Library of Congress Announces National Recording Preservation Plan
Feb 21st, 2013 by Isaiah Beard

Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries.  Source: Wikipedia.

A Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries. Source: Wikipedia.

 

A good portion of our nation’s heritage has been immortalized in sound recordings.  From the late 19th century to the present, sound recordings have been used to capture music, speeches and historic events, the oral histories of people who have lived through important events in our nation’s history.

As with many electronic and mechanical recordings, however, this vast heritage is in danger.  In an effort to save what we can of these timeless recordings, the Library of Congress has put together a blueprint in the form of a National Preservation Plan.  This plan is the result of nearly a decade of work that was mandated by Congress as part of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000.

As the Library of Congress puts in in their press release:

Experts estimate that more than half of the titles recorded on cylinder records—the dominant format used by the U.S. recording industry during its first 23 years—have not survived. The archive of one of radio’s leading networks is lost. A fire at the storage facility of a principal record company ruined an unknown number of master recordings of both owned and leased materials. The whereabouts of a wire recording made by the crew members of the Enola Gay from inside the plane as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima are unknown. Many key recordings made by George Gershwin no longer survive. Recordings by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and other top recording artists have been lost. Personal collections belonging to recording artists were destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The National Preservation Plan for sound recordings is available as a PDF file. In it, multiple recommendations are made, including:

  • Create a publicly accessible national directory of institutional, corporate and private recorded-sound collections and an authoritative national discography that details the production of recordings and the location of preservation copies in public institutions;
  • Develop a coordinated national collections policy for sound recordings, including a strategy to collect, catalog and preserve locally produced recordings, radio broadcast content and neglected and emerging audio formats and genres;
  • Establish university-based degree programs in audio archiving and preservation and continuing education programs for practicing audio engineers, archivists, curators and librarians;
  • Construct environmentally controlled storage facilities to provide optimal conditions for long-term preservation;
  • Establish an Audio-Preservation Resource Directory website to house a basic audio-preservation handbook, collections appraisal guidelines, metadata standards and other resources and best practices;
  • Establish best practices for creating and preserving born-digital audio files;
  • Apply federal copyright law to sound recordings created before February 15, 1972;
  • Develop a basic licensing agreement to enable on-demand secure streaming by libraries and archives of out-of-print recordings;
  • Organize an advisory committee of industry executives and heads of archives to address recorded sound preservation and access issues that require public-private cooperation for resolution.

 

Polaroid Instant Film Dead Stock to go on sale today
Aug 21st, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

If you’re interested in grabbing some of the last of Polaroid’s instant film, or even interested in picking up a Polaroidcamera, today may be your last remaining chance to do so, at least for a while.  Starting at 10:00 a.m. today, a number of Urban Outfitters stores in New York, Los Angeles, Cambridge, MA and Vancouver BC will begin selling remaining Polaroid Supplies.  On August 28, anything that’s left will be sold at these store locations.

This sale is in partnership with the Impossible Project, which purchased up Polaroid’s last stocks of instant film (theyceased production in 2008) as well as the last factory to produce it, in the Netherlands.

The Impossible Project’s eventual aim, according their site, is “NOT to re-build Polaroid Integral film but (with the help of strategic partners) to develop a new product with new characteristics, consisting of new optimised components, produced with a streamlined modern setup. An innovative and fresh analog material, sold under a new brand name that perfectly will match the global re-positioning of Integral Films.”

A documentary on Polaroid film’s final year is also in the works.

Evolved mobile video devices: More cameras, better quality, way more content
Jul 7th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

For two years, owners of Apple’s iPhone have complained bitterly about the lack of video recording capability, something that has become more and more common on mobile devices, if not yet matured.  Three weeks ago, they finally got their wish, and the results have been quite dramatic.

The weekend after Apple’s latest reveal – the iPhone 3GS – was released to the public, YouTube reported a massive 400% surge in the number of mobile video uploads, attesting to the mass appeal of Apple’s product and opening the floodgates for new video content.

Admittedly, seeing the sudden unleashing of newly-minted cellphone videographers made me cringe a bit, at first.  For a while now, I’ve been kind of annoyed with the popularity of cell phone video.  Let’s face it, although lots of people want something small and compact to make quick videos with, the image and sound quality coming from these devices has been utterly deplorable.  Blocky video, muddy sound… in general, not something you really want to store cherished memories with.  But what really stuck in my craw was when news sources started relying on cellphone videography as poor substitutes for actual newsgathering.  I began to ask myself: When did yanking video off a YouTube account start to pass as acceptable broadcast-quality content?

Within the past couple of months, however, things have changed quite a bit.  It actually started when camera makers like Canon began including video capabilities into their Digital SLR cameras, such as the Canon T1i.  Although it looks nothing like a camcorder, this model actually records some incredibly good HD-quality video, and can store it on a postage-stamp sized SD card.  It’s still rather bulky and expensive though; not the kind of thing an average person on the street would carry with them at all times.

Apple, however, changed that.  They finally decided to include video capabilities on their latest device.  And, they did the job so well that some aspiring independent film makers are now shooting films solely with the iPhone.  While the critical acclaim of the subject matter is best left open to judgement, one can’t deny the video quality is astoundingly good, compared to what everyone is used to from a cellphone.

Additionally, a professionally produced music video has been recorded and edited using the same gadget. But you wouldn’t know this came from an iPhone unless someone told you in advance:

Of course, the raw video underwent a lot of post-processing before yielding the finished product we see above.  But the unprocessed, full-color raw footage direct from the iPhone camera shows that it’s certainly no slouch on its own:

The ramifications are clearly huge.  There’s been lots of talk about how accessible good video recording technology has become, but now the technology to have a high quality video recorder literally in your pocket is available to the masses.

The technical specs of the videos created aren’t lightweight by any means, either.  Some users have reported that an hour of video from an iPhone 3GS can take up as much as 8GB of storage.  Still not on par with the roughly 20GB per hour that broadcast-level DV video consumes, but not anything to sneeze at, either.  The wide availability of this level of video production is going to require lots of supporting memory and storage to back it up.  And the metadata and details surrounding each and every video produced could be enough to turn the average cell phone user into amateur video catalogers, as well.

For professional curators, this could be both good and bad news.  From my perspective, it’s good that there’s a better chance history-making content will actually be recorded on a camera worthy of capturing it, as opposed to poor specimens of history like this. On the other hand, this means that good quality video will be coming from multitudes of sources, more than we’ve ever been accustomed to, as more and more individuals have the technology within their grasp.


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