The way women shirked the language of patriarchy is evident on the tape box. We digitised the ‘MISTRESS’ copy, not the master copy.
Seeing the mistress copy today is a reminder of the way gendered language influences how we can think about cultural forms. The master copy, of course, in conventional understanding, is the finished article, the final cut. The master of the house – the person in charge – is gendered male. Yet is this still the case?
‘If we find that audio-technical discourse renders signal processing in terms of masculinist languages of mastery and domination of nature, can we help but wonder after its broader social implications? Does it not also suggest a gendered set of relations to these technologies? It is any wonder we still find the design, implementation, marketing, and use of audio-signal processing technologies to be male-dominated fields? [To change things] it will require fundamentally rethinking how we model, describe, interact, and sound with signal processing technologies’.
For feminist women who felt systematically excluded from certain kinds of cultural and economic activity, the gendering of language was an extension of violence they experienced because they were women.
Making the tape a MISTRESS may help rectify the problem, as does crossing out the very idea of a master copy.
What a year it has been in the life of Great Bear Analogue and Digital Media. As always the material customers have sent us to digitise has been fascinating and diverse, both in terms of the recordings themselves and the technical challenges presented in the transfer process. At the end of a busy year we want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for sending us their valuable tape collections, which over the course of 2013 has amounted to a whopping 900 hours of digitised material.
We feel very honoured to play a part in preserving personal and institutional archives that are often incredibly rare, unique and, more often than not, very entertaining. It is a fairly regular occurrence in the Great Bear Studio to have radio jingles from the 60s, oral histories of war veterans, recordings of family get-togethers and video documentation of avant-garde 1970s art experiments simultaneously migrating in a vibrant melee of digitisation.
We have also received a large amount of rare or ‘lost’ audio recordings through which we have encountered unique moments in popular music history. These include live recordings from the Couriers Folk Club in Leicester, demo tapes from artists who achieved niche success like 80s John Peel favourites BOB, and large archives of prolific but unknown songwriters such as the late Jack Hollingshead, who was briefly signed to the Beatles’ Apple label in the 1960s. We always have a steady stream of tapes from Bristol Archive Records, who continue to acquire rare recordings from bands active in the UK’s reggae and post-punk scenes. We have also migrated VHS footage of local band Meet Your Feet from the early 1990s.
On our blog we have delved into the wonderful world of digital preservation and information management, discussing issues such as ‘parsimonious preservation‘ which is advocated by the National Archives, as well as processes such as migration, normalisation and emulation. Our research suggests that there is still no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy in place for digital information management, and we will continue to monitor the debates and emerging practices in this field in the coming year. Migrating analogue and digital tapes to digital files remains strongly recommended for access and preservation reasons, with some experts bookmarking 15 April 2023 as the date when obsolescence for many formats will come into full effect.
While the world is facing a growing electronic waste crisis, Great Bear is doing its bit to buck the trend by recycling old domestic and professional tape machines. In 2013 we have acquired over 20 ‘new’ old analogue and digital video machines. This has included early 70s video cassette domestic machines such as the N1502, up to the most recent obsolete formats such as Digital Betacam. We are always looking for old machines, both working and not working, so do get in touch if your spring clean involves ridding yourself of obsolete tape machines!
Our collection of test equipment is also growing as we acquire more wave form monitors, rare time-based correctors and vectorscopes. In audio preservation we’ve invested heavily in early digital audio machines such as multi-track DTRS and ADAT machines which are rapidly becoming obsolete.
We are very much looking forward to new challenges in 2014 as we help more people migrate their tape-based collections to digital formats. We are particularly keen to develop our work with larger archives and memory institutions, and can offer consultation on technical issues that arise from planning and delivering a large-scale digitisation project, so please do get in touch if you want to benefit from our knowledge and experience.
Once again a big thank you from us at Greatbear, and we hope to hear from you in the new year.
Bristol Archive Records is more than a record label. It releases music, books and through its website, documents the history of Bristol’s punk and reggae scenes from 1977 onwards. You can get lost for hours trawling through the scans of rare zines and photographs, profiles of record labels, bands, discographies and gig lists. Its a huge amount of work that keeps on expanding as more tapes are found, lurking in basements or at that unforeseen place at the back of the wardrobe.
Great Bear has the privilege of being the go-to digitisation service for Bristol Archive Records, and many of the albums that grace the record store shelves of Bristol and beyond found their second digital life in the Great Bear Studio.
The tapes that Mike Darby has given us to digitise include ¼ inch studio master tapes, ½ inch 8 track multi-track tapes, audio cassettes, DAT recordings and Betamax digital audio recordings. The recordings were mostly made at home or in small commercial studios, often they were not stored in the best conditions. Some are demos, or other material which has never been released before. Many were recorded on Ampex tape, and therefore needed to be baked before they were played back, and we also had to deal with other physical problems with the tape, such as mold, but they have all, thankfully, been fixable.
After transfers we supply high quality WAV files as individual tracks or ‘stems’ to label manager Mike Darby, which are then re-mastered before they are released on CD, vinyl or downloads.
Bristol Archive Records have done an amazing job ensuring the cultural history of Bristol’s music scenes are not forgotten. As Mike explains in an interview on Stamp the Wax:
‘I’m trying to give a bit of respect to any individual that played in any band that we can find any music from. However famous or successful they were is irrelevant. For me it’s about acknowledging their existence. It’s not saying they were brilliant, some of it was not very good at all, but it’s about them having their two seconds of “I was in that scene”.’
