Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: You don't know what you've got till it's gone

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  • Christopher Dempsey,

    The top post on Andrew's site has me all giddy: although many original masters have been lost or erased, a compilation of reworked classic 80s Chicago house tunes is being prepared for release in January by DJ History. I'll buy that for whatever music costs these days.

    I'll buy it as well! Where will it be available?

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    And may I offer my experience of deleting music?

    The first year architecture students where I work (School Architecture and Planning - I lecture p/t in planning) had an assignment to build a structure 8m high on a 4m square footprint (or something like that).

    One group of young women hit upon the idea of re-purposing the tape inside tapes. You know, the old fashioned things that we played in tape recorders. Before CD's came along.

    The got busy and managed to accumulate quite alot of tapes, and one day preceded to well, un-spool the tape. Walking past as they were doing it I had a heart leap as I thought (forgetting momentarily about their assignment) about how long it would take to 'wind' tapes back onto their spools using pencils. I had to laugh, and I told them about my visceral reaction to their 'abuse' of the tapes. I told them that in my day tapes were the thing, and one didn't, you know, treat them that way - they held repositories of memories to a whole generation - that tapes, you know, were precious small things of music and good times for lots of people.

    The young these days are very polite.

    And their use of the tape material? Quite sublime. An 8m high column of individual tape strands - hundreds of them. At the SKYRISE event on Saturday night I walked through this column. Very sensual. Who knew? The tactile nature was astonishing. But very poignant as well as I thought of all that music.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    The tireless Andrew Schmidt at Mysterex -- a NZ music archive in itself -- has been musing on this too. link.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Donald Reid,

    I have the 'flu, a phd to finish by Christmas and a third child on the way. My brain's all a-scramble and I won't try to comment on media policy.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with you about 'Asian Paradise'. A song for the transition in New Zealand culture from colonial innocence (monocultural and fat on fresh cream) to elegant world-weariness in the era of Mr Asia. Jacuzzis, Buddha sticks and Mai-Tais... Oh and white flares.

    Love that song.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Russell, you realise that this will of necessity involve discussion of copyright, at some stage? I shall attempt to restrain myself...

    And full agreement on "Asian Paradise" as well.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2932 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    I'm up for any sort of discussion about this, especially if the big music companies can get over their squeamishness about public-good archives.

    Thanks for the post, Russell - I think that any focus we can put on this is helpful, and I agree that the majors have been a big part of the story but their archival track record is almost indicative of how much has already been lost.

    Mostly the majors - now EMI, UMG, WMG and Sony - have almost nothing in the way of archives. EMI are, I think, the only exception, but Universal, for example, as far as I know, have no PolyGram archives. When I was working out of PolyGram in the mid 1990s they had no real archival history of the thirty odd years of making music in New Zealand the company then had under its belt.

    Festival threw out a swag of my Propeller artwork in the mid 1980s.

    I actually don't think any of the majors have any real idea of what they may or may not own. I doubt, as an example, if Sony are aware they might own a Tommy Adderley album from the mid 1960s (it was on RCA). Or if they know they likely own an album by mainstream rock band called Lipservice from 1980 which actually did ok and reflected scene centred around venues like Charlie Gray's Island of Real.

    An archive needs to exist not only as a physical place where the likes of posters, records, master tapes and more can be preserved (although a central repository where masters, both analogue and digital, can be stored is urgently overdue) but also as a growing document of the past, what we listened to, where we listened to it, who drove what we listened to and so on.

    And, of course it needs a living web presence. It's not a practical prospect that we should somehow make everything ever recorded available again, especially given copyright and other such issues and the sheer number of releases, but an accessible visual and audio library of our musical past should be a work in progress. And it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

    Andrew Schmidt is absolutely correct when he says

    It needs to part of an ongoing cultural project in which an archive is central.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    the need for a good New Zealand music archive project, to preserve not just popular music, but the media and imagery around it.

    And if you need any proof of how important that is, just take a look at Chris Bourke's Blue Smoke -- reminds me of Michael King's rather tart response that for all the criticism of a pakeha writing Te Puea's biography, if he hadn't done it most of his primary sources would have died before someone else got their shit together.

