Re: Joel Chadabe interviews Jean Gagnon regarding Archiving

Subject: Re: Joel Chadabe interviews Jean Gagnon regarding Archiving
From: Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (
Date: Mon Jun 20 2005 - 05:05:51 EDT

At 03:26 AM 6/20/05 EDT, wrote:
>And what do we do about the old reel to reel tapes?

You touch on the the very problem that the Chadabe interview bogs down on
(as Gagnon appears to fret more over definitions than practice) -- the
practical side of helping our own works survive while the museum culture
hunts for the 'important' work to archive. Like most of us, you are an
individual artist whose life's work will likely be dumpsterized as the work
of a few 'significant' artists is protected by preservation monies.

We actually had the discussion on this list in 2002, out of which I derived
this article:

But things have gotten worse. Since that article appeared, I have
increasingly been helping artist recover and transfer works to digital
format, but it is only the beginning of a brutal process of deciding which
of our works will be put to rest forever ... unless we are to become our
own full-time archivists rather than artists who continue to work on
present and future projects!

You mention reel-to-reel tapes. Michael Gerzon's essay "Don't Destroy The
Archives" (also called "Don't Destroy Your Analogue Originals") is crucial
reading, but was moved from site to site and is sadly no longer available
online. (Please email me if you would like a copy.)

Except for rare occasions, money is not available for proper archiving. EA
composers come to me regularly to help them recover their analog originals
-- especially those gummy Ampex mastering tape formulations from the 1980s.
And that's just the beginning, as we all tend to start with the 'everyday'
formats. Obscure formats or hardware (or even software) we've developed
ourselves are headed for the trash heap.

I can barely keep up with my own work -- the work I think is worth keeping
around, that is -- despite being a meticulous self-archiver. When I did the
"In Bocca al Lupo" project in the mid-1980s
(, the technology was pushed
to the edge, and I was very happy with the results. So I carefully stored
all the material ... only a few years ago to discover that the system was
stone dead -- all the EPROMs that contained the quasi-intelligent programs
had self-erased and the cassettes from which the source code was loaded
were unreadable. I didn't anticipate the problem, as the service life info
for EPROMs was buried in the technical specifications for the chips.

Even converting to digital format is an endless chase, as I mentioned in
the article -- and worsened again by usable life limitations of what we
might think of as stable formats, if we're to believe a Dutch report of a
year or so ago which revealed the deterioration of CD-Rs is severe (10
times or faster deterioration than expected) ... even if the hardware and
software to read and run the entombed programs and files is functional in a
decade or so.

I'm beginning to feel the cause is lost if we are not Famous Figures in the
EA genres. I personally maintain four archives at home (three of arts
organizations and one of a deceased composer), and have been shopping these
around for years. But there is no money to take them and preserve them in
their current state, much less maintain them and upgrade formats as time
passes. Who wants recordings, from cassettes through 4-channel 1/4-inch dbx
I reels through limited-edition 45rpm records through Beta hi-fi audio
through PCM-F1 through DAT and minidisc and...? Boxes of documentation
negatives and slides and reels of 8mm film and Portapack videotape and
fading photocopies and prints? Handmade acoustic and electronic instruments?

In a few generations, I suppose the same universities and the successors to
musicologists who spend small fortunes deciphering and publishing and
presenting yet another classical-era chamber ditty will lament the loss of
important original late 20th and early 21st century musical sources. Maybe
there are dissertations to be written?

(Oh, and this doesn't even touch on the tangle of intellectual property

I hope somebody has something more cheerful to say...


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