices, and seldom are they in such perfect shape.

Wal-feld Co. Inc. was in Lynbrook, NY, and manufactured a wide range of audio related gotta-haves, including musical dolls and wooden juke boxes.  No date on my machine, but it only cost a buck to return for repairs.  Online legal notices indicate Wal-feld went bankrupt in 1965.

Another “O Canada’ flea-find was this Nov 2, 1974 George Harrison / Ravi Shankar concert program for a benefit at the Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, British Columbia, to aid the Appalachian Regional Hospitals.  Nice artists pics, good graphics and a fine glossary of all things India, musically.





We Built This City On…

8 10 2009

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It is a little known fact that the ancient Nabataeans were early adaptors of new sound recording technologies.  They began with cylinder discs (called columns) but found them awkward.  Later, around 70 BC, they sliced the cylinders into wafer thin segments, well thin for the time, and began recording on the flat side.  Thwarted by a region-only spindle size and fierce competition from the Hittites (every tune a Hitt!) and the Phoenicians (the original Purple Reign), they were soon forced out of the market.  Not to mention the freight, as these babies were 33 1/3 tons.  Alas, here at Petra, unshipped goods, in a format that defies migration, linger still.

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But, I may be mistaken about all this.  What I do know is that the walk through Al-Siq, and the first glimpse of the Treasury through the slice of rock, luminous pink curtained black, is a remarkable thing and well worth a trip through time.

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All I can think of is our last administration, and the inability to tackle any problem successfully, and how everything was ‘hard work”   Please.  Have a look at Ajunta, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Petra.  Imagine signing off on 40 years to carve a rock facade and we can’t rebuild twenty rows of wooden shotgun houses in New Orleans!   Disgrace, I mean I digress.

I’ve spent the last 10 days here in Amman Jordan setting up the first stages of Muslim World Music Day (formerly the Muslim Music Crash Course) at Columbia Universities Middle Eastern Research Center.  It has been a whirlwind of meetings, show-and tells, planning, report writing and visits to archives, schools, libraries, embassies, musicians and government offices.  The project director handling things from Jordan – the man with ALL the contacts – is Kareem Talhouni.

If you don’t know, Muslim World Music Day is an attempt to catalog all the relevant recording in the world, in one day, and surround this core database with informational and entertaining content, online.  Read all about it at our pre-website blog  www.arcmmcc.wordpress.com

Dr+cassettes_smlOne nice find was a thesis, written in English, but only published in Arabic, on Jordanian music, written by Prof Abdel Hamid Hamam the Dean of the College of Art and Design, University of Jordan.  Written in Wales no less.  We will excerpt it in both languages on the Muslim World Music Day website.

Equally amazing is the work of Dr. Mohammed Taha Ghawanmeh , Music professor and Dean of fine art @ Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan.  Dr Ghawanmeh has spent his life collecting the traditional music of Jordan, and the result is a 500 cassette edition, each cassette one hour long and accompanied by a booklet of lyrics, notation and explanatory notes.  This is hard work at its very best.  Only two sets of the series now exist and I can only hope that some scholars or universities that read this could find this work useful for their institution of scholarly pursuits.   Here’s the contact for the fine arts dept :  fac_finart@yu.edu.jo and Arabic speakers can call +962 79 574 3535

By the way on the road to Petra I has coffee, and after a 800 step climb rested in a rock solid tea room overlooking the rose red monestary.  Life used to be so hard…

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My favorite reaction to the project was from a woman at the Center who wanted to know if every whore and slut who parades nearly naked on the TV, shaking her stuff, and singing in Arabic would be a part of the website.  She then showed me a few of Nancy Ajram’s videos (mild by my standards) and then exclaimed with a smile, “This is my favorite!”  And shaking her shoulders, “I love to dance to this one.”   Hey, Nancy was on Ophra last month!

With downloading so prevalent and pirating commonplace, music shops have all but disappeared in Jordan – one small chain, The Music Box, holding its own.  Plus the visual versions are very seductive as DVDs and music on TV predominates.  Live music is scarce in formal performance.  This photo is from a concert at Al Hussein Cultural Center taken by Robert Reeder, an ex pro photographer visiting Amman.   Musically, it was the kanoon playing of Tewfik Mirkham (sp?) that was luminous.

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My endless search for actual music collections was finally rewarded on the last day of my visit to Amman with a trip to The Jordan Radio and Television Corp.   Our animated host, Ms. Hala Zureiqat, Director of Jordan Television, listened to our pitch, conferred with her Director, then nearly shouted, “We’re in!”   What has made this trip rewarding is that so many people in the region are willing to support the Muslim World Music Day –  a new idea, on first hearing – so enthusiastically.

In one of the rehearsal rooms we were treated to a short concert by 73 year old singer Mohammed Wahib – sweet, toothless and energetic.  The song is, “Slaima.”

The station has saved nearly its entire history since the 60s on reel to reel tape, and it is mostly catalogued.  The recent past is digitized and can be called up inhouse, electronically.   But for me the real fun was to finally see some real vinyl – 45s, LPs and a full shelf unit of approx 4,300 seventy-eights.

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We will work to make sure this material is cataloged for the project and who knows what trash or treasures we will unearth.  Maybe an early Nabataean disc?





the SALE Continues…

7 12 2008

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Come on down and help us pay the rent here at the ARChive and pick up some great bargains @ bargain prices – CDs, books, singles, LPS – all for a good cause

smlsale_photo!





Happy 105th Birthday “Whistling Girl”

1 10 2008

Today, the stars aligned while I was alphabetizing the “J” section of the ARChive’s collection of 78 rpm records – a small collection here of about 8,000.  Tucked in between the Harry James and the James Johnson was a runty nine-inch record on Zon-O-Phone.  I pulled it out to take a closer look.  The cut: George W. Johnson’s “Whistling Girl,” Zon-O-Phone, C 5852.  More intriguing, however, was this sticker on the back dates the record to this day in 1903.  That’s 105 years ago boys and girls!

We’re not sure if this is the date the record was released or the date Victor bought Zon-O-Phone’s assets (probably the latter), but maybe more interesting that the synchronicity of the find is that George W. Johnson was one of the first African-American recording artists and was cutting records back when that meant singing the same song over and over into a horn. Unfortunately, however, his recorded legacy was relatively limited. He’s most famous for two songs, “The Laughing Coon” and “The Whistling Coon.”  “Whistling Girl” was another opportunity for him to show off his fantastic whistling skills.  (These last two link to recordings of Johnson’s songs by S.H. Dudley, the recording alias of Victor Records employee Samuel H. Rous who simply seems to be riding on Johnson’s coattails.)

There’s lots more on George W. Johnson in Tim Brooks and Richard Spottswoods history of African-Americans and the birth of the recording industry, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919.

Jessica Thompson

PS: Today is her last day for a while, folks, and we’re all sad — DTN








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