As stated in my previous internship blog post, the objectives for my internship include creating a bibliography of digital audio projects, compiling a report on digitization best practices, and researching appropriate metadata schema. After compiling the bibliography and listening to some of the tapes, I decided to implement the digital resource as part of my dissertation, and that informed my recommendations in the research reports.
Pavee Point plans to set up a new website in June, and this digital resource will be part of that site.
Bibliography of Audio Projects
I decided to compile the bibliography of audio projects before researching the logistical considerations for the digital resource because I wanted to see if there were any digital audio collections similar to the one we were envisioning. I was not able to find any digital audio projects that had the same kind of content as Pavee Point’s collection of cassette tapes, but researching a variety of audio collections helped me get a sense of the different ways we could display the recordings.
The closest audio project I could find in terms of content was “From the Road: Singing, Music, and the Settling of the Irish Travellers” (warning: the recording starts playing immediately when you open the link), which is a 40-minute audio documentary that alternates between traditional songs and interviews with Irish Travellers from Wexford, Limerick, Dublin, and London. The creator, Tyler Alderson, produced the project as part of a master’s dissertation in ethnomusicology. Because the project is a documentary, it presents an edited presentation of the interviews, whereas the digital resource for Pavee Point will present each interview as standalone rather than weaving them together into one stream of audio. The project is definitely worth highlighting since most of the online oral histories from Irish Travellers that I was able to find are textual versions, not audio ones.
One of the first audio projects I stumbled upon was Provoke! Digital Sound Studies by Soundbox, which is a platform for displaying academic studies using audio. One such project is “The Grand Rue: Roads as Thoroughfares of Life” by Myron Beasley and Robert August Peterson. It is a 30-minute long audio recording of sounds from The Grand Rue, a road through the centre of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, two days before the 2010 earthquake. The context for the project is explained primarily through audio recordings of interviews with the creators. Like with the “From the Road” project, this is an academic project, which means the recordings are edited to create a cohesive narrative. Such audio projects demonstrate the potential for multimedia presentations of research.
The Library of Congress has probably one of the largest archives of oral histories. The American Folklife Center’s Online Collections and Presentations, one of the Library’s research centers, includes 35 multimedia collections available online, categorized according to region, identity, historical event, famous individual, or subject matter. One of their collections is the Civil Rights History Project, which features over 100 audiovisual interviews with activists during the Civil Rights movement.
One of the more well-known audio oral history projects is StoryCorps, a U.S. organization with over 50,000 interviews archived. It includes a number of initiatives around specific subjects. For example, StoryCorps OutLoud records the stories of people in the LGBTQ community. They have other initiatives focused on preserving the experiences of Latino/as, African Americans, Alaskans, veterans, people living with serious illness, and people dealing with memory loss, as well as other groups or communities. StoryCorps is notable for its extensive collection of oral histories. Unlike the first two projects presented above, the primary intention of the StoryCorps and Civil Rights History projects is to collect and preserve as many recorded interviews as possible, whereas the purpose of the previous two projects is to analyze the audio recordings to develop an academic argument. In this way, the digital resource for Pavee Point is closer in intention to StoryCorp and Civil Rights History Project–preserving and uploading audio recorded interviews online–than “From the Road” or “The Grand Rue,” though the latter two are closer in terms of scope (i.e. a handful of interviews versus hundreds).
A couple other collections I found interesting are Roma Britain and He Pātaka Mātauranga. These two projects vary significantly in how they are set up, so comparing them helped me consider the options for organizing and displaying the audio recordings from Pavee Point.
Ciara Lemming’s “Roma Britain” is a multimedia documentary project that shares stories and photographs from Roma in Britain. This project currently includes individual pages for seven people. Many of these vignettes include videos, and one of the vignette collections (Anna’s) includes some of her poetry and art. Compared to some of the other projects described here, there are few individuals featured in this collection; however, because each vignette includes diverse forms of content, the collection appears to be a more in-depth look into their lives and experiences. The small number of vignettes shared actually makes the project seem more personal.
Created by Te Ipukarea – The National Māori Language Institute, He Pātaka Mātauranga is a repository of videos about Māori language, knowledge, and customs. Many of the videos feature group interviews with three or more Māori elders. They are in the Māori language, though the videos in Series One have brief English descriptions of the content. The videos are organized and labelled by content rather than by interviewee; they are about 50 minutes each, combining clips from different interviews. Most of the audio collections I came across organized the audio or video recordings by interviewee. In the case of “Roma Britain,” Lemming suggests in a disclaimer that she does not have Romani heritage and is thus “neither trying to speak for Roma people nor looking to replace old stereotypes with new ones.” The focus is on the individual’s lives, not on making arguments about Roma people in Britain overall. He Pātaka Mātauranga, however, is intended as a repository of information about Māori culture, so organizing the recordings by content better fits the aim of the project.
While there are a few different sets of interview questions covered in the cassette tapes from Pavee Point, it would be possible to divide the interviews into clips and organize them by content rather than by interviewee. After talking with my supervisor Aisling about which option would be best for the presentation of these interviews—by interviewee or by subject matter—we decided to aim for splitting the interviews into clips but keeping all of an interviewee’s clips together on the same page. Ideally, we will be able to include photographs of the interviewees as well as small biographies. Because of this contextual information, it makes more sense to organize the audio clips by person.
The audio projects described above acted as great guides for considering the different options for presenting the audio recordings on Pavee Point’s new website.
Designing the audio digital resource also entails researching the logistics behind digitizing the cassettes and preserving them online. The first step is digitization. I researched different methods for digitizing cassette tapes, and the most common methods are the following:
- Connect a regular cassette player to a line-level input on a computer, and use audio editor software like Audacity to convert the recording to a digital file. I have a cassette player and the necessary connecting cable for this option (a cable with 3.5mm jacks on both sides), but my computer does not have a