The Care and Handling of Recorded Sound Materials

By Gilles St-Laurent
Music Division
National Library Of Canada January 1996

La version francaise

An earlier version of this report was published by the Commission on Preservation and Access

Sound recordings are machine readable artifacts; they are documents for which the integrity of the information they contain is directly related to the artifacts' physical well being. Since the majority of sound recordings are made of plastic, conservation must be treated as a plastics degradation problem, requiring a different approach than paper conservation. It is important to understand the basic chemical degenerative processes and the principles of the retention of sound by the various media in order to ensure that proper action is taken to slow the rate of degradation.

SOUND AND HEARING

Sound can be defined as the change in air pressure above and below an equilibrium (usually the barometric pressure). For example, when a bass drum is struck, the skin vibrates back and forth. As the skin travels outwards, away from the centre of the drum, the air pressure surrounding the drum rises above the barometric pressure; conversely as the drum skin travels inwards, the air pressure lowers. This to-and-fro action occurs numerous times per second creating waves of compression and decompression in surrounding air.

As air pressure increases by the outward motion of the bass drum skin, the eardrum is pushed towards the centre of the head; conversely, as pressure decreases, the eardrum travels away from the center of the head. Therefore, the eardrum physically moves in a parallel motion to the movement of the vibrating bass drum skin. The inner ear converts the change in air pressure into sound by translating the eardrum's mechanical motions into impulses that the brain will perceive as sound. The ear can detect changes in air pressure as slow as 20 cycles per second (a cycle being a complete to-and-fro motion) to as fast as 20,000 cycles per second. The higher the vibration speed, the higher the pitch; the larger the change in air pressure, the louder the sound.

THE RECORDING, RETENTION AND PLAYBACK OF SOUND

The Microphone

The interior of a microphone is comprised of a permanent magnet, a coil of wire and a diaphragm which, like the eardrum, vibrates to changes in air pressure. The vibration of the diaphragm in conjunction with the permanent magnet and the coil converts changes in air pressure into changes in electrical voltage. As air pressure increases, the diaphragm within the microphone is pushed towards the back of the microphone, inducing a voltage; as pressure decreases, the diaphragm travels outwards inducing a voltage in the opposite direction. Like the eardrum, the diaphragm will move in a parallel motion to the movement of the example sound, the vibrating bass drum skin. The resulting voltage will be a continuous parallel voltage image of the movement of that bass drum skin.

If the bass drum were to be tuned at a higher pitch (the skin tightened) the skin would vibrate faster, causing the air pressure to compress and decompress faster, meaning that the diaphragm within the microphone will vibrate faster, consequently forcing the induced voltage to change direction more frequently. A higher pitch will thus be captured on the recording medium. If the drum were to be struck harder, producing a louder sound, the skin vibration would travel a greater distance, creating a higher compression of air, consequently forcing the microphone diaphragm to travel a greater distance thus inducing a larger voltage. The recording would thus be at a higher volume. This chain of events occurs with the recording of any sound. If an orchestra were to be recorded, the collective air pressure change surrounding the orchestra (caused by the mixture of vibrating strings, reeds, etc.) would be captured by the microphone.

The Speaker

Once sound has been converted to an electrical voltage, the "voltage image" can be amplified and then used to drive speakers. Like the skin of the bass drum, the movement of the speaker compresses and decompresses air to produce sound. If the voltage is going upwards, the speaker will travel outwards; if the voltage is going downwards, the speaker will travel inwards. The resulting movement of the speaker will be parallel to the movement of the skin on the bass drum, to the movement of an eardrum, to the movement of the diaphragm within the microphone, and to the induced voltage.

Discs

All grooved discs physically retain information in the same fashion and are recorded in a similar manner. Just as a speaker converts a change of voltage to a parallel mechanical motion, so with discs a cutting stylus converts a voltage change to a mechanical motion. When the voltage applied to the cutting stylus goes up, the stylus will move in one direction; when the voltage goes down, the cutting stylus will move in the opposite direction. The movement of the cutting stylus determines the pattern of the groove which, of course, moves in a parallel motion to the movement of the bass drum. Again, the resulting groove shape will be a continuous, identical physical image of the movement of that bass drum skin. (Acoustic recordings, (made prior to the use of microphones, ca. 1925), recorded sound by capturing and channeling changes of air pressure through a horn to a diaphragm mounted with a cutting stylus. The diaphragm would transform the changes of air pressure into a parallel mechanical motion with the cutting stylus etching the groove.)

To retrieve information from a disc, a stylus is used to track the groove. The cartridge will convert the movement of the stylus to an electrical voltage (in the same fashion that a microphone converts mechanical motions to an electrical voltage) that can then be amplified and used to drive speakers. The movement of the speaker will be parallel to the movement of the stylus.

