Text by: Maggie Wong
This is a reflection on the course "Audiovisual Archiving" that I took as part of the Master of Information Studies programme at Charles Sturt University.
Audiovisual Archiving was the only choice I had in the mid-year session. It came as a surprise as I've never aspired to work in preservation or archives. Somewhat half-heartedly, I embarked on a journey to learn about audiovisual archiving without having much choice. In the end, it turned out to be the most interesting subject (so far) in the programme!
What is the subject "Audiovisual Archiving" about?
Audiovisual archiving essentially means archiving audio (sound) and visuals (image), and the combination of both (videos and films). This subject started by introducing different types of audiovisual media and the early devices that made capturing sound and image possible. Moving pictures and sound recordings were invented in 1830 and 1870 respectively. With increased production of audiovisual materials, the need for audiovisual archives emerged. In 1899, Phonogrammarchiv was established in Vienna to collect sound recordings. It is probably the first in the world and is still running today! Other major archives include the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision.
A wide range of topics was also covered in the course; including legal, philosophical and ethical issues to archive and provide access to audiovisual materials, managing an audiovisual collection, understanding the fundamentals of archives' policy and practices, challenges and misconceptions of digitization and copyright, virtual literacy, and issues related to the preservation of analog, digitized and born-digital materials. To my surprise, these topics are intriguing and interesting!
I have also learnt a lot of fun facts!
Fun facts that I have learned
Have you noticed pop songs always come in at around 3 minutes in length? This standard was actually influenced by the early cylinder recordings created by Thomas Edison where the wax cylinder was capable of holding only 3 minutes of sound.
Silent movies were actually not silent when played in theatres. Usually, the movie was accompanied by a live orchestra or pianist.
The videos you take today could capture unexpected historical moments or have cultural value in the future; you (or your heirs) may cash in on it too! The video of John F. Kennedy's assassination was captured by a citizen named Abraham Zapruder. Because of its high importance, the footage was acquired by the US government in 1999, and Zapruder's heirs were paid US$16 million (Johnston, 1999).
The footage of the Apollo moon landings is real!
"Digital necromancy" refers to the resurrecting posthumous images of celebrities using computer-generated imagery (CGI), usually for commercial purposes. The alcoholic beverage label Johnnie Walker Blue resurrected a CGI Bruce Lee for a whisky commercial. Bruce Lee was, however, a teetotaler in real life (Blum, 2013). Other celebrities started taking action against questionable uses of their image after death. For example, Robin Williams placed a restriction on the use of his posthumous image for 25 years after his death (Richwine & Serjeant, 2016).
Preserving my own digital memories
The survival of our digital memories depends on the support from software, platform, and digital format providers. What will happen to all the uploaded videos if YouTube shuts down? I still have dozens of CDs and DVDs at home, but how many laptops today still come with a CD/DVD drive? It troubles me that the photos and videos in my computer could also be gone or simply become inaccessible one day, just like when analog media playback machines became obsolete, and digital files getting bit-rot for no apparent reason.
This subject taught me not only the professional knowledge in audiovisual archiving, it urges me to be proactive to preserve my own digital memories. The habit of archiving media content should start small and personal. So I have started organizing my files, backing them up and storing them in different places in case of hardware failure or damage. As much as we enjoyed the flexibility and convenience of digital files, due to their intangible nature my lecturer would say if you have a picture you want to keep forever, print it out.
Blum, K. (2013, July 10). Bruce Lee whisky advert branded a disgrace. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1279469/bruce-lee-returns-promote-alcohol
Johnston, D. (1999, August 4). Zapruder heirs get $16 million for Dallas film. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/04/us/zapruder-heirs-get-16-million-for-dallas-film.html
Richwine, L., & Serjeant, J. (2016, December 31). Actors seek posthumous protections after big-screen resurrections. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-film-resurrections-analysis-idUSKBN14J1TU