    I'm up for any sort of discussion about this, especially if the big music companies can get over their squeamishness about public-good archives.

    A squeamishness I find rather ironic as Hollywood studios (and the BBC) are finding out that not letting their archives rot away isn't only cultural corporate responsibility, but good business.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • chris,

    A squeamishness I find rather ironic as Hollywood studios (and the BBC) are finding out that not letting their archives rot away isn't only cultural corporate responsibility, but good business.

    There's something there though in that music and jpegs are immeasurably quicker and easier to copy, transport and store at close to broadcast standard than your average 20 minute TV show - music copyright's sanctity arguably less respected by your average file sharer. Correspondingly the music majors' anti-progressive business models are paranoid and protective.

    On topic, I'm really happy to be reading about this. Long overdue. So much more important for the greater population than grants for videos and what not. I dearly hope something workable comes of it.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner,

    @Donald

    Third child! Have you not worked out what's causing them, yet?

    (And congrats!)

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Grant McDougall,

    I agree with what Simon's said. It's appalling that a lot of these master tapes, etc, have gone west.

    At least we can comfort ourselves that the Hocken Collections in Dunedin has at least one copy of every recording ever released by NZ musicians over the decades.

    Dunedin • Since Dec 2006 • 760 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    I guess it isn't hard for music to be digitised and made available, even "unofficially" -- ie you can't buy originals by acts like Children's Hour, This Kind of Punishment, Victor Dimisich Band, Scorched Earth Policy, etc on CD now (just to pick at one strand of disappearing musical history), but you will find a blog easily that circulates it -- and Simon Coffey's Tally Ho is a good example of how poster art can be presented online. It seems to me that the gap is media: in my ideal world, the NZ rock archive would have a version of the National Library's Papers Past project where back issues of Rip It Up, Real Groove and more obscure publications are digitised and easily searchable, along with the rock columns out of the Auckland Star, Listener, NZ Herald, Christchurch Star, and so on.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    It seems to me that the gap is media: in my ideal world, the NZ rock archive would have a version of the National Library's Papers Past project where back issues of Rip It Up, Real Groove and more obscure publications are digitised and easily searchable, along with the rock columns out of the Auckland Star, Listener, NZ Herald, Christchurch Star, and so on.

    How about - as a first step - creating a database of material that people have; all of the above, plus radio recordings, live/amateur recordings, etc. Basically, a catalogue that consolidates various private and public collections? (Obviously, some people are already doing this, with gig posters, etc.)

    It would take some effort, but would build the best record yet of the cultural detritus that remains, and would at the same time work towards providing evidence of the necessity of funding for a proper archive.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Turns out there's already a brief paper circulating amongst potential stakeholders – RIANZ included – aimed at laying down the basis of a New Zealand Archive of Recorded Music.

    It proposes to cover all musical genres, styles and forms that are (1) recorded in New Zealand by New Zealanders, (2) recorded elsewhere by New Zealanders, or (3) recorded in New Zealand by non-New Zealanders.

    It proposes keeping both original multi-track masters (I think this is vital) and release copies, along with packaging, promotional material, etc.

    Records would be stored appropriately, playback equipment would be maintained for use with old formats, and music would also be transferred to new formats for storage.

    The proposed acquisition strategy would solicit deposits of "priority material" from current holders, establish the copyright status of deposited material and maintain an "accessible catalogue" of the archive's holdings.

    And … Access: Material would be made available to the public "as widely as possible", but the archive would operate in accordance with copyright law. It would also support re-release projects by depositors and rights holders.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    One group of young women hit upon the idea of re-purposing the tape inside tapes. You know, the old fashioned things that we played in tape recorders. Before CD's came along.

    A squeamishness I find rather ironic as...the BBC are finding out that not letting their archives rot away isn't only cultural corporate responsibility, but good business.

    Slightly off-topic, but I suspect there are still quite a few Whovians who wince in pain whenever the forever lost first seasons are mentioned.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    It proposes to cover all musical genres, styles and forms

    Which of course is vital - any such preservation and renewal needs to step away from the cool factor or taste bias.