Tapes

The binder layer of magnetic tape contains a finite number of ferromagnetic particles whose permanent alignment within the binder records voltage (current) levels.

To record onto tape, the tape must first pass an erase head whose task is to arrange the particles completely randomly. If a small voltage is applied to the record head, then a small percentage of particles will become unidirectionally aligned. If a larger voltage is applied to the record head, then a larger percentage of particles will become aligned. Saturation occurs when there are no more particles available to align. The particles will remain aligned until exposed to a magnetic force.

At playback, the aligned particles will induce a voltage in the playback head. The voltage level will be proportional to the number of aligned particles.

Compact Discs (CDs)

Tapes and grooved discs are analog recordings--the term "analog" referring to the transformation of sound into "parallel", or analogous grooves or particle alignments. Compact Discs on the other hand, are "digital" recordings (as are Digital Audio Tapes (DAT), Digital Compact Cassettes (DCC), Mini Disc, etc.). Rather than being a continuous physical image of changes in electrical voltage, digital recordings are based on a series of discrete electrical voltage measurements.

For the CD, the electrical voltage (produced by the microphone) is measured 44,100 times per second. At a certain period in time the voltage might be (for argument's sake) .5 volts out of a maximum 1 volt. 1/44,100th of a second later the voltage might be .5005 volts, the following 1/44,100th of a second .5009 volts, etc. As the skin of the bass drum travels outwards, the resulting series of voltage readings get progressively larger; as the skin moves inwards, the resulting series get progressively smaller.

Just as 2:00 p.m. can be expressed as 14:00 hrs, so any value can be expressed using binary digits--1s and 0s. Also, 1/3 can be expressed to .3, or more accurately .33, or better yet .333 etc. The greater the number of decimal places, the more precise the expression of the translation; hence the larger the number of digital bits used in a number, the more accurate the translation. For the compact disc, the number of digital bits used to translate or "digitize" a voltage reading is 16. Thus the compact disc stores one 16 bit number (in addition to other required information) every 44,100th of a second (per audio channel).

The CD sound recording stores information using pits and flat areas wound in a spiral starting at the center of the disc. The edge of a pit (either the ascending edge or descending edge) indicates a one, a flat area either at the bottom of the pit or the land between the pits indicates 0. For example, a 5 bit number of 10001, using pits, would be an edge, a long flat area and another edge.

To play a CD, a laser beam is shone through the clear polycarbonate bottom to the aluminum (sometimes gold) layer. The light then reflects off the reflective surface to a pickup which differentiates between the top and bottom of a pit and interprets these as 1s or 0s. The electronics then build a continuous voltage from these series of stored binary numbers representing the original voltage readings.

THE DEGRADATION MECHANISMS OF SOUND RECORDING

The lifespan of a plastic is largely determined at the manufacturing stage. Variables such as basic resin, the materials added to the basic resin to alter its properties, the lamination of materials with dissimilar properties, and the manufacturing process itself, all directly affect the lifespan of the plastic. Post-manufacture environmental factors such as storage conditions, temperature, humidity, and handling also contribute to the long-term stability of the plastics.

Plastics can be divided into two main classes, thermoplastic and thermosetting. Thermoplastics soften and flow when heated and are normally shaped by heat and pressure. They will soften and flow again when re-heated. Vinyl, used in the manufacturing of LP's, is a thermoplastic.

Thermosetting plastics are moulded under heat and pressure. A chemical reaction occurs so that once molded they do not soften when re-heated and will normally char before melting. Most 78s are made of thermosetting plastics.

Acetate Discs

Prior to the advent of magnetic tape, instantaneous recordings were made chiefly on acetate discs. The chemical makeup of these discs, therefore, had to be a compromise between ease of engraving and the quality of the recording that resulted.

Since the 1930s, most blank acetate discs have been manufactured with a base, usually aluminum (although glass was used during the war years and cardboard for inexpensive home recordings), that was coated with nitrocellulose lacquer plasticized with castor oil. Because of the lacquer's inherent properties, acetate discs are the least stable type of sound recording.

Continuous Shrinkage of the lacquer coating due to the loss of the castor oil plasticizer is the primary destructive force. The gradual loss of plasticizer causes progressive embrittlement and the irreversible loss of sound information. Because the coating is bonded to a core which cannot shrink, internal stresses result, which in turn cause cracking and peeling of the coating.

Nitrocellulose acetate decomposes continuously and over time reacts with water vapour or oxygen to produce acids that act as a catalyst for several other chemical reactions. As with most chemical reactions, these reactions are accelerated with elevated temperature and humidity levels.

