Time Keeps on Slipping.….

As far as I know this is the only shot of Free­bass play­ing at Cause Cele­bre, or for that mat­ter any­where.

freebass at Cause Celebre

The Take Me Back gig has forced me to dig around a few old box­es of bits and pieces and I’ve found all sorts of stuff that I’d either for­got­ten or thought I’d lost. One of which was the one-off Karen Walk­er Box jack­et which I wore last Sat­ur­day night and could’ve sold a dozen times or more. I mused about Trade Me-ing it but wis­er voic­es told me to think bet­ter of it, so I’ll hang on to it.

How­ev­er, this pho­to real­ly jogged my ongo­ing para­noia that we are, in New Zealand at least, slow­ly los­ing so much of our musi­cal her­itage, even rel­a­tive­ly recent stuff like the Free­bass album I pro­filed a few weeks back here.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of the Fly­ing Nun cat­a­logue is one thing. It’s most­ly no longer avail­able in any for­mat, phys­i­cal or dig­i­tal, but the real­i­ty is that it like­ly will appear again at some stage, once Roger’s pur­chase of FN becomes a fact, or some­how some­one knuck­les down to sort it.

It has that sort of cul­tur­al momen­tum.

That’s great, but his­to­ry has large­ly rewrit­ten – or been rewrit­ten – to exclude the oth­er 95% of New Zealand audio releas­es from the pre-dig­i­tal era which is a huge crime.

Just look­ing at the era I’m rather involved with, from about 1977 through to the the cur­rent day, although nar­row­ing that down to the pre-1995 part of that span, there was a vast body of NZ music record­ed for labels that were not Fly­ing Nun. It’s not unfair to say that after about 1989 FN, was rather con­ser­v­a­tive in its out­look and that many acts moved moun­tains to dis­tance them­selves from the “Fly­ing Nun Band” tag. In the North Island at least, much of the most inno­v­a­tive music from that era, and the music most need­ing urgent preser­va­tion in 2009, or in dan­ger of for­ev­er dis­ap­pear­ing into the abyss, appeared on labels like Pagan, Deep Grooves, South­side or on a raft of small­er indies and artist-owned labels.

Sure, large slabs of pop­u­lar music are being archived in places like the Sound Archive in Christchurch, but unlike Aus­tralia, Cana­da, the UK, or just about any devel­oped coun­try, where efforts are suc­cess­ful­ly made to keep much of what has been record­ed avail­able to the pub­lic via reis­sues, dig­i­tal and so on, much of what was released in New Zealand – no make that most – looks like­ly to dis­ap­pear into the abyss in the not too dis­tant future. The Sound Archive is focused pri­mar­i­ly on radio and Maori archiv­ing, rather than the his­to­ry of our record­ed music, thus they don’t always know what things are, or what they need to pri­ori­tise. An attempt to ini­ti­ate a focused record­ings and mas­ter tape archive was rather ruth­less­ly shot down by the last Labour Gov­ern­ment.

It rather feels like time is run­ning out for a lot of music and the his­to­ry sur­round­ing it –  there is much which has already gone from the pre-77 era, which, giv­en the dis­burse­ment and pass­ing of many of those involved, it is – so I guess a large part of our musi­cal her­itage in NZ will qui­et­ly slip into the past for­ev­er in the years to come. If noth­ing is done and quick­ly.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

July 6, 2009 at 12:09 am

Okay, so there isn’t a gov­ern­ment agency that is will­ing to come to the par­ty. Do you think it could be achieved by a large enough group of peo­ple using a social net­work? (I know that would be issues around the legal sta­tus of such a repos­i­to­ry, but we can get to that lat­er — do you think it’s an idea that could work or take hold?)

July 6, 2009 at 4:51 am

I think a bit more than that is need­ed. A prop­er record­ing archive is prob­a­bly over­due where both phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal can reside.

Anoth­er huge part of the prob­lem is dis­ap­peraing mas­ters. Tapes dis­in­te­grate and dig­i­tal dis­ap­pears into that place where hard dri­ves (and back-ups too) go to die.