    Turns out there's already a brief paper circulating amongst potential stakeholders – RIANZ included – aimed at laying down the basis of a New Zealand Archive of Recorded Music.

    I was aware of that, and one of the reasons I posted, was to ramp the pressure just a little.

    However, any such archive needs to document and, importantly, give life to the musical past in such a way that it excites the casual viewer as well as simply offering access and support; hence the need for a strong web front end - which I'd also like to see step away from the biases that have re-written parts of our past but fear if we let the same names dominate this we will end up there again.

    The voices need to be as wide ranging as possible so we accommodate and document, for example, the likes of the country music scene of the sixties in the South Island, which has largely been written out of NZ's musical history, or the big, and largely ignored, folk scene centred around Auckland's inner city and Newmarket for a decade or more from the mid 1960s.

    It needs to go beyond the established 'stakeholders' or it's pointless.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    Some people are already doing it, on a voluntary basis...

    Here's an example...
    http://vicjazzarchive.org.au/

    Unfortunately, it's not New Zealand, and it's only one genre... but it at least shows (some of) what can be done...

    They collect, store, catalog, make modern digital archival recordings..... but obviously due to copyright issues, cant release.... They also make fresh recordings of current artists and release those as fundraising.

    I only know about it because some of those involved are family....

    They are mostly self-funded... but are lucky enough to have a premises with peppercorn rental from the local council, and apply for grants from various state and charitable bodies...

    Obviously, something "official" on behalf of or by the state would be far preferable... but these old codgers saw the music they love possibly dying and decided to do something about it... Good inspiration I recon.

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 889 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    I'll not post the partial and looow resolution but an unsync'd Asian Paradise is out there.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Paynter,

    Turns out there's already a brief paper circulating amongst potential stakeholders – RIANZ included – aimed at laying down the basis of a New Zealand Archive of Recorded Music.

    You all know we already have an Archive of New Zealand Music, right?

    Is that one broken? It sounds like it already does everything described, apart from having a fancy website.

    Gordon

    Wellington • Since Dec 2007 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    It sounds like it already does everything described, apart from having a fancy website.

    The frustration is that it doesn't. It really doesn't do much more than store a couple of copies of everything. It is a collection, a library. And that, only of finished copies.

    I tend to think that it was doing everything that was urgently needed, there wouldn't be such a sense of loss and panic in the recording industry.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming,

    Simon is right. Legal Deposit is not the same thing as a living archive. Not dissing the Natlib people - they have a lot of different (and competing) objectives. Their role is to protect what they have and receive, but not to curate it. There's nothing in Legal Deposit about the masters, only material that is published. And they don't collect and present the context for the material that they do have.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2932 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Paynter,

    The frustration is that it doesn't. It really doesn't do much more than store a couple of copies of everything. It is a collection, a library. And that, only of finished copies.

    I tend to think that it was doing everything that was urgently needed, there wouldn't be such a sense of loss and panic in the recording industry.

    Quick disclaimer: I am also Natlib people, though I don't know much about the Archive of New Zealand music. I'll flick this thread on when I get to work though.

    But I have two thoughts on this.

    First: Are you sure? Russell's summary describes a the same sort of research library with better industry relations and better access for customers than we currently provide. He even calls it an archive.

    And (not being an expert) I am pretty sure that some of the things said in the two short posts above about the Natlib archives are incorrect. Example: I gobsmacked by the clam that the Natlib role is "not to curate" a collection. Um, that's like, what we do. Or that it stores "only of finished copies". Pretty sure that's false too.

    Second: Why do you suppose the Natlib collection is not meeting your needs? Based on what I know of working in other parts of Natlib, I'll hazard this guess: money (lack thereof).

    A problem that would be compounded by setting up a competing archive and redirecting resources and energy elsewhere.

    Having said that, I am arguing from relative ignorance here. But in the long term I just can't see two similar institutions being better than one.

    Gordon

    Wellington • Since Dec 2007 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Paynter,

    Apologies for typos in the above. Distracted by hungry two-year-old.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2007 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Are you sure?

