NEDCC underwent a complex construction project when we expanded our Audio Preservation Service to add the capacity to digitize magnetic media (e.g., open-reel tapes, cassettes, etc.) and to perform traditional stylus-based digital transfers of discs. The work also included relocating the “IRENE” studio, where, since 2014, we have been using a special, optical-scanning technology to safely digitize grooved media such as wax cylinders and lacquer discs without any physical contact.
The fussiest parts of the project were the construction of control rooms that are acoustically engineered to limit ambient noise, and the installation of equipment engineered to produce the most-faithful representation of the recorded sound on the audio carriers. Because NEDCC’s audio preservation engineers perform 100% attended transfers (i.e., one recording at a time) and everything is monitored 100% by ear, a “critical listening” environment is essential to ensuring that the entire recording is accurately preserved without any artifacts of the transfer process.
When the new audio preservation controls rooms were completed, we decided to celebrate in a special way: NEDCC held a “Listening Party” to allow the conservation, preservation, imaging, and administrative staff to personally experience the quality of the listening environment and accuracy of the audio equipment.
Staff members were invited to schedule a 15-minute session in one of the control rooms and listen to music of their choosing. Because the equipment is engineered to faithfully reproduce the original audio signal just as the mastering engineer intended, we encouraged staff to bring their music on high-quality formats (e.g., no MP3s). One by one, over several weeks, staff members could be seen sitting at a control panel, listening intently to a few minutes of their favorite music.
Many people commented on the depth of the sound and how one could hear the tiniest sound in the room where the music was being recorded. Receptionist Juanita Singh said that “The quality was so pure I felt like I was actually at the live concert.” Senior Preservation Specialist Frances Harrell said of the experience, “I wish I could listen to music in the control room every day; I've truly never heard anything like it. I discovered new sounds and whole new instruments hiding inside recordings I have listened to hundreds of times before.”
Marketing and Public Relations Manager Julie Martin chose Tom Waits’ Take it With Me. “I have heard the song many times, but in the control room I could actually hear the foot pedals of the old piano, the creak of the piano bench, and the brush of the cloth of his sleeves as he played. And that gravelly voice – like he was right there in the room with us . . .”
Director of Book Conservation MP Bogan listened to a song from one of her “desert island albums” – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of the Jimi Hendrix song Little Wing. She said that she asked audio engineer Karl Fleck to crank it up so she could hear it LOUD. “It was pretty great to be enveloped by the music,” she said, “and Karl and I talked about listening to one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s songs every Friday afternoon to kick off the weekend!”
Kristen Dubis, Administrative Assistant, listened to My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) from Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. “This song was recorded live at the Boarding House in California in 1978 and listening to it so clearly in our new sound room gave me chills. I honestly felt like I was there. (If only!)”
Associate Book Conservator Kiyoshi Imai chose a song that had a special meaning for him, “Bud Powell’s Amazing II was lying around in my house when I was about 15 years old. My brother was working for a cabaret band for his income. He was listening to lots of jazz then. I fell in love with this album and listened many times until I practically destroyed it. I had to buy the same album for him to replace it. I was already listening and playing bluegrass music then and this album was my entry to jazz.”
Imaging Services Photographer Spencer Zidarich chose a 1965 recording of Duke's Place, by Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington pressed to a 45 rpm vinyl record. “It was both beautiful and educational,” Spencer explained. “I was fortunate enough to be able to compare the vinyl pressing to a digitally mastered version of the song. Fitzgerald's high vocal notes rendered cleaner and the sound of the brass instruments sounded richer and warmer when played from the vinyl."
Staff members were encouraged to choose one “Reveal Song,” and the selections that were submitted are now posted on the NEDCC Staff pages. Have a look – there is an amazing range of musical taste among the NEDCC staff – and we all discovered a few new favorites among one another’s choices. Then go and download songs from your favorite music source to help support the artists we love!
Audio Engineer Karl Fleck queues up a 1940’s 78 rpm recording of “Keep ‘Em Flying!” by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra, and Dedicated to the U.S. Army Air Corps, on the Okeh label. NEDCC’s Audio Preservation department can also reformat certain grooved media using traditional methods, including metal master discs, long-play (LP) vinyl discs, and shellac discs. Rare, fragile or damaged grooved media are excellent candidates for our IRENE technology.
NEDCC is grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for support for NEDCC's expanded Audio Preservation Service.