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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 51 |fall 2007 The annals of tape restoration are filled with stories of improvised equipment and trial-and- error methods. For example, damp analog tape can be “baked” back into replayable condition. “You need a low, slow, even heat,” says Gordon Kidd, who directs Kalapa Recordings, the audio and video fulfillment house for Shambhala Inter- national. Kidd favors “baking” the tape in a veg- etable dehydrator. “The best temperature is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and most kitchen ovens don’t go that low or heat evenly enough,” he says. Baking doesn’t “fix” the tape, but it provides the archivist with an opportunity to copy it. Once the tape has been restored, the next step is digitization, because those restored tapes begin to deteriorate the instant they’ve been cleaned or baked. Like the other archivists, Dharma Seed’s Judy Phillips is caught trying to digitize the analog back- log while processing new, incoming digital talks. That means finding the people and the funding to do the work, as well as the conversion equipment. “We currently translate analog talks to a digital format by reading in eight tapes or four minidisks at a time into a computer that converts the talks to digital. The tapes are read in at double speed, but the minidisks take real time, hour for hour.” To digitize more tapes, you need more equipment and more people; you can’t simply turn up the speed. The slowness of the conversion process can be frustrating, says Carolyn Gimian. “People are always wanting us to provide immediate access to more than we are able, particularly over the web. We’ll get there, but it is going to take a while.” King Dexter is going through the very same pro- cess with recordings of Eido Roshi’s talks. “Once the original is safely digitized and archived,” says Dexter, “I can then return to the file at leisure and edit, clean up and make a final mix that can be used for reproduction, teaching, or fundraising. Since none of the talks I’ve listened to so far were recorded with professional gear, the quality of the originals ranges from completely unintelligible to just OK. This obviously impacts the extent to which I can improve the quality of any given origi- nal and is often most disconcerting. But that’s the nature of audio.” “We still get some analog,” says Phillips, “but we’re working hard to get all equipment upgraded to digital soon.” There are many advantages to going digital: it is hard to damage, easy to store, it takes up less space and reproduces an exact duplicate of the original every time. Dharma talks recorded in digital format can go directly to hard drive storage. The raw, unedited talk can be stored indefinitely until there’s a demand for it. But few sanghas can afford optimal equipment for their needs, so they usually rely on a patchwork of devices, donated and bought secondhand. There’s also the problem of training. “It’s hard to make sure people know how to use the equipment prop- erly,” says Phillips. The Future of Archiving Whether conserving illuminated manuscripts from the fourteenth century or managing a twenty-first- century digital collection, an archive by its nature looks toward the future. “I try to be the eyes and ears of the people who aren’t born yet. I try to rep- resent their interests,” says James Hoagland. For these reasons, deciding what to keep and what to discard is difficult, and not many dharma centers have clearly articulated policies. Currently, new programs and lectures at San Francisco Zen Center generate hundreds of recordings annually. “They just kind of stockpile,” says Michael Wenger. “From time to time we ask teachers to pick their three best talks so that we can discard some of their other ones.” However, there’s no systematic policy in place. The Shambhala Archives so far has no official plan for what to keep and what to let go. “We may decide to eventually deaccession [get rid of] origi- nal analog audio recordings if we feel the digital duplicates will last and aren’t missing information that is embedded in the originals,” says Carolyn Gimian. “We haven’t quite made that decision yet. We’re still storing old tapes off-site.” Digital media, while thought to be enduring, is a relative newcomer to data preservation; only time will tell how well it holds up. Disaster plan- ning is a hot topic at archival conferences every- where and emphasizes the necessity of adequate redundancy to protect a collection, even after it has been digitized. Zen Center maintains Suzuki Roshi’s analog archive in two locations, while his digitized forty-lecture series resides at several dharma centers. At the Shambhala Archives, a bank of hard drives maintains digital data in a variety of formats because, according to Gordon Kidd, “There is no guarantee that any one format will survive the test of time.” Like the longevity problems associated with analog formats, commercial CDs have been found to fall apart after a few years. Several sets of gold-laminate CDs, designed to last for three centuries, hold Trungpa Rinpoche’s digital archive and are stored at several widespread geographical locations. The digital age holds great potential: it could help to expose thousands, if not millions, to Bud- dhism and provide a highly effective means for distributing Buddhist teachings. Gimian is investi- gating the possibility of providing direct downloads through a website. Dharma Seed recently launched its new website (still at dharmaseed.org) that now distributes teachings directly online. Recordings of teachers’ talks can be directly uploaded by the Photos:sanDrakiPis,FroMthEcollEctionoFthEshaMBhalaarchivEs