MPSE Wavelength

Spring 2021

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A while ago, I was hired by a prominent sound designer to track down some original sound elements from a film made decades ago. When I tracked them down, I was told that I could take anything I wanted ... because the studio had decided they no longer wanted to pay the storage costs on this material—and it was all about to be thrown away. There have been more cases like this in recent years where entire sound effects libraries have been thrown in the trash, simply because they existed on what is now considered by many to be an archaic medium—magnetic recording. Whether it be 35mm magnetic film or quarter-inch reel-to-reel tape … many brilliant sound libraries have been tossed in a dumpster because someone had decided that—after they had been digitized—they were "just taking up space" and were "no longer of any value." I have been very close to this situation a few times... When I started at Weddington Productions back in 1988, their sound effects library consisted of almost 3,000 quarter-inch analog reel-to-reel tapes. They were grouped on the shelf with the other tapes from film they were recorded for. There was The Final Countdown at the very beginning, then Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, 48 Hrs, and so on. I think that one of the reasons I was hired was because I was a huge fan of the shop's work, and had listened to these films over and over. In a sense, I knew their library already. I could pull a tape off the shelf, look at a few notes written on the box, or the tape log inside, and know exactly what it was. I could hear it in my head. By the time we stopped using quarter-inch tapes for the library, we had more than 4,000 of them on the shelf. And even while the last third of them were being created, we had already started recording on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes)—and would soon begin to copy all the analog tapes to that format. But even DATs became obsolete. We would eventually decide to transfer the original tapes digitally again—at an even higher resolution. When we made this decision, it came at a point when I had already painstakingly inventoried, boxed, and vaulted away the entire tape library. We pulled all of them out of storage and transferred them all, once again. We were very appreciative that we still had them to do this. For me, it was like meeting an old friend. And seeing the writing on the boxes again … reading the original tape logs—many with handwritten notes that hadn't been archived anywhere else… I realized that this information was equally important— if not more so—than the recorded material itself. I saved as much of this written history as I could ... but Saving Audio History—ONE TAPE AT A TIME BY STEVE LEE, THSM FOUNDER THE HOLLYWOOD SOUND MUSEUM IS DEDICATED TO PRESERVING HISTORIC AUDIO. BUT NOT JUST DIGITALLY … WE ARE DETERMINED TO SAVE AND PROTECT THE RECORDED MEDIA THESE SOUNDS ORIGINALLY WERE RECORDED ON. F ROM TH E VAU LT O F TH E H O L LY WOO D SOU N D M U S E U M Steve Lee protecting The Weddington Library, 1991.

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