July 6, 2009 at 5:04 am

So… shouldn’t some­body do some­thing? I’m not com­plete­ly igno­rant of the para­me­ters of prop­er preser­va­tion, but isn’t a digi­ti­sa­tion effort by enthu­si­asts bet­ter than the cer­tain­ty of obliv­ion? Unless you think there’s some­body to lob­by in gov­ern­ment or in the sec­tor.

July 6, 2009 at 5:19 am

Yep, agreed, hence my post, hop­ing that it gives it all a lit­tle push along. I’m not in the coun­try 90% of the time so large­ly it’s a phys­i­cal impos­si­bil­i­ty for me to scour the bins or dri­ve the phys­i­cal side..remembering that the bulk of what we’re talk­ing about doesn’t exist in any dig­i­tal for­mat yet and will need to be phys­i­cal­ly trans­ferred. It’s project that could eas­i­ly take a team sev­er­al life­times, but there are peo­ple like Rob­bery who are actu­al­ly doing their own bit towards preser­va­tion.

I guess, though, I’m angling more for a prop­er record­ed music archive with fund­ing and stor­age facil­i­ties and I’d rather see it done com­pre­hen­sive­ly.

Hell, If some­one paid me, I’d even con­sid­er com­ing back to over­see but in these strait­ened times that’s less than like­ly I guess.

I put a pro­pos­al to the gov­ern­ment some years back but met a wall. A sec­ond pro­pos­al was net with a more robust no.

July 9, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Hi Simon,
I work for Dig­i­talNZ and we recent­ly launched a site called Make It Dig­i­tal, where peo­ple can nom­i­nate stuff that they think should be digi­tised and made avail­able to the NZ pub­lic. You could post some of the ideas from this post as nom­i­na­tions on Make It Dig­i­tal to raise aware­ness of the need and demand for it.

I’m also going to pass this blog post onto the music cat­a­logu­ing team at the Nation­al Library.

July 9, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Hi Simon,
I am a music selec­tor for the Alexan­der Turn­bull / Nation­al Library and just want­ed to let you know that we sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly col­lect all releas­es from New Zealand musi­cians in mul­ti­ple for­mats. Not only do we col­lect releas­es from the wide range of NZ labels, such as Fly­ing Nun, Pagan, and Deep Grooves as you men­tioned but we also col­lect inde­pen­dent releas­es. We have also recent­ly start­ed col­lect­ing dig­i­tal music which is being placed into the Nation­al Dig­i­tal Her­itage Archive for safe keep­ing and con­tin­ued access well into the future, as well as acquir­ing and archiv­ing NZ musi­cians and bands web­sites, includ­ing yours I might add!

I think it’s great that peo­ple are inter­est­ed in the con­tin­ued preser­va­tion of New Zealand music and I would be hap­py to talk to any­one who has any mate­r­i­al they think we may not have in our col­lec­tions. I have a Myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/nzmusicselector or you can email me at [email protected] if you want to get in touch. Also feel free to check out our online cat­a­logue at http://www.natlib.govt.nz/ and have a look at what we have, I’m sure you will be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised!


July 11, 2009 at 12:28 am

Hi Jo, thanks for you com­ments. I wasn’t aware of the Make It Dig­i­tal site, so thank you. I’ll post some­thing there short­ly. My con­cern though is that it seems to be too wide rang­ing and that a focused Library / Archive ded­i­cat­ed just to the preser­va­tion and cat­a­logu­ing of audio data, both ana­logue and dig­i­tal with expert input allow­ing for a focused selec­tion process of what is to be pri­ori­tised (a mine­field in itself) along the lines of the Film Archive.

Any thoughts you have would be much wel­comed.

July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am

Hi Simon,
Your post echoes my thoughts on the issue exact­ly. My pro­fes­sion­al view is that it isn’t too late to ini­ti­ate a preser­va­tion pro­gramme, but there are a num­ber of fac­tors that will be dif­fi­cult to man­age in the future. For the sake of dis­cus­sion, I thought I might post a few of these here in the hope of appeal­ing to some­one who is in a posi­tion to do some­thing.

