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About Audio Preservation at NEDCC

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DIGITIZATION OF HISTORICAL AUDIO COLLECTIONS

In response to a nationally-recognized need—articulated persuasively in The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age (2010)—we are now offering audio preservation services. 

Although NEDCC was founded as the first paper conservation center in the United States, reformatting has been a part of our services since we began offering film-duplication and preservation microfilming in the 1970s.  We converted from film to digital imaging in 2008, which prompted our long-standing library, archive, and museum clients to ask us to also consider offering audio preservation services.  We have begun this service with a new technology for recordings on grooved media, which uses an imaging approach to audio preservation called “IRENE.”

IRENE Technology

The IRENE audio preservation service at NEDCC is the culmination of a decade of research and development at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Library of Congress.  IRENE uses a non-contact approach, which eliminates the possibility of damage caused by mechanical aluminum disc videocontact of a stylus on fragile media.  The process creates ultra-high resolution images of the audio groove structures in either 2D or 3D, as required.  The resulting image files are then processed through software that translates them into an audio file.  If properly cared for, the image files serve as a digital surrogate of the physical object, “virtually” preserving the object’s condition at the time of scanning while the object continues to physically degrade over time.

NEDCC Currently Works with the Following Formats:

  • Wax cylinders
  • Lacquer discs (a.k.a., “acetate” discs)
  • Aluminum transcription discs
  • Shellac discs
  • Tin foils
  • Other rare formats (e.g., Dictabelt, Voice-O-Graph, etc.)

AUDIO PRESERVATION SERVICES

Digitization

IRENE creates uncompressed Broadcast WAV audio master files in compliance with FADGI and IASA standards.   In addition to the audio master files, IRENE also creates ultra-high resolution TIFF image master files of the groove structures (and condition) of the media. All transfers are performed 1:1.

Discovery

“Discovery” provides 30-second audio clips of audio content at a very low cost.  This might be useful for a collection that is not labeled, but for which the provenance suggests there may be important content.  For a small investment, we could discover the content, assess the condition of the media, and provide digitization proposals.  Such information would be very important for writing a grant application or simply making prioritization/selection decisions.

Cracked wax cylinderCondition Assessment

“Condition Assessment” provides baseline documentation of an audio carrier followed by periodic assessments to see if the condition of the carrier has changed over time.  This service might be used for rare carriers that are valued not just for their audio content, but also as artifacts.  IRENE’s imaging approach provides much more measurable information about an item’s condition than one could evaluate through visual inspection alone.

Cleaning

IRENE is able to digitize dirty carriers, but cleaning them prior to imaging would still produce a superior result.  Because NEDCC is a conservation lab, we adhere to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  This simply means that we inform you in writing of exactly how we propose to clean any media; only use vetted techniques; and never treat such important information as “proprietary.” For more information, see Cleaning Lacquer Discs.

Rehousing

The current off-the-shelf housing options for cylinders and discs from traditional suppliers are inadequate, especially for damaged materials.  We have worked with objects conservators and vendors on improved housing options, as well as custom-made approaches for unique circumstances.

Conservation Treatment

We are also working with objects conservators who specialize in polymers, lacquer, glass, and metals to develop treatment techniques for stabilizing damaged discs and cylinders.  Because the goal is performance rather than aesthetics, we are focusing on approaches that will maintain the integrity of the signal quality.  This service is not yet available, but please feel free to contact us for further information.

Advantages of the IRENE Technology

No Stylus Wear

The IRENE service is the gentlest method of audio reformatting available for unique, rare, and/or fragile grooved media, and it does a better job of digitizing worn carriers than a traditional stylus approach.

Conservation Ethic

As a nonprofit conservation center, NEDCC strives to exercise the greatest care in preserving both audio content as well as audio carriers.  IRENE provides a holistic solution to audio preservation that does not force librarians, archivists, and curators to choose between the preservation of the audio carrier versus its audio content.

Image Restoration

IRENE creates an image file that is then translated by software into an audio file.  If desired, imperfections in the image file can be restored prior to translation, resulting in a superior audio file.  Broken glass-based lacquer discAlthough it is beyond the scope of our service, the audio file can then be further improved by contracting with a specialist provider using traditional audio restoration techniques.

Ability to Digitize Damaged Media

Because IRENE employs a non-contact approach, it is able to digitize damaged and broken media that could not otherwise be played with a stylus. 

Questions?

About audio preservation projects and scheduling:

Mason Vander Lugt
Audio Preservation Specialist
(978) 470-1010, ext. 237

About receipt and return of your materials, or packing and shipping:

Jonathan Goodrich
Registrar
(978) 470-1010, ext. 215