The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 7
Nov 1990


Saving Film Music from Oblivion & Destruction

The Society for the Preservation of Film Music cane into existence in 1974 out of concern for the survival and preservation of film music manuscripts and related materials. There was good reason for concern: only a few years earlier, MGM had thrown out the records of 40 years of film music, including original sketches, correspondence, records and orchestral parts, to make room for new material. In the world of film music, it was the equivalent of the Florence Flood, referred to as "the MGM Holocaust."

Members of the Society are musicians and music historians. Like the architects and archivists in COPAR (Cooperative Preservation of Architectural Records), they decided first to find where existing film music collections were stored and find suitable repositories for them. After all, you can't preserve something if you don't know where it is, or if the current caretakers are likely to throw it out as soon as they feel the need for space. The Society also decided to make a list of all the film music they found; a Union Catalog of Film Music will be the eventual result.

The Society puts out a journal, The Cue Sheet, and it published its first book in 1989, an anthology. It is exploring the possibility of publishing film music manuscripts to make them are widely available for study. The Skaggs Foundation recently gave them a modest two-year grant.

The activities of the Society center around the functions of saying (preventing destruction) and making available for research (access). These are basically archival functions, which are ancillary to preservation proper, but basic, not optional. They provide the opportunity and the mandate for treatment and long-term storage.

A Treatment for Brittle, Flaking Tape Recordings

Even tapes kept in storage vaults for only 30 or 40 years may be unplayable, because the adhesives holding the magnetic particles on the tape carrier have deteriorated. Any attempt to play them produces a shower of particles and a tape "denuded of music," according to the column an "Sound" in the New York Times for July 8. Many projects for transferring older recordings to CDs have had to be abandoned for this reason.

Now Agfa research labs in Munich and the U.S. have found a reliable way to rejuvenate these tapes just long enough to transfer them to a digital master. After an hour, they revert to their former dilapidated state. (The article does not say how many times this seeming miracle can be accomplished. Perhaps it is only one time.) According to Agfa, the tapes are baked to melt the adhesives without displacing the magnetic particles, then cooled under controlled conditions. Agfa will do this for record companies and archivists of broadcasting organizations. A person to contact for more information is John Matarazzo, technical manager at Agfa headquarters in Ridgfield Park, New Jersey.

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