First­ly, the record­ings them­selves will already be obso­lete from the point of view of their cus­to­di­ans. Record labels, record­ing stu­dios, record­ing artists, etc. prob­a­bly don’t have the facil­i­ties to play back open reel tapes and this absence of util­i­ty is sure to endan­ger them. This sit­u­a­tion is exac­er­bat­ed by the fact that, if there is no room ‘under the bed’ for them, there is nowhere else to send them: Sound Archives/Nga Taon­ga Korero, quite right­ly, won’t take any­thing that doesn’t meet the require­ments of their col­lec­tion devel­op­ment pol­i­cy, and the Nation­al Library doesn’t have the resources to do any­thing but store the mate­r­i­al.

Exper­tise is com­plex issue. In New Zealand, we have a very small hand­ful of sound archivists, most of whom are inad­e­quate­ly trained, and prob­a­bly have lit­tle expe­ri­ence in man­ag­ing an archives pro­gramme. This is a com­mon trend in oth­er coun­tries: most archives take a ‘divi­sion of labour’ approach to archiv­ing, which involves employ­ing ex-audio engi­neers to car­ry out trans­fers, trained archivists for cura­tion, etc. What I mean to point out here is that there are prob­a­bly only four or five peo­ple in the coun­try who are expe­ri­enced or edu­cat­ed enough to act as con­sul­tants for such a project. A preser­va­tion pro­gramme can­not be devel­oped sole­ly by enthu­si­asts — some­body with the right skills, ener­gy and gen­uine pas­sion will need to direct it.

Cul­ture is also worth dis­cussing. This archive can­not be an ‘island’ and its suc­cess will rely on a net­work of record­ing stu­dios, indus­try bod­ies, artists, fun­ders and Gov­ern­ment each work­ing for the greater good. If there is no col­lab­o­ra­tive cul­ture, then the archive will be for­ev­er ask­ing for mate­r­i­al, which is not ide­al. In most instances, the labels own the tapes (or the Pro Tools ses­sions) and they prob­a­bly won’t hand them over unless it is seen as their social respon­si­bil­i­ty. This rais­es the ques­tion of ‘who owns the archive?’.

July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am

In addi­tion to this, there are sim­pler, but equal­ly cru­cial, issues that need to be moot­ed. For instance, where is the now-obso­lete play­back equip­ment going to come from? My feel­ing is that any preser­va­tion project will rely on beg­ging and bor­row­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, it seems like good­will is abun­dant.

Rights will undoubt­ed­ly be a dif­fi­cult issue. We are for­tu­nate in New Zealand: our Copy­right Act allows us to make copies of copy­right­ed mate­r­i­al for the pur­pos­es of preser­va­tion. How­ev­er, there is lit­tle use in digi­tis­ing these record­ings unless stake­hold­ers (the pub­lic, the artists, the labels, etc.) are allowed to do some­thing with them.

I would urge any­one who is toss­ing around the idea of such a project to read Ray Edmondson’s Audio­vi­su­al Archives: Phi­los­o­phy and Prin­ci­ples very care­ful­ly (http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001364/136477e.pdf). Edmond­son blunt­ly high­lights the bar­ri­ers to preser­va­tion, but still man­ages to extol the virtues of an audio­vi­su­al her­itage in a way that makes it all seem worth­while.

We are very late to recog­nise the worth of musi­cal her­itage in New Zealand. EMI, for instance, has main­tained a col­lec­tion of every sin­gle one of its releas­es — the mul­ti­track and mas­ter tapes, and an exam­ple of the released prod­uct — dat­ing back to ~1896 (a pho­to, for brag­ging rights — http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1829156&l=3d21992cd4&id=801499783). The archive is open­ly referred to as EMI’s great­est asset.

Like you, my hope is for a ded­i­cat­ed insti­tu­tion charged with col­lect­ing the out­put of New Zealand’s musi­cal her­itage. It is irri­tat­ing to think that the records that invig­o­rat­ed a gen­er­a­tion (more than one, actu­al­ly) might some day be inac­ces­si­ble because the peo­ple who gen­uine­ly care about them didn’t have the means to pro­tect them.

Frank Stark
July 24, 2009 at 2:28 am

Hel­lo Simon

I guess I belong some­where in this dis­cus­sion as (a) I was there; and (b) I do know stuff about set­ting up a pub­lic ser­vice media archive.

In my expe­ri­ence the best way to make a start on this kind of thing is by get­ting the inter­est­ed (and capa­ble) par­ties into a room togeth­er.

Any sug­ges­tions?

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