Last month’s (May, 2014) BISA conference returned to Dublin for the first time in 7 years. BISA (British and Ireland Sound Archives) aims to “facilitate the exchange of information on all practical aspects of audio archiving in Britain and Ireland” – and they certainly fulfilled their remit, with two days that showcased a wide range of innovative archiving projects.

It was a fascinating event, which profiled the increasing amount of archives that have been made publicly available through online audio technologies like Soundcloud (who’ve collaborated with several of the organisations represented at BISA).

Fiontar, the Irish-language research unit at Dublin City University (DCU) hosted the event – which featured two of their projects in the programme; Logainm , the Placenames Database of Ireland, and the digitisation of the Irish Folklore Collection  (a collaboration with the National Folklore Collection at UCD and the Digital Repository of Ireland).

Other presentations were made by representatives from RTE radio and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, who spoke about their involvement in the remarkable Europeana digitsation project.

The conference was of particular interest to me, as Birmingham City University has acquired two substantial audio collections. One came courtesy of legendary Birmingham music promoter Arthur Tapp who has gathered decades of demo tapes from West Midlands bands. BRMC researcher Jez Collins says Arthur’s collection of cassettes provides a “rare insight into local popular music history – from bands that no longer exist or went on to other things”.

The other collection comprises of thousands of entries submitted to the New York Radio Awards between 1994 – 2004. These tapes and CD’s were gathered by Tim Crook, Head of Radio at Goldsmiths University, and visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University.

These two collections represent a huge audio archiving project – requiring hundreds of hours of real-time digitising due to the analogue nature of the audio. With this in mind, the BISA conference was an excellent opportunity to meet with experts in the field – who were generous in sharing their knowledge.

BISA
I spoke with Anna Bale, Senior Technical Officer, who helps manage the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin. She talked about her experience with cassette archiving and the slow process of digitising analogue audio.

“We’re trying to digitise our cassette collection, but a lot of them are in bad condition. Our main problem at the moment is finding useable playback machines.”

“Basically, we’re just digitising them and we’re not enhancing the sound or doing anything like that at the moment. It’s just straight, flat transfer. But, I mean, it’s the same with all them – we’ve got so many different formats of recordings in the archive – from acetate disk, wire recorders, wax cylinders – the whole lot, so (cassettes) are just another step in that (digitising) process.”

“We may consider outsourcing – if we get a bit of funding to do that – but at the moment, we’re just doing it cassette by cassette. It’s just a slow process and there’s nothing we can do to speed it up other than maybe, as I say, if we get funding to send it out. Other than that – it’s just a slow process!”

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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