A tedious-sounding title, eh what? But its ramifications affect us all. Even YOU – so listen up!
I was born in 1952 and during the previous four years, two recording media had been introduced which would go on to change the recording industry for the next half-century (most of my life) but which thanks to post-war poverty, had done little thus far.
Most people’s record collections still consisted solely of 78s – big, shellac discs that played for three minutes a side. Standard discs were ten or twelve-inch – the twelve-inch ones giving you an extra minute a side, being mostly reserved for classical music “albums” – so no conflict.
But conflict arose in 1948, when vinyl albums emerged – and singles, the following year.
If a singles collector with five hundred met an album collector with one hundred, the fur would fly. Singles had better dynamics and top tracks – but albums cost more and the tracks were COMPLETE – and they lasted longer – but then, they often contained “filler” – then again, they were usually in stereo – etc., etc. So who had the biggest one?
However, this is about the MEDIA, so let us move on.
The thing is ALL records, from shellac to vinyl, were ANALOGUE. Thus, with care paid to record storage and playing styli, cartridges, tone-arms and so on – they lasted for EVER.
My oldest record was made in ninety-five. EIGHTEEN ninety-five. And it STILL PLAYS.
(See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uv8JPLIZ2Qo – but AFTER you have read the rest of THIS, eh?)
However, when audio-tape first appeared commercially – around 1950 – it started a revolution. For the first time, people could RECORD music.
And when video-tape followed, around a decade later, audio-visual media had ARRIVED.
Of course, it took a couple of decades for either of these formats to become affordable for the plebs, but when it did, collection numbers became irrelevant. UMPTEEN titles could be recorded onto a single tape.
Then, in the early Eighties, the first optical disks began to surface. At this time, they could only be made by factories – but domestically recordable versions arrived two decades later.
Which brings us to NOW. The iPhone and other solid-state portable media players have provided another quantum leap in the storage of music and image. This time, the media is stored in little flat boxes.
And THAT (finally) brings us to the nub of the problem…
My entire collection of over 3,600 records and tapes – plus 1,500 disks – weighs in at around half a ton.
But the MUSIC – which is about HALF of it – could now ALL be stored on just a handful of Blue-Ray disks, or one hard-drive, or a few thumb-drives, or a high-end, hand-held device (and after a few more digital “generations” – the A/V material could join it).
However, there is ONE BIG PROBLEM; while my ANALOGUE RECORDS have survived intact for up to A HUNDRED AND NINETEEN YEARS – and if cared for, they could remain for another THOUSAND – NO-ONE can tell you how long your material will LAST on these NEW media.
The problem began with the advent of recording tape. But it turned out that if you bought a superior brand of tape and kept it away from heat, humidity and strong magnetic fields – it actually lasted quite a while.
However, tape consists of a plastic strip, with an iron oxide sprayed onto it – and there is much to go wrong. In addition to the afore-mentioned heat, humidity and strong magnetic fields – if the manufacturer goofs up, the plastic can stretch, warp and part company with that all-important iron oxide.
Plus, a bad tape transport-system can DECIMATE a tape, irreparably.
And all of the same applies to video-tape. Which is why most of the little that remains from the Sixties is on KINESCOPE.
The boffins told the technicians that VT images would FADE. They were wrong – but the damage was done. The Sixties got WIPED. (There were other issues; copyright clearance, cost of VT, etc. – but the boffins’ error gave the execs an excuse to KILL recordings).
Of course, when DIGITAL arrived, it meant media was now stored as ones and zeros – thus you could copy it without loss. But you still needed to STORE it somehow – which COST. Not to mention periodically checking it for deterioration.
And that is a bugger; I recently had the devil of a job restoring pictures I took only thirty, forty years ago. They were taken on various films and processed in various labs and while some were still fine – others had gone RED.
However, most of my audio- and video-tapes are still good (despite some of the VTs being over thirty years old – and a few of the audio-cassettes, FORTY).
But will they survive as long as my copy of Miss Alice Raymonde’s New York recording of Sousa’s “Love Me Little, Love Me Long” (yes, that 1895 record of mine) has done? Probably not.
For decades, I recorded onto tape – then early in the last decade, I went over to disk. But how long will THOSE recordings last?
Then again, why CARE? I’ll probably DIE in about twenty years – and who lives for 119 years anyway? Why not just leave archiving to the experts and enjoy the fruits of their labours?
And that is a fair point. Now that YouTube and iTunes are here, music has become largely transitory (although if you WANT to keep something, you can always download and diskify it).
But the problem with archivists is they are less than perfect – and they do not archive EVERYTHING. Some of the ANALOGUE pieces I have uploaded to YouTube are WAY better quality than you will find on ANY website – and there is plenty you will not find at ALL.
Plus many pieces on iTunes and the like have been badly RESTORED, thus wringing the LIFE out of them – which is why collections of ORIGINAL media (shellac, vinyl, tape, etc.) are now so valuable.
And they need to be KEPT that way – because, transferred to modern media, how long will they LAST?
A while ago, the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct. And if we fail to LOOK AFTER our analogue past, how long before a HUNDRED YEARS of musical heritage goes the same way?
In the final analysis, media falls into two categories: items that are important to us – and those that are important to the World.
Thus, when choosing a storage facility for your PERSONAL media, you only have to worry about its existence during the time YOU have left. But Elvis, The Beatles, Sinatra et al are IMMORTAL – so their genius needs to be PRESERVED for the generations to come.
The media giants seek only to constantly bombard us with new electronic gear and material to play on it and care nothing for our heritage – just our MONEY. Thus it is up to US to LOOK AFTER this stellar material from the Century Of Entertainment.
Before it is TOO LATE.