We may never have been aware of Vivian Maier and her legacy of photographs, films and audio recordings which she had religiously captured over many decades, had they not been discovered just in time, following their disposal at auction from her expired self-storage rental facilities just prior to her death. For those unaware, it’s an interesting, some may say puzzling, yet sad story, which is best explained by the following documentary film.
My own interest in this centres around the similar possible fate of my own collection of field recordings, but without the luck of some last minute reprieve as was the case with Vivian Maier’s collection. The high probability of this happening has provided a wake-up call for me to think again about the future destiny of my own recordings, with its many frustrations and problems associated with the long-term storage of digital media.
Fortunately Vivian Maier’s story has provided me with a clue to a much better method of ensuring long-term survivability, than exists at present, with what I would term pure digital media (digital files stored on HDDs), particularly in the case of field recordings.
I believe the major contributing factor for the discovery and subsequent survival of Vivian Maier’s collection, was the fact that her collection were comprised of recognisable, tangible items, in the form of reels of film, albeit the majority of which were never developed, or saw the light of day as prints.
However, unlike Vivian Maier’s collection, the majority of my own field recordings exist only as digital files, stored unseen within various hard disk drives. Anyone discovering these drives at some future date, may probably be tempted to view the contents and may possibly recognise the contents as audio files, only to discard them later, as either finding them unplayable on their particular system, or if playable, will be discouraged to show further interest in them due to their unsatisfying single channel mono sound.
Additionally, the majority of my several thousand field recordings are stored in various multi-channel formats, dependant upon the microphone array used at the time of capture, so without the detailed recording logs and suitable audio recording knowledge, it would prove difficult to reconstruct the final files for mix-down and mastering to a listenable format, making their future survivability even more unlikely.
As an aside to this, there are currently mixed views expressed as to the manner in which Vivian Maier’s photographs are being printed and displayed, which incidentally, is the photographer’s equivalent of the field recordist’s mastering, but that’s another story.
After much time spent agonising as to the best approach to take: I have decided not to stick with pure digital storage, in the knowledge of its somewhat fragile, ephemeral existence, but to adopt an alternative method which incorporates that major contributing factor previously mentioned, which helped Vivian Maier’s collection survive; that of recognisable, tangible items. I will call it a quasi-digital form, with a hint of tangibility.
With this in mind, many months of my time will be spent sitting down, editing my recordings into a listenable format, which can then be transferred to what are instantly recognisable and tangible objects, in the form of the CD/DVD/BD.
Some may well say, but they’re outdated and have a short lifespan, due to rot, scratches etc., but from my own experience this is not the case, they are more robust than many make them out to be. Most importantly, they are common tangible items, instantly recognisable and associated with the playback of sound and with the many millions of disc players in circulation their playability is ensured for many decades to come.
However, there is a slight catch to this method, as some readers may have realised that several thousand audio recordings, many of which have tracks in excess of 4 hours duration, will require a large number of CDs/DVDs/BDs. That is true for uncompressed audio, such as WAV files, which most of mine are, but by compressing them to a lower but reasonable quality audio, the number can be greatly reduced.
Herein lies the catch; they are only there for their form factor as instantly recognisable, tangible objects, merely to encourage interest and hopefully prompt further investigation and enable recognition by association with the contents of the original data files and associated recording logs held on other archival quality data discs, or if still operational, within the HDDs.
Some progress has been made to date, with all original recordings up to the start of 2017 being successfully stored as audio data files on Verbatim lifetime archival quality BDXL 100GB M-Discs.
Unfortunately, I have to keep reminding myself, no more field recording until after the existing ones have been mixed-down and mastered, that’s a bitter pill to swallow for me!
I am extremely grateful to Vivian Maier, for unwittingly teaching me something, which I only wish she had done herself, and that is, do not just keep taking photographs (in my case, field recordings), but print them out as well!