    I've been releasing records in New Zealand for close to thirty three years. Many of the records I've released (NZ punk, OMC, Nathan Haines, Screaming Meemees, Blams and much more) have some cultural currency in New Zealand.

    However my only communication with Natlib over the years has been via the requests for two copies as required for legal deposit. I've not once been approached about artwork, memorabilia, press releases, historic paperwork (which I have a lot), images, stories or anything else.

    I've had no approach about the valuable master tapes I have in storage, nor the video footage I own, much unseen.

    You say that it lacks a 'fancy website'. I envisage a fancy website having things like a list of every record label that's ever operated in NZ with a list of releases for the local artists, biographies of the fifty or so key figures in the NZ recording industry over the last five decades, stories of the local scenes, the venues, the controversies, a growing list, interlinked, of recording artists and so on. It will excite. It will tell you why the Jerry Wise Young Performers Scholarship Award was so named and ensure that the name was not lost (unlike the award which was shamefully forgotten after about three years by RIANZ) and so on.

    This, for example, would be better suited on a music archive site, than mine. The blogs of Andrew Schmidt and Chris Bourke are filled with things that should be centralised on an archive site. I'd love to see both writers adding regularly to an archive website. And sitting on its governing board.

    All of this will be curated in a way that Natlib has not done, and, correct me if I'm wrong, does not have the brief to do.

    This archive needs to be dedicated - in the way film's archive is in NZ - and guided by those who have an intuitive understanding of the unique culture(s) and it's surrounding industry.

    setting up a competing archive

    I'm not sure that needs to be the case. Certainly what I think I, and many others, envisage, doesn't clash with what NatLib has been doing to date, which is mostly just collecting and storing.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • frank stark,

    Thanks, Simon, for the reference to the Film Archive.

    I think the key difference between the activities of libraries (even libraries of record) and archives lies in the notion of preservation. Libraries are generally happy with a copy of a consumer-level object - a book or a CD - and latterly a digital duplicate of such things. Archives are more concerned with finding and preserving originating or master materials. For organisations like the Film Archive, the DVD isn't the point. We look for the negatives or master tapes and aim to make them safe before migrating them to newer technology as the original starts to lose viability. This means a big investment in the myriad technologies which have been used for moving image production. It's based on a fundamental belief that the full cultural and information value of audio-visual material resides in the production materials, not in the consumer ones. To stretch a point, it's akin to the distinction between a painting and a magazine reproduction of it.

    In the context of recorded music, that would equate to the difference between master tapes - multi-track and mixed - which provide much higher quality and much more opportunity for creative re-use - and CDs or download files.

    The other factors, like contextual material, curation and active public programmes are down to the capability and philosophy of the collecting institution, There are without doubt libraries which are good at this and archives which are not - and vice versa. In my view, it's the commitment to finding and preserving master material which counts.

    Around the world, specialist audio-visual archives have the best record in that area. (sorry for the pun)

    nz • Since Nov 2006 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Paynter,

    Thanks Simon, that's more the sort of answer I was looking for. I do hope that case will to be made and the point of difference made clear.

    I agree "competing" was the wrong word to use. These types of complementary and overlapping activities are common in the sector: research libraries, public libraries, special libraries and university libraries are not "competing" with the National Library, the National Portrait Gallery is not competing with Te Papa's collections, they all have their niche. Sorry if it sounded defensive.

    BTW, the National Library is still a bit of a mystery to me, but if you're dealing with legal deposit, I'm guessing you're probably dealing with the New Zealand Music, Sound, Audio-visual collection, not the Archive of New Zealand Music. The latter does sound more like the concept described above. It is part of the ATL Manuscripts collection, so I assume its focus is the unpublished writings & works of musicians:

    Manuscripts also are often called archives. They include things like letters, emails, journals, diaries, notebooks, reminiscences, speeches, scrapbooks and minute books.

    At any rate, I hope you'll find out a bit more about it, even if it is only so you can clearly distinguish between it and the proposed new archive. It may even be worth a visit - but not til we re-open in 2012... And we may even be able to provide some support (for example, in digital preservation, a Natlib specialty).

    Gordon

    PS: Just realised Natlib has a third Music Collection.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2007 • 21 posts Report Reply

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