Vulcanite (early Berliner records)

Vulcanite (hard rubber) was the first material used commercially by Berliner and provided the necessary basis for the exploitation of the flat disc.

In 1839 Hancock in England and Goodyear in the US independently discovered vulcanization. Vulcanization is the process of treating crude rubber with sulfur or sulfur compounds in varying proportions and at different temperatures. The result is an increase in the rubber's strength and elasticity, yielding either soft rubber or vulcanite. Vulcanite has been used to make combs, buttons, jewels, fountain pens, musical instruments, etc.

Vulcanite is stable in the dark and retains its appearance and properties very well. In response to light and/or heat the material loses sulfur then becomes brittle and loses its shine. Light induces oxidation of the rubber and forms oxides of sulfur and sulfuric acid in the presence of humidity. The acidity builds up to a level at which the degrading plastic is attacked and eventually decomposes1. The degradation can be demonstrated when playing an afflicted Berliner. The surface of the disc is shaved off by the pressure of the stylus against the groove wall.

Vulcanite also posed problems in the production of discs. The uneven shrinkage during cooling caused severe warping; entrapped gas would produce blisters; hard particles create loud pops and clicks; and the coarseness of the Vulcanite structure produced terrible background noise.

Shellac Discs

The first shellac discs date form the early 1900s. Shellac is a composite word--it's a combination of shell and lac. The word is a Hindus name of an insect that infests certain types of trees. The lac draws sap from these trees, processes it through its digestive system and secretes it so that it becomes an attached protective shell around its body. Thus the shell is generally smaller than a grain of rice. Harvest involved scraping off the encrusted shells from twigs and branches.

After WWII resins such as Vinsol, Valite, Vynil chloride acetate and other commercial resins replaced organic shellac as the main binder. These plastics are slightly more stable than organic type discs. It is often difficult to distinguish between shellac and shellac type discs by inspection.

Determining the causes of shellac disc degradation is rather difficult because a very wide range of qualities of shellac and "fillers" have been used by manufacturers. Therefore one cannot expect consistent behavior of all stored shellac discs. The disc properties are as much a function of the filler as they are of the cementing agent. The fillers used run the gamut of natural cellulosic materials as well as of minerals.

For example two separate chemical analyses of "typical" shellac discs showed the following:

Example 12

Shellac

13.5%

White filler (powdered Indiana limestone)

37.5%

Red filler (powdered red Pennsylvania slate)

37.5%

Vinsol (type of plastic with a low melting point)

8.5%

Congo Gum (flexible binder)

1%

Carbon Black (colorant for appearance)

1.5%

Zinc stearate (lubricant for mold release)

.5%

Example 23

Flake Shellac

15.63%

Congo Gum

6.51%

Vinsol Resin

5.86%

Carbon Black (low oil content)

2.61%

Zinc Sterate

0.32%

Whiting (CaCO3)

52.13%

Aluminum Silicate

13.03%

Flock (long fibre)

3.91%

The average shellac content in these "shellac" discs is approximately 15% shellac.

Also, record manufacturers would introduce scrap as filler into new mixtures. The manufacturers would recycle returned, unsold shellac discs. It was not uncommon for the scrap to included soft drink bottles litter, pieces of masonry or other unwanted material, all of which were ground up together and mixed in with the next batch of compound.4

Columbia discs (laminated disc)

In 1906 Columbia introduced the Marconi Velvet Tone developed by Giulemino Marconi. The manufacturing technique involved using a craft paper core cut to approximate record size. After the core was carefully flattened and dried, it was covered with a powdered shellac compound of a thin uniform thickness. The dust-coated core was put in an oven and the dust fused to the core. For two-sided records, the operation was repeated for the other side.5

The advantage of this construction was that the amount of surface material needed to carry the music grooves could be kept very small. This economy allowed the use the best plastic available at that time. Edison was to use this idea in 1912/13, in the manufacturing of his Diamond Disc.

In 1922 Columbia returned to the laminated record, this time with a coarser compound for the powder core that was bonded between two discs of craft paper.

In general shellac discs are relatively stable. The curing process of shellac during disc manufacturing generates a chemical reaction where certain simple molecules such as water or ammonia molecules are eliminated. Curing causes shellac to shrink, increasing its density and its brittleness. This condensation continues at a much slower rate after disc manufacturing. The speed at which condensation occurred is a function of storage temperature, storage humidity and completeness of cure. (The condensation reaction reduces the potential concentration of reacting elements. A semi-quantitative measure of the cure of shellac is its solubility in alcohol. Raw shellac is totally soluble in alcohol and completely cured shellac is insoluble, and the extent to which condensation has proceeded determines the degree of solubility of a shellac.6) Thus the condensation becomes the primary degenerative force. The internal reaction of the material and the rate at which the reaction occurs are related to storage temperature, storage humidity (moisture increases the condensation reaction rate) and completeness of the cured shellac.

