Sound and Vision in top gear

At the beginning of Images for the Future, in 2007, Sound and Vision mainly focused on achieving the targets for digitization of audio and video material. In October 2008 the audio material counted over 20,000 hours on quarter-inch tapes and DAT tapes, of which the largest part belongs to the Images for the Future project. In collaboration with Technicolor over 11,000 hours of video material has now been digitized as well.

Ernst van Velzen is Manager Digitization: ‘Achieving our targets calls for strictly organized working processes. We have created a separate in-house unit where we can record the audio material with sixteen recorders at a time. The recordings continue the entire day, during which sixteen new tapes have to be put on the reels every hour. These are to be brought to the depot later on. This requires clever logistics. Especially during the start-up phase of such a large-scale project we are dealing with bottlenecks all the time. The unusual aspect of this project is that there are no manuals available where we can find the solutions to the problems we encounter.

Now, take the question about the quality of the analogue material. We simply cannot listen to all the tapes first to check how they sound, what they contain and if the material is indeed complete. Sometimes an episode is for instance spread over two tapes. What to do then? For some of the collections we took random tests to find out if we could expect any problems. Eventually we adapted our working processes and the digital catalogue iMMix to these tests as well. Material that proves to contain errors is not repaired immediately, but it is tagged with information about the exact location of the errors. All in all the project exceeds our expectations and I am sure we will reach those over-260,000 hours of audio and video digitization by far.’

Start of Dutch television
For the conservation of film material two important contracts have been put out in 2008. One of them concerns the conservation of 5,500 hours of sound tapes during the coming four years. These are sound tapes belonging to films from the period 1950-1990. Furthermore the film-film conservation of 2,300 hours of 16-mm acetate film has been put out last autumn. These films date back to the beginning of Dutch television, to 1951. Sabine Lenk is Project Manager Film at Sound and Vision and she is responsible for the tenders: ‘As for the conservation of the sound tapes, the German company Gürtler Multimedia & Videotechnik in Neuss has taken up this project. The traditional sound tapes are magnetic tapes, also called perfotapes, made of acetate, which over time tend to shrink and turn acid. These will be preserved on a new polyester carrier which cannot turn acid and will last for hundreds of years.’

During the coming five years duplicate negatives of the black-and-white film collection will be made on polyester film as well, thereby preserving this important period of the beginning of Dutch television. At a later stage these collections will also be digitized. The contract for the conservation will be executed by ABC & TaunusFilm in Wiesbaden. Sabine Lenk gives an impression of the enormous scale of the project: ‘One hour of conserved audio material is spread over 680 metres of magnetic tape. Considering the fact that there are 5,500 hours of tape, you realize that we are talking about almost 4,000 kilometres of tape to be conserved.’

(This is an adapted version of an article published earlier in Sound and Vision Journal, December 2008)