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Archive of Recorded Sound

Archive news

A close of open reel tape machine heads

There are countless challenges in preserving obsolete media from breadth of formats to lack of documentation at the time of creation.  With the history of recorded sound now spanning over one hundred years wide range of technologies utilized in this span, challenges abound for any individual working to capture the range of media in need of preservation.  To accomplish this feat constant engagement is required to further understand the media, the way media is degrading, and best practices for preserving historic recordings that range from cylinders to digital multi-track recording sessions. 

At the Stanford Media Preservation Lab we work hard to maintain and expand our knowledge of media and machines in the pursuit of a high standard of quality.  In an effort to further understand open reel audio machine alignment, SMPL recently reached out to West Coast based analog tape expert Michael Gore for training on the ins and outs of aligning open reel audiotape heads. The attendees from SMPL and the Hoover Institution Archives were able to get hands on training in this rare and specialized skill. The details are best saved for a different venue, but what came out of it was: what aspect of alignment to inspect on a machine when installing a freshly serviced head block, how to make small adjustments of the four primary head alignment parameters to ensure fantastic playback, and insight on when to deliver a given tape machine to an expert repair person.  However, the topic that inspired SMPL to reach out in the first place was also covered, an exploration of several different ways to capture open reel audiotape recorded with misaligned head height or multiple tracks recorded over a mono recording sometimes leaving a small strip of recording in the guards band.

Much of the information covered in the session is becoming increasingly difficult to learn from experts as analog open reel tape, while still in use, becomes a increasingly specialized practice with very few generous experts accessible. It was a true privilege to host Michael Gore at SMPL for a training session where he shared much of his hard earned expertise to reinforce and expand the knowledge of the attendees. 

Ginsberg's handwritten notes for M0733_s11_ssB_b119_07

The Allen Ginsberg papers in the Department of Special Collections is truly the collection that keeps on giving. We here at the media lab have digitized a huge portion of the media (current count: 2000+ items), yet our interest in it remains high because of the sheer amount of gems hidden within. Even if we didn't enjoy Ginsberg, the vast amount of acquaintances he recorded from the 1950s until the 1990s would provide endless entertainment. 

Recording date on a Welte-Mignon roll label

How do you know a publication date? For most books, simply look for the copyright or edition information at the beginning. For mass produced modern CDs, check the edge of the disc surface for the “p date”, or maybe it will be in the booklet inserted into the container. But what about piano rolls for reproducing and player pianos? Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound’s Player Piano Project faces this question. The publication date certainly isn’t stamped on the label, yet we need it.