Storage stability of these fillers vary widely. Organic materials in the aggregates are susceptible to fungus attack, while shellac itself is resistant to fungus attack.

In a proper storage environment, these discs suffer a slow, progressive embrittlement of the shellac. This embrittlement causes a fine powder to be shed from the disc after each playback. The behaviour of the other aggregate components is unpredictable, due to the wide combinations and variety of materials (and of material quality) that were used.

Edison Diamond disc

The Edison Diamond disc has the distinction of having been made of the first completely synthetic plastic, a material called phenol (phenol was also used in the manufacture of Bakelite).

The Edison diamond disc is a laminated disc made up of a thick core and a thin varnish layers covering each of its sides.

The ¼" core, which is also know as a powder blank, was manufactured by compressing the following ingredients in the following proportions:7

Wood flour

58%

Modified ethyl alcohol (AKA ethynol)

26%

Phenol formaldehyde (AKA Bakelite)

15%

Lampblack (the pigment)

1% The varnish, named Edison condensite varnish was

made-up of Modified ethyl alcohol

55%

Phenol formaldehyde (63% phenol + 37% formaldehyde)

38%

Other, including "Shino", used to promote a gloss finish

7%

The varnish would be applied to the blank by a brush as the blank rotated slowly. Four applications or coats were given each blank face with a drying period between. After the last coat the varnished blank would be placed in a steam-heated oven. This completed the drying and also effected a partial reaction of the varnish ingredients

Prior to pressing, the blanks would be heated before applying pressure to soften. After the pressure was applied the heat was left on to complete the curing or reaction of the varnish. Then the moulds were cooled and the pressure released.

Prolonged contact with moisture or severe changes in humidity may cause damage to the surface through moisture absorption. In general Phenol is very stable and presents no serious degradation problems, neither is it prone to attack by bacteria, fungi or insects although, occasionally, under humid conditions moulds may grow and cause some surface attack on a nutrient filler such as wood or cotton, or be supported by a nutrient contaminant on the surface.

Vinyl Discs

Thus far, vinyl has proven to be the most stable of the materials that have been used in the manufacture of sound recordings.8 However, although stable, its life is not indefinite. Pickett and Lemcoe, in Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings, states that "failure by chemical degradation of a vinyl disc in ordinary library environments should not occur in less than a century".9

Vinyl discs are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and a small percentage (usually less than 25 percent) of "fillers", stabilizer, pigment, anti-static substances, etc. Internal plasticization, through a copolymerizing of vinyl acetate with vinyl chloride, is needed to achieve the required properties for the desired application.

Polyvinyl chloride degrades chemically when exposed to ultraviolet light or to heat. Phonograph discs are exposed to high temperatures during moulding and pressing. Unless stopped, this heat would be a catalyst for ongoing dehydrochlorination, which is the release of hydrochloric acid (HCl) from the PVC as a result of thermo-degradation. Stabilization is therefore achieved by adding a chemical to the resin during manufacture. This does not prevent the degradation but controls it, mainly by consuming the free HCl. Sufficient effective stabilizer remains in a plastic phonograph disc to protect it for several decades after pressing.

Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tape first appeared in North America just after World War II.

Magnetic tape is made up of two layers: a "base" layer, and a thin "binder" layer which is bonded onto the base. The binder contains ferromagnetic particles whose permanent alignment within the binder produce the copy of sound waves.

Magnetic Tape Binder

Manufacturers are very secretive about the specific chemical makeup of their products. Binder chemical composition, uniformity and smoothness of application all affect audio quality, noise level, tape-to-head contact, and friction. These factors also affect the tape's aging properties.

The most common binder resin used today is polyester polyurethane. The most common ferromagnetic particle used is gamma ferric oxide (Fe3O2). Numerous additives may be used during the various manufacturing stages, including: solvents, used to obtain a suitable viscosity of emulsion and to improve the mixing and bonding operations; wetting agents, used to break binder/particle mixing tension to produce a more even ferromagnetic particle dispersion within the binder; plasticizers, used to add suppleness to plastic; stabilizers, used mostly as antioxidants to avoid chemical degradation that could lead to physical breakdown; lubricants, used to reduce drag so that speed deviation problems such as "wow" and "flutter" are diminished, and to minimize wear damage to heads; fine mineral powders, used to make polymers harder and more resistant to abrasion; conduction discharge (material such as carbon black), used to discharge electrical charges; and fungicides.

