Saturday, 21 June 2014

Kingdom of sound By NAHLA NAINAR

AIR staff with 1947 Audio Recorder discs in the archive room. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

The archive of All India Radio Tiruchirappalli is a treasure trove of sound clips from 1930s to the present.

There’s no better place to see the march of recording technology than the archive room of All India Radio Tiruchirappalli. Tucked away in a corner of the ground floor of the vast AIR building, the archive is a treasure trove of sound clips from 1930s to the present.
Keeping pace with the conversion from analogue to digital format, the archives too are gradually getting transferred from magnetic tapes to computerised sound clips. A. Rajaram, Library Information Assistant, has been overseeing the conversion of 1,114 magnetic tapes (of 15- and 30-minute duration) into .wma (Windows Media Audio) files.
“Each of these tapes comes with a handwritten note on the content which has to be catalogued as well,” he says, showing visitors around the room. “So far we have managed to save 405 music recordings, 333 Tamil talks (non-musical content), 26 radio plays, and assorted folk music and feature programmes in digital format,” says Rajaram of the process that lasted over a year. “We have 8,000 such tapes in total, so there’s still more work to be done,” he adds.
The archive room, which has to maintain a temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius to prevent the magnetic tapes from getting damaged, is also a sort of mini-museum of sound recording technology, as it’s still possible to see long-out-of-circulation machines being kept here for the conversion work.
The magnetic tapes, manufactured exclusively for AIR stations by the Hindustan Photo Film Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Ooty, have to be first fixed on a turntable console before being converted to digital files with the help of specialist software, a time-consuming process that needs staff to be familiar with old and new technology.
“Preserving classical music recordings is the most difficult, because each sound clip has to have additional information about the ragas, talas, and even the accompanying musicians,” says Rajaram, pulling out detailed tabulated sheets.
Digitalisation has changed the role of the archive too, as archivists now have to deal with cue sheets that give the details of the recordings on a computer database, rather than physical tapes. Among the gems in this collection are the speech made by Rajaji in Tiruchi ahead of the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha, and recordings by the greats of Carnatic vocal and instrumental music, from K.P. Sundarambal, Thiruvavaduthurai T. N. Rajarathnam Pillai to Sheik Chinnamoulana and Embar Raghavachariar among others. Speeches by prominent personalities are also available here.
The station also maintains a separate library of printed material in Tamil, English and Hindi.
“What we have here is very valuable,” says Rajaram, who has been working here for the past 18 years. “We don’t destroy any sound clip, because someone may appreciate listening to them many years later.”

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