Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Restoration or destruction in the audio archives

Report about a meeting with British Library’s expert on audio and historical recordings, Will Prentice.

Marius Oosthuizen, our recent Sound Engineer in the SABC Radio Archives, had a meeting with Will Prentice, and gives his views on ten years of research and conversations and actual experience working in this field.

“We are not doing sound restoration, we are destroying historical recordings, legacy material and important radio broadcasts!”

Harsh quote! Let me explain: Experience has showed us that in the last ten years software developers around the world have written algorithms for small software programmes that run with software audio packages on windows platforms. These windows audio programmes are aimed at the consumer market, especially the garage band types, and the noise reduction and audio restoration side of it is inferior when it comes to historical recordings. 

Although these audio programmes and various plug-INS that are available as free download or as cheap as $30 a shot, and they are presented as audio restoration software, they are not!
If a person or an organization like archives or libraries is serious about preserving legacy material, they will not do audio processing on material for preservation purposes. Will Prentice, for instance, adhere to the same practice of no sound processing on audio files, and I agree with him. The audio should be recorded as good as possible at the highest bit rates and kept as is with all the good and the bad on the file.

The cleaning part of the audio only comes into play where a specific broadcaster or client wants to use the audio and needs the clicks and crackles to be taken out. Restoration is specifically driven towards a certain goal, but not for archiving purposes. Software and hardware for audio restoration are developing very fast. Algorithms for audio restoration are getting better and it would be advisable to keep a piece of audio as near to its original for later restoration with better equipment and software if the need arrives.

To all audio archivists and -librarians and would-be sound restoration engineers, do NOT do restoration! Do preservation!

What have you encountered in your audio restoration endeavors for heritage preservation?
Do you agree with this principle of keeping sound restoration to the minimum?

Post dictated to Karen du Toit, Afrikaans Archivist in the SABC Radio Archives.

Related post:
The Weekly Archivist Interview: Sound Engineer in the Radio Archives

1 comment:

  1. You are spot on. When I look at the difference between Restoration & Preservation, I find, on one hand, that Restoration of archives is about renewing the quality and value of a piece of audio-material, on the other hand, Preservation-process is aimed at the maintenance & consistency of originality of that audio-material. There is an archives-principle which , clearly, states that when the permanent records/archives are moved from one place to another(Repository) or audio from one format to another - the principle of provenance(originality) should be adhered to - this means that when these archives are migrated, all the guidelines that govern those archives must be followed. Now, are we restoring or preserving? I would say since we are custodians of historical records, history cannot be renewed, but rather, be repurposed and re-versioned. - Jozi -
    (Comment by Joseph Lobeko, SABC Radio Archives)


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