The most common and serious magnetic tape degradation occurs through hydrolysis, the chemical reaction wherein an ester such as the binder resin "consumes" water drawn from humidity in the air to liberate carboxylic acid and alcohol. Hydrolysis in magnetic tape results in the binder shedding a gummy and tacky material which causes tape layers to stick together and inhibits playback when it is deposited onto the tape recorder heads. The added friction increases tape stress and can cause machines to stop. Hydrolysis also causes a weakening in the bond holding the binder to the backing, which results in shedding or possible detachment.

Chromium dioxide (CrO2) is used extensively as the ferromagnetic particles in cassette magnetic tape. It has been found that CrO2 particles interact with the polyester polyurethane to accelerate hydrolytic degradation. Additives are now added to retard this degradation.

Other problems associated with binder manufacturing and deterioration are: incomplete dispersion of the ferromagnetic particles, causing momentary loss of signal ("dropout"); a weak bond that causes the binder to separate from the backing; lubricants that evaporate to the point where tapes are unplayable; fine oxide powders that shed from tapes and deposit onto heads, inhibiting playback.

Magnetic Tape Backing

The backing, which is the structural support of the tape, must resist stresses imposed by playback and storage without becoming permanently deformed (e.g., stretching), or losing dimensional stability (e.g., expanding through absorption of moisture or heat). Most magnetic tape backing has been made of either cellulose acetate or polyester, materials that have dissimilar physical and aging properties.

Cellulose acetate-backed tapes were manufactured from about 1935 until the early 1960s. These tapes rely heavily on plasticizer additives for suppleness, and these plasticizers are liable, over time, to evaporate and crystallize. These tapes have extremely low tensile strength and are easily broken. Cellulose acetate tapes are very susceptible to linear expansion in humid and/or warm conditions. Because of the different properties of the binder and the base, the absorption of humidity and heat result in tape curling and edge fluttering. These distortions greatly affect the tape-to-head contact, which in turn directly affects audio quality. Repeated dimensional changes due to environmental fluctuations grossly affect winding tension and can promote binder fatigue, cracking, and finally, catastrophic failure (i.e., the irreversible loss of data).

A serious problem affecting acetate tape is that of the "Vinegar Syndrome". Vinegar Syndrome is exhibited by the release an acetic acid (vinegar) odour from the tape and is a by-product of acetate tape breaking-down. The process is accelerated by the presence of moisture and iron ferromagnetic particles in the tapes.10 When the acetate is degrading--giving off acetic acid--it will start to take up more moisture. The process of self-destruction is auto catalytic, once it has started it will continue with ever increasing speed; no solution for its interruption has yet been found. Tapes afflicted with the vinegar syndrome will infect healthy tapes.

Polyester ("mylar") came into use in the early 1960s, and quickly replaced cellulose acetate for magnetic tape backing. Accelerated aging tests have found polyester to be a stable material which in fact undergoes hydrolysis degradation at a much slower rate than does the binder, polyester polyurethane, with which it is combined. However, polyester-based tape has a high tensile strength that can cause it to stretch irreparably (instead of breaking cleanly and reparably as does acetate-backed tape).

A third coating is now added to professional, modern tape on the opposite side of the binder. Made of carbon black particles held in a thin binder, it protects the backing from scratches, minimizes static electricity, and provides a more even wind.

PRESERVATION OF SOUND RECORDINGS

A good definition of preservation put forward by the International Institute for Conservation--Canadian Group and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators is that preservation encompasses "all actions taken to retard deterioration of, or to prevent damage to, cultural property. Preservation involves controlling the environment and conditions of use, and may include treatment in order to maintain a cultural property, as nearly as possible, in an unchanging state."11

There are essentially only three concerns to consider when handling and storing sound recordings:

  1. that they be kept free of any foreign matter deposits;
  2. that they be kept free of any pressure that might cause deformations; and
  3. that they be stored in a stable, controlled environment.

1. FOREIGN MATTER DEPOSITS

General

Dirt can be classified into two categories: (1) Foreign matter deposits which are not part of the original object, such as grease from fingerprints, soot, stains, adhesives, etc. and (2) alterations of original object material through chemical reactions (whether internal reactions or reactions with environmental agents). Metal corrosion products, palmitic acid from acetate discs, or a gummy substance on tapes are examples of alteration in the state of the original.12

Dust is commonly a mixture of fragments of human skin, minute particles of mineral or plant material, textile fibres, industrial smoke, grease from fingerprints, and other organic and inorganic materials. There are often salts such as sodium chloride (carried in from sea spray or on skin fragments), and sharp gritty silica crystals. In this chemical mixture are the spore of countless moulds, fungi and micro-organisms which live on the organic material in the dust (fingerprints, for example, serve as good culture media). Much of the dirt is hygroscopic (water-attracting) and this tendency can encourage the growth of moulds, as well as increase the corrosiveness of salts, hydrolysis and the release of acids.13

Dust (including fingerprints) will negatively affect sound recording preservation in a number of ways:

Discs

Dust is abrasive, and combined with the pressure exerted on the groove walls by the stylus, can permanently etch the walls worse, dust can also be imbedded permanently into thermoplastic substances. Only a small point of the stylus is actually making contact with the groove walls. One and a half grams of stylus pressure on such a minute surface translates to several tons of pressure per square inch. The resulting drag generates enough heat that the plastic partially melts (though not enough to deform), causing a microscopic flow around the stylus into which dust can be embedded permanently.

