Obsolete Media pt. 3, in which Christmas comes early

Yes indeed! The mystery DATs were the master recordings from the 7pm and 9:30pm performances of the Virginia Glee Club 57th Annual Christmas Concert! Notable as the Glee Club’s first Christmas performances with conductor Bruce Tammen, the unedited tapes include the full range of a Glee Club Christmas, including audience carols, the eternal struggle between the Four Calling Birds and Three French Hens during the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” solo performances by Jayson Throckmorton, Craig Fennell, Eric Buechner and Bill Bennett, and some seriously moving renditions of favorites like the Gretchaninoff “Nunc Dimittis” and the Biebl Ave Maria. To say nothing of riveting announcements by Glee Club president Drew Cogswell.

I’m going to try to make the whole concert available somehow, but for now here’s a teaser: Club’s performance of the Marvin V. Curtis arrangement of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” from the 7pm show. Enjoy!

Adventures in obsolete audio, pt. 2: not there yet

I had hoped to do a “big reveal” post on the contents of the DAT tapes I wrote about a few days ago. Instead, I have a few learnings about DAT players.

First, DAT players are more like VCRs than cassette tape players. Instead of moving the tape past a playback head, DATs (and VCRs) wind the tape around the playback head. This happens even when you are rewinding the tape.

Second, rewind is a little more complicated on a DAT and sometimes the player can stop the rewind. If you just press rewind again, sometimes the player gets confused. Then if you go to eject the tape, you’ll end up with the tape partly pulled out of its case.

Third, you can re-spool DAT tape with a pencil, but it’s slightly more complicated. You first have to push the tabs down on the bottom of the tape and slide the bottom back so that you can get to the sprockets, then use the tip of a pencil to do the rewinding. (You can’t push the pencil all the way through thanks to the clear plastic on the other side of the tape, meaning it’s a slower process.)

All of this is to say I’ll be able to hear everything on these DATs, once I figure out how to safely rewind them.

UPDATE: It turns out to be a pretty simple proposition. The player was stopping the rewind because the spools weren’t operating smoothly after more than 20 years of inactivity. The fix, as suggested by this paper on DAT preservation by an intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, is simply to fast-forward the tape to the end, and then to rewind it to the beginning. We’ll have audio soon!

Adventures in Obsolete Audio, part 1

Sometimes life moves faster than even the makers of cutting edge technology can predict. This is certainly true for computer technology. It can be hard to realize, but the same is true for audio technology —the vinyl revival notwithstanding.

Case in point: Digital Audio Tape.

Remember DAT? If you were a consumer of music in the 1990s, probably not. But if you were a performer, especially in a small ensemble, you probably remember that one guy who had the DAT recorder. They seemed, for that small market, ubiquitous. All the small form factor of a cassette—but digital! Boy, you can almost smell the early ’90s, can’t you?

So what happened? In retrospect, the window between the advent of digital recording technology and convenient, low cost, high-capacity hard disk and solid state storage was pretty short. And DAT disappeared. As far as I can tell, no one is manufacturing the player/recorders any more. You can still find them on eBay, commanding a small premium.

Which is why I was grateful that my friend in the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lauren, had saved one in her attic. And it works! Now I can listen to what’s on those four mysterious DAT tapes that I’ve had for six years.

What tapes? Well, that’s a story for another day.