While Darby admits in the interview that Bristol Archive Records is not exactly a money spinner, the cultural value of these recordings are immeasurable. We are delighted to be part of the wider project and hope that these rare tapes continue to be found so that contemporary audiences can enjoy the musical legacies of Bristol.
Like much late 1970’s and 80’s studio recordings, this was recorded on Ampex branded tape that suffers badly from binder hydrolysis or ‘sticky shed syndrome’ that must be addressed before the tape can be successfully played and digitised. This was in addition to the mould growth that was evident on the tape pack edges, and cardboard box. Storage in damp conditions and high humidity causes this type of mould and increases the breakdown of magnetic tape generally, sometimes to the point where de-lamination occurs, that is, the binder breaks away from the polyester structure of the tape. When this happens, which is luckily quite rarely, the magnetic information is damaged and mostly lost beyond repair.
Thankfully this tape, whilst it looked in poor condition was relatively straightforward to restore but time consuming. Careful hand winding, and mould cleaning is necessary as is awareness of the potential health effects of some mould spores so good ventilation and protective masks are necessary.
We have recently worked on probably the worst looking tapes but with some of the best sounding music recordings we’ve seen for a while! A batch of 10.5″ NAB studio masters had bad tape mould growth.
Andy Leighton, owner of Bolex Brothers and music publisher of the Rocky Horror Show, found a batch of studio masters on quarter inch tape that had been growing mould for some of them over 30 years. All of these recordings had been made at the renowned Sound and Recording Mobile studios better known as SARM, later creative home of Trevor Horn.
Among these tapes was the first ever recording made at SARM in 1972 by Richard o’Brien, writer of the Rocky Horror Show, in addition to rare tracks by artists such as Kimi and Ritz.
When the tape mould was finally cleaned from the tapes and some of them baked for binder hydrolysis the quality of the recordings was very high and testament to the high quality available from analogue recording and even though tape can be vulnerable to physical problems it is also robust. If these had been tape based digital recordings, in the same condition, I doubt we’d have been able to achieve the same results.
A documentary we transferred and created DVD access copies for its director recently. He only had a VHS copy of the 8mm original unfortunately but it’s still a great piece of history about St Pauls, the St Pauls Carnival and Bristol.
If anyone can recognise themselves or anyone else, please contact the director, Colin Thomas by email, firstname.lastname@example.org
2 u-matic video tapes were discovered of a Black Roots live performance in Bristol in the 1980’s. We were able to restore, digitise and make the umatic transfer of this recording as a high quality, uncompressed Quicktime file then encode and author a DVD for future release by Bristol Archive Records.
Some information supplied by the label:
Black Roots were Bristol’s premier Reggae band throughout the eighties and having gone their separate ways in the nineties they reformed last year and will be rekindling the magic with an intimate hometown gig at the Fleece on Friday September 9th, the show coincides with the release of “Black Roots – The Reggae Singles Anthology”, released on Bristol Archive Records in collaboration with Nubian Records, this release showcases all of the band’s singles released during their first decade and as an extra bonus the CD issue comes coupled with a DVD of the band’s 1986 video release “Celebration” recorded at the long gone Studio nightclub in Bristol. This show will be something special and likely sell out so book your tickets early and don’t miss out.
We were very excited recently when Chris Bradfield from Soundscommercial uncovered a previously unseen batch of EIAJ half inch reel to reel video tapes. In the process of looking for 1976 footage for their event, Sprit of 76, we uncovered many other gems. One of these goals was the famous hat-trick scored by Kevin Mabbutt against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1978. Mabbutt is one of only two players in Football League history even to have done this and this footage was never recorded anywhere else!
Unfortunately this large batch of valuable recordings had been stored in damp, unheated conditions and had suffered. The tape had deteriorated in several ways.
Mould growth was evident on some tapes
The oldest tapes from the early 1970’s were shedding oxide severely and had little lubrication left in the binder.
Binder hydrolysis, often called sticky shed was evident on other tapes.
Each issue needed a different process to treat the tape. The common assumption that ‘tape baking‘ will restore all unplayable tape is not true. It is just one solution to one of these issues and can cause more problems if used incorrectly. Deteriorated video tape is much less forgiving than audio tape when attempting transfer and must always be handled and processed with extreme care. Crinkled, curled, edge damaged tapes are next to impossible to restore back to their original condition and it’s common that more damage can occur when owners are desperate to transfer footage.
We were able to restore all the tapes to a playable condition and make uncompressed quicktime files of these.
Below is a clip from a later recording. We are not able, unfortunately, to show the Kevin Mabbutt clip yet.
“… aims to showcase music from the diverse Bristol Music scene and provide a historical account / document of all things Bristol that should never be forgotten. Many of the artists and releases are rare, unknown or never before released. The material has been lovingly digitally remastered from vinyl, ¼ inch tape, dat or cassette. The original vinyl releases would generally have been limited to runs of 1000 copies or less.”
Many of the recordings have survived well over the years and sound great, a testament to the bands and the engineers that recorded them.
A customer recently came to me after an unhelpful, incorrect and ultimately expensive experience at PC World.
Their Dell Inspiron laptop had stopped working, after initially refusing to look at it, the ‘tech’ person grudgingly agreed after a complaint to his manager. After being told it was thought the power supply had stopped working, he took it away and ultimately concluded the motherboard needed replacing.
Of course it didn’t and just needed another power supply which was less than £20.00 for a recycled one on eBay!
Unfortunately the customer had already bought another laptop on this expert’s advice which she didn’t need. Please don’t go to PC World for advice!