Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the course of researching my two books, I've recorded a large number of interviews. Each recording is an irreplaceable document of a fascinating and illuminating conversation. Mercifully, the overwhelming majority of those interviewed are still with us and still readily contactable, but the passings of Angela Morley and Stewart Morris, as well as those of Hugh Mendl and Sir Bill Cotton last year, have prompted me to listen to a few of the recordings again, and to make sure that each is backed up.

I'm not entirely sure what my fellow researchers use for these recordings, but I've used mini-disc exclusively for the last decade or so, the results of which I'm now backing up onto DVD-Rs in FLAC lossless format. Doubtless the time will come when I should consider a solid-state digital recorder like a Zoom H2, but as long as my trusty Sharp keeps going, and as long as spare machines can be found on eBay for not much more than a tenner a throw, I'll stick with MD. Indeed, I underlined my commitment to the ageing format recently when I bought 20 blank discs, marked discontinued, at a heavily-reduced price from my local Tesco.

My introduction to the format came in 1993, when my university radio station needed to replace its ancient cart machines. Reading a hi-fi magazine on Christmas Day, I rang the station director there and then to suggest he look at the new format. He bought them, took the credit and is now head of something very important at the BBC. We're still friends, but that's why he's there and I'm here. It was a revolution. It provided the editability of open-reel tape with the portability of cassette, and the sound seemed out of this world. Now I can hear the lossy compression far more readily, but for speech it's fine and dandy, and it's enabled me to record some music that would otherwise have floated off into the ether, and it doesn't get much more lossy than that. It was a few years before I could justify the cost of my own personal machine, but, paired with a Sony condenser microphone, it's allowed me to assemble a very acceptable-sounding library of oral history.

The Angela Morley interview was unusual. Normally, I meet the interviewee at their home or a mutually-convenient venue, and let the machine capture whatever is said. After establishing initial contact with Angela at a meeting of the Coda Club on one of her annual visits back home, her schedule meant that there was no time for a sit-down chat, so she suggested that I email a list of questions, and that she would send me her replies. I assumed that she'd email back, but, instead, a mini-disc arrived in the post. At the time, I groaned a little, as I had a lot of material to assimilate and I was anxious to avoid unnecessary transcription duties. Now, however, I'm thrilled to have the recording, with Angela saying "Hello, Louis..." at the start, rather than a dull old Word document. I thought I'd share a little bit with you, along with a bit of the music she describes, in this case, her gorgeous arrangement of 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', with sumptuous trombone solo by Laddie Busby. It's from the 1958 Philips album London Pride, now, more than ever, overdue for a CD reissue. It comes from a stereo pressing, but Blogger's summed the channels into mono, as Philips did with the initial copies 51 years ago.


office pest said...

I've got some of those minidisks somewhere, unused. When I come across them you can have them. I shall address them to L F Barfe Esq, Author, Lowestoft, County of Suffolk.
Oh and achieving a top job at the BBC on the strength of sorting out the archiving at URB (or BFM by then) is a world class conversion!

LF Barfe said...

It wasn't just the person in question's commitment to archiving and jingle accessibility. It was his compulsion to say "And that was my idea" when everyone went "Cor, these mini-disc doofers piss all over the cart machines". Good old fashioned Stephen Potter-style gamesmanship/oneupmanship. I laugh now, but I nearly kneecapped him at the time. And gawd bless yer, but there's no need for such a detailed address. 'Cunt, Suffolk' should do it.