ARSC 50th Anniversary Conference in Bloomington

Hello readers,

This year, I was one of four recipients of an Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) conference travel grant, supplied by the Morton J. and Lila Savada family, which enabled me to spend a week in Bloomington, IN for a week of hands-on training and panels.  ARSC is an association whose membership consists mainly of private collectors and professionals in the field of librarianship, archiving and sound engineering.  I was happy to be there representing both NDSR and NYPR, and ended up meeting a lot of great people doing some amazing work and research.  This blog post will mainly feature photos and comments about the 2-day pre-conference workshops.

Bloomington is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in my life!  It is an idyllic college town with rolling hills, lots of trees, and a super convenient bike path I used to zip to and from the conference and my Airbnb house.  The first day there I spent walking around the Indiana University’s (IU) lush campus filled with meandering paths, streams, bunny rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and jurassic-sized tulip poplars, like this one I found here:


The following day, I attended the first day of the pre-conference workshops at IU’s Innovation Center, home of the Media Digitization & Preservation Initiative (MDPI) and Memnon-Sony, who are working as partners to digitize the entire IU a/v legacy.  From what I gathered, the MDPI takes care of more selective projects, while Memnon-Sony takes care of more large-scale digitization projects, outputting nearly 9TB worth of material every single day, which is staggering.

First, we got a tour of both the MDPI and Memnon-Sony arms of the building, whose reps showed us how items are processed from the moment they are received in the truck docking bay, to their initial barcode assignment/scan into the system, and through various quality control stations.  Below is a photograph of their extensive a/v transfer decks and monitors.


After our tours, we split off into various workshops.  My goal was to attend as many hands-on workshops as possible.  First, I attended a workshop to learn about MDPI’s a/v digitization workflow, where I offered myself up as a guinea pig to plug/patch in a video signal from an NTSC tape and take the steps that a transfer expert would all the way to when a series of ffmpeg commands associate metadata from IU’s library catalog with the final digitized file and access copy.


A/V transfers are assessed using a digital color scope, like the one you see here.


The video I digitized! And no, this is not anti-aliasing gone wrong: it’s 1990s motion graphics!

Next, I attended a cable soldering workshop! I kid you not.  I was super excited about this one, because I have absolutely no experience using soldering equipment, or have any real background in electronics.  First, we learned the basics of the composition of a cable wire (basically, cables have a negative wire, a positive wire and a grounding wire surrounded by a layer of mesh and then a plastic outer sleeve) and then used wire strippers to take a practice cable apart.  We then learned how to “tin” the tip of our solder: basically, this means adding a little bit of solder to get the heat flowing.  Then, we learned how to de-solder contact points (here I learned that you apply solder to remove solder!) and finished off by applying brand new solder and attaching each of the three wires to contact points.  It was an incredible experience to have in under 2 hours, and I am no longer afraid of 400 degree Fahrenheit tips!


After lunch, I attended a workshop where I learned how to use a reference tone reel in order to properly adjust the azimuth on a Studer reel-to-reel playback machine.  The azimuth basically refers to the angle of the playback/recording head.  If the azimuth was “off” during a particular recording (which is so often the case), the transfer specialist has to adjust the azimuth of the playback machine to reflect its original angle in order to get as much as the signal read back during a digital transfer.


As you can see here, if the azimuth is off, over time, the tape can actually erode the recording head’s surface!


The machine whose azimuth I adjusted with a teeny tiny screwdriver.

So, a couple more highlights.  Later on in the week, the Women in Recorded Sound group (@WomenRecSound) got together at a bar.  I was super excited for this, as it allowed me to come face-to-face with women working as engineers, archivists, librarians, or just have a general interest in working with and sharing ideas with women in the largely male-dominated field of sound collecting/archiving.  I can’t wait to see what they do next. If you are a woman in recorded sound, get involved! They have a very active Twitter account and Facebook page.  I hope to contribute to Women in Recorded Sound by bringing their goals and mission locally to New York City, and hope to provide an update about that very soon.


My second highlight was getting a personal tour of the Hoagy Carmichael Archive housed in IU’s Archives for Traditional Music (ATM), arranged by Susie Cummings (@cususie), former NPR intern and fellow ARSC travel grant recipient, who brought along Andrew Weaver (@Private_Zero) who coincidentally happens to be a recently chosen NDSR fellow at CUNY-Television!  The archive is centered around a beautifully decorated period-room with all sorts of interesting ephemera.  Hoagy is famous for writing standards like “Stardust” and “Heart and Soul”.  I especially enjoyed photographing this beautiful, hand-embroidered chair made by Hoagy’s mother:


That is all for my highlights.  A Storify of the conference in Tweets can be found here, in case you missed our social media surge during the conference.  My time in Bloomington was a very fulfilling trip, and the perfect way to spend the last few weeks as NDSR (sniffle).  Next: an update of where I am off to next, and some other projects I have become involved with these past few months (namely, becoming a member of the XFR Collective).  Thanks for reading!