Put your hand up if you know what this is.
If you were born after around 1980, odds are you haven’t seen one of these outside of old movies or an episode of Poirot.
The month of July in Australia is probably the least favourite month for the team here at Sound Librarian. The onset of winter means the days are getting shorter and shorter, and the weather tends to get colder and wetter as the month goes on. It’s a good time for indoor activities and focusing on the fun ways to play with our sound design software. It’s also a great time to work on less fun tasks like organising our files and archiving and backing up our recordings.
The biggest challenge when trying to record a collection like this is keeping yourself organised and making sure you prioritise your recordings to get the rarest or most interesting items first. Stephan had a similar challenge working solo when recording part of our Firearms Foley Collection in Lithgow, Australia. Fortunately, this time we had more hands available to get the job done and stay organised.
Before you get started on a project like this, it’s important to make sure the memory on all of your devices is completely clear, and you’ve got fully charged batteries.
Our usual process is to first document and photograph each item. To keep it as organised as possible, use a notepad or digital device that you can write a nice clear note on. Keep it simple, in this case, we wrote the object number, name of the object and year created. Once we have this written down, we take a photo of the description, then as many photos as we feel we need of the object itself.
It is absolutely, vitally, important to keep your order straight. Object description > photographs > describe device in recorder > record all device sounds. If you have taken a bunch of photos and recordings already and realise you want to take another one, leave it until the end and document it properly again. Or simply don’t do it. It’s just not worth the pain of trying to work out what was where and which device was which later on.
The trick is to coach them gently into understanding when you need information and when you need them to be quiet. A lot of people are not practiced in the art of sitting quietly, and sometimes there’s an almost irresistible urge to fill in the “silence.” Patience is your friend here, but you do need to budget time for each recording to allow for repeats, interruptions, and even recording around loud vehicles going past outside.
Partly, it’s due to the sheer quantity of objects to record, but we are also very conscious of the volunteer’s time. Maintaining a positive relationship with the person or persons assisting you is vital to achieving the clean recordings you’re after. Part of this is realising that even if you’re not moving around a lot, spending 4 hours recording is pretty hard work, for you and your assistants. If you’ve got the flexibility to make multiple visits, spending a half day rather than a full day on the location sometimes works out better in the long run.
So far, this has been a pretty fun exercise, and we’ve already got over 1,000 individual sounds from our first two sessions. It’s a great way to build a unique sound library with sounds you simply can’t find anywhere else and in this case, we feel like we’re doing our bit to capture the sounds of devices that might otherwise be lost in time. It’s so much more satisfying knowing not only what the first telephone in Australia looked like, but also knowing what it sounded like.