LINGUIST List 6.1055

Mon Aug 7 1995

Qs: Field Recordings

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. David Prager Branner, Query: preserving field recordings

Message 1: Query: preserving field recordings

Date: Fri, 04 Aug 1995 17:07:33 Query: preserving field recordings
From: David Prager Branner <>
Subject: Query: preserving field recordings

 I have a question about preserving regular *analog* recordings
made in the field.

 I work in rural Chinese, and for the most part I collect
inventories of lexicon, along with some texts. For ordinary background
recording of interviews I have been using a $45 Panasonic microcassette
recorder on half-speed, which does *quite* serviceably even without an
external mic. I intend to use ordinary high-bias non-metal cassettes for
material I want to work with in some detail, such as stories,
conversations, and recitation. I can transfer that to micro-cassette for
transcription, so that the master remains in good condition.

 What concerns me is finding a way to preserve material originally
made on analog tape. Tapes mildew rapidly in Taiwan and southern China,
and even in Seattle and New York I have had tapes become unplayable after
a number of years in storage. I was thinking that if there were some
inexpensive and painless way to digitize ordinary analog tapes, I could
transfer them to cd here at my school, for only the price of the cd itself
(about $12). One problem is wasted space: I can only fit 74 minutes of
uncompressed sound on a cd, because one seems to have no choice but to
record in stereo, even if the original source is mono. Does anyone have
any experience with this?

 I could get far more material onto a cd if I compressed it but I
don't want to do that, because I have no confidence that today's
compression protocols will be readable in 20 or 50 years - remember the
data from the 1960 US census, which was stored on magnetic tape and could
no longer be read by the mid-1980's? If something is important enough to
preserve on cd, I don't want it to become unreadable in a few decades.

 I'd appreciate hearing any ideas on long-term storage. Also, if
anyone has ideas about why digital equipment might still be preferable for
my work, I'd like to hear them. I will summarize the responses I get.


David Prager Branner, Yuen Ren Society
Asian L&L, DO-21, University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195 USA <>
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