Tapes

Dust attracts and traps moisture and will precipitate hydrolysis, a common and serious cause of long-term magnetic tape degradation. Also, dust may cause permanent damage to the tape when the abrasiveness of the dust along with the pressure exerted between the tape surface and the tape recorder heads will scratch the oxide layer and the tape recorder heads.

CDs

Since there is no physical contact at playback, there is virtually no chance of physical damage occurring during playback due to dust deposits. Nevertheless, dust will impede proper playback by obstructing the reading of the information, while it may also affect the long-term preservation. At present, the precise, long-term degradation mechanisms for the CD are still unknown. If dust is improperly removed, permanent physical damage will occur owing to the scratching of the protective layer physical damage will occur owing to the scratching of the protective layer.

To minimize foreign matter deposits:

General:

Grooved discs

Tapes

CD

Cleaning14

Since dust is usually held in place by electrostatic attraction, dry wiping on its own does not work effectively. The added friction created by the duster will cause the dust to jump back to the charged surface.

Distilled water is used for cleaning records and CDs for many reasons. Its precise chemical makeup is known, it will not leave any residue behind, is safe to use, and is inexpensive. Water disperses static charges and counteracts the increase in conductivity from the pick-up of salt deposits from finger prints. However, water alone cannot dissolve grease, thus surfactants are used as additives to enable water to be a grease solvent. Surfactants break grease surface bonds and allow water to penetrate grease solids, causing swelling and then random dispersion.

General

Grooved discs
Tapes
CDs

2. SURFACE DEFORMATIONS

Since the surface of a sound recording is the information carrier, it is critical that the surface be well cared for. Physical deformations such as warping of discs, stretching of tape or shock from dropping them, will directly affect sound information integrity. One must develop a respect for the integrity of the artifact.

To minimize deformations

General

Discs

Tapes

3. ENVIRONMENT

A proper environment for the storage of sound recording is essential to retard degradation mechanisms. Elevated temperature and humidity can affect certain chemical properties of the plastics that make up recording media and can also create an environment that encourages the growth of fungus. Wide or rapid fluctuations of the environment are equally detrimental to the long term preservation of sound artifacts.

Acetate discs

Shrinkage of the lacquer coating due to the loss of plasticizer is the primary destructive force of these discs. Excess moisture will accelerate plasticizer loss. Acetate discs decompose continuously, and over time react with water vapour or oxygen to produce acids that in turn act as catalysts for several other chemical reactions. One of these is the release of palmitic acid, a white waxy substance. Acetate discs are very susceptible to fungus growth. Excess heat will probably accelerate the loss of the coating adhesion.

Vulcanite discs

Vulcanite discs are adversely affected by elevated levels of light, heat and humidity. In response to light and heat, Vulcanite loses sulfur. Light induces oxidation and form oxides of sulfur and sulfuric acid in the presence of humidity. The acidity builds up to a level at which the degrading material is attacked and eventually decomposed.15

Shellac discs

High humidity levels accelerate the embrittlement of shellac discs. This embrittlement causes a fine powder to be shed from the disc after each playback, effectively scraping away groove information. The severity of the embrittlement is unpredictable, due to the wide combinations and variety of materials (and of material quality) that were used during their production. The average shellac content in a shellac disc is approximately 15 % with the remaining 85% composed of aggregates. Organic materials in the aggregates are susceptible to fungus attack, while shellac itself is said to be fungus-resistant.

Vinyl discs

Vinyl discs are adversely affected by ultraviolet light and thermal cycling (heat fluctuation). The consequence of thermal cycling is that each cycle of temperature results in a small irreversible deformation, and these deformations are cumulative.16 Vinyl discs are resistant to fungal growth and are unaffected by high humidity levels.

Tapes

Hydrolysis is the chemical reaction whereby the binder resin "consumes" water drawn from humidity in the air to liberate carboxylic acid and alcohol. Hydrolysis in magnetic tape results in the binder shedding a gummy and tacky material which causes tape layers to stick together and inhibits playback when it is deposited onto the tape recorder heads. Hydrolysis also causes a weakening in the bond holding the binder to the backing, which results in shedding or possible detachment.

