The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 4
Jul 1989


Recorded Sound: The March 89 ARSC/AAA Committee Meeting

by Christopher Ann Paton
Archivist, Popular Music Collection, Georgia State University

Reprinted with permission from CAN #38, July 1989, p. 16, where it appeared under the title "ARSC AAA."

The Associated Audio Archives (AAA) Committee of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) met in Rockville, Maryland, March 1-6 to discuss recent developments relating to the administration of recorded sound archives, and to plan for future AAA projects. The Committee is chaired by Gerald Gibson of the Library of Congress, and includes representatives from 14 major sound archives in the United States. Although this meeting focused primarily on cataloging and bibliographic control of archival sound recordings, some preservation-related issues were also discussed.

The representatives explored the cataloging needs of sound archives at length. In addition to other concerns, the Committee discussed the need for an archival cataloging system that allows for the inclusion of preservation information in the cataloging record. Such information could include descriptors of the nature of the original recording (i.e., type of recording, size, speed, material, etc.) and for the processes used to transfer it to a newer, less fragile medium (type of medium, recording procedure, other technical information). Because sound recordings are by nature "machine readable," their usefulness is closely linked to the technology that produces them. Having accurate documentation of the original item and the re-recording process helps ensure that the re-recorded sound will be retrieved authentically, and helps the archivist plan for the preservation of the original item. AAA members will continue to explore the development of suitable cataloging systems at its next meeting.

The Committee also heard reports from its representatives and invited visitors on specifically preservation-oriented topics. Several presentations dealt with the newer technologies of digital recording and optical disks, and the need for appropriate research and testing to determine possible uses for archival sound storage purposes. William Storm of Syracuse University described a project that awaits funding for testing of digital technologies. The project is designed to assess the appropriateness of digital technologies for archival storage. In addition, an American National Standards Institute IT9 subcommittee and the Audio Engineering Society are discussing a cooperative venture for testing of magnetic and optical media for archival qualities. The group is co-chaired by William Storm and Peter Adelstein of the Image Permanence Institute. Such research will provide data for the development of authoritative recommendations for acceptable characteristics of archival storage media.

The Committee heard a presentation by representatives of the Plasmon Corporation, which has developed a recordable (write-once) optical disk that has reportedly stood up well under accelerated aging tests. Although independent testing has yet to take place, the company predicts a possible life-span for the media of over one hundred years.

Regarding topics of more general interest to sound archivists, the Committee was informed that representatives from the music industry are also beginning to show interest in sound archives. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, under the leadership of Michael Greene, has formed an Archival Committee to investigate the current situation of sound archives within the music industry and to promote the preservation of the American recorded sound heritage.

And, finally, the AM Committee discussed proposals to develop both basic workshops for sound archivists and intensive training seminars focused more specifically on recording and archival transfer technology. AAA members will be discussing these proposals with other archivists and national and regional archives and library organizations.

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