Cellulose acetate backed tapes are very susceptible to linear expansion in humid and/or warm conditions. Because of the different properties of the binder and the base, the absorption of humidity and heat result in tape curling and edge fluttering. Repeated dimensional changes due to environmental fluctuations grossly affect winding tension (hence the need for periodic rewinding) and can promote binder fatigue, cracking, and finally, the irreversible loss of sound information (known as catastrophic failure). Tape binder is somewhat susceptible to fungi growth though less so with modern tapes as fungicides are presently incorporated into the binder.

The process of the break-down of acetate backed tape is exhibited by the release of acetic acid. It is accelerated by the presence of moisture and iron ferromagnetic particles in the tapes. When the acetate is degrading--giving off acetic acid odour--it starts to take up more moisture. The process of self-destruction is autocatalytic.

CDs

The compact disc is a laminate of 4 different materials. The bottom of the disc is made of polycarbonate onto which the pits containing the digitized sound information are stamped. A thin layer of aluminum is then applied, covering the pits. A thin lacquer coating (which becomes the top of the disc) is then applied to cover the aluminum layer, and finally the ink for the labeling.

As with any laminated products, one must wonder how the aging characteristics of each material will interact with, and affect adjacent layers.

Proper storage environment

CONCLUSION

Over the past century, recorded sound has become an intrinsic part of our culture. Upon hearing an early sound recording device in 1888, Sir Arthur Sullivan stated that he was "astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening's experiments--astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever."18 Unfortunately, sound recordings are not "forever". These are ephemeral documents, both in their physical composition and consequently in the means by which the sound is ultimately retained. They can have their life span shortened considerably by both internal and external forces. By undertaking certain precautionary measures, custodians of the heritage of sound can lengthen considerably their collection's life span thus preserving a rich, invaluable world of sound.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ANSI/AES Work Group II.--Environmental Storage Conditions (Draft 2). January 25, 1991.

Archiving the Audiovisual Heritage, a Joint Technical Symposium.--FIAF (Fédération International des Archives du Film), FIAT (Fédération International des Archives de Télévision), IASA (International Association of Sound Archives).--Berlin: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, 1988.

Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Associated Audio Archives Committee.--Final Performance Report: Audio Preservation: A Planning Study.--Silver Spring, Maryland: Association for Recorded Sound Collections, 1987.

Borwick, John--Sound Recording Practice, Third Edition.--Oxford University Press, 1989.

Bradshaw, R.; Bhushan, B.,; Kalthoff, C.; Warne, M.--"Chemical and Mechanical Performance of Flexible Magnetic Tape Containing Chromium Dioxide".--IBM Journal of Research Development. Vol. 30, No. 2, March 1986. pp. 203-216.

Brown, Daniel W.; Lowry, Robert E.; Smith, Leslie E.--Prediction of the Long Term Stability of Polyester-Based Recording Media. NBSIR 83-2750.--US Department of Commerce, August 1983.

Brown, Daniel W.; Lowry, Robert E.; Smith, Leslie E.--Prediction of the Long Term Stability of Polyester-Based Recording Media. NBSIR 82-2530.--US Department of Comerce, June 1982.

Committee on Preservation of Historical Records, et al.--"Magnetic Recording Media" in Preservation of Historical Records.--Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1986, pp. 61-69.

Cuddihy, E.F.--"Aging of Magnetic Recording Tape".--IEEE Transaction on Magnetics. Vol. 16, No. 4, July 1980.--pp. 558-568.

Cuddihy, E.F. "Stability and Preservation of Magnetic Tape".--Proceedings of the International Symposium: Conservation in Archives.--Conseil international des archives 1989, pp. 191-206

Fontaine, Jean-Marc.--"Conservation des Enregistrements Sonores sur Bandes Magnétiques, Étude bibliographique".--Analyse et Conservation des documents graphiques et sonores.--Paris, France: Éditions du centre de la recherche scientifique. 1984.

Fontaine, Jean-Marc.--Degradation de L'Enregistrement Magnetique Audio/Degradation of Magnetic Audio Recording.--1987. (unpublished) [An English translation, Degradation of Magnetic Audio Recording, was prepared by the National Library of Canada.]

"The Handling & Storage of Magnetic Tape".--Sound Talk. Volume III No. 1, 3M, 1970.

Jorgensen, Finn--The Complete Handbook of Magnetic Recording: 3rd Edition--Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Tab Professional and Reference Books--1988.

Kalil, F., (Ed.)--Magnetic Tape Recording for the Eighties: NASA Reference Publication 1075.--Tape Head Interface Committee, 1982.

Lehn, Anna.--Appendix IV "Recommended Procedures for Handling Audiovisual Material"--Final Report: Working Group on the Preservation of Recorded Sound Recordings.--Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1990. [Unpublished].

Morgan, John.--Conservation of Plastics: An introduction to their history, manufacture, deterioration, identification and care. London, England: Plastics Historical Society; The Conservation Unit, Museums & Galleries Commission, 1991.

Moncrieff, Anne; Weaver, Graham.--Science for Conservators: Cleaning.--London: Crafts Council, 1983.

Pickett, A.G.; Lemcoe, M.M.--Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings.--Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1959.

Pohlmann, Ken C. --The Compact Disc: A Handbook of Theory and Use.--Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions Inc, 1989.

Preservation and Restoration of Moving Images and Sound.--FIAF (Fédération International des Archives du Film), 1986.

Smith, Leslie E.; Brown, Daniel W.; Lowry, Robert E.--Prediction of the Long Term Stability of Polyester-Based Recording Media. NBSIR 86-3474.--US Department of Commerce, June 1986.

Storage of Magnetic Tapes and Cinefilms.--European Broadcasting Union, Technical Centre, Brussels, 1974.

Wheeler, Jim;--Increasing the Life of Your Audio Tapes.--Ampex Corporation, 1987.

Woram, John M.--The Recording Studio Handbook.--Plainview, New York: Sagamore Publising Company Inc., 1980.

Consultations:

Bob Barclay and Scott Williams, Canadian Conservation Institute; Morgan Cundiff, International Piano Archives, University of Maryland; Gerald Gibson, Larry Miller, William Nugent, Library of Congress; Dr. R. Pisipati, Mobay Chemical Company; David Williams, Nimbus Records; Dietrich Schuller, Phonogrammarchiv, Vienna; Paul Toraka, Stanton Magnetics Incorporated; Jean-Marc Fontaine, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, France; Michel Bourbonnais, National Archives of Canada; Dr. Floyd Toole, National Research Council; Dr. Frank Ma, Union Carbide Canada Limited.


1.Morgan, John.--Conservation of Plastics: An introduction to their history, manufacture, deterioration, identification and care. London, England: Plastics Historical Society; The Conservation Unit, Museums & Galleries Commission, 1991. Page 18.

2.Isom, Warren Rex.--Centennial Issue... The Phonograph and Sound Recording After One-Hundred Years. -- Audio Engineering Society. Volume 25, Number 10/11, October/November, 1977. Page 719.

3.Pickett, A.G.; Lemcoe, M.M.--Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings.--Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1959. p. 24.

4.Isom, Warren Rex.--Record Materials, Part II: Evolution of the Disc Talking Machine--Centennial Issue... The Phonograph and Sound Recording After One-Hundred Years.--Audio Engineering Society. Volume 25, Number 10/11, October/November, 1977. Page 720.

5.IBID. Page 721.

6.Pickett, A.G.; Lemcoe, M.M.--Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings.--Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1959. p. 25.

7.Burt, Leah S.-- Record Materials, Part I: Chemical Technology in the Edison Recording Industry--Centennial Issue... The Phonograph and Sound Recording After One-Hundred Years.--Audio Engineering Society. Volume 25, Number 10/11, October/November, 1977. Page 717.

8.The stability of the newest format, the compact disc, has not yet been determined.

9.Pickett, A.G.; Lemcoe, M.M.--Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings.--Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1959. p. 31.

10.Edge, Michelle.--The Deterioration of Polymers in Audio-Visual Materials.--Archiving the Audio-Visual Heritage; Third Joint Technical Symposium; Technical Coordinating Commitee and Unesco.--1992. Page 33.

11.International Institute for Conservation--Canadian Group and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators.--Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice: for Those Involved in the Conservation of Cultural Property in Canada.--The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works-Canadian Group/The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC).--Ottawa: 1989, second edition. Page 19.

12.Moncrieff, Anne; Weaver, Graham.--Science for Conservators: Cleaning.--London: Crafts Council, 1983. Page 14.

13.IBID. Page 14.

14.Please Note: Refer to manufacturer safety data sheets for the use of any chemicals mentioned herein.

15.Morgan, John.--Conservation of Plastics: An introduction to their history, manufacture, deterioration, identification and care. London, England: Plastics Historical Society; The Conservation Unit, Museums & Galleries Commission, 1991. Page 18.

16.16 Pickett, A.G.; Lemcoe, M.M.--Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings.--Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1959. Page 41.

17.N.B. ANSI/AES are preparing a report entitled Environment Storage Conditions which will deal with the proper storage environment for tapes. It is to be completed by the fall of 1991.

18.Moogk, Edward B.--Roll Back the Years: History of Canadian Recorded Sound and its Legacy, Genesis to 1930.--Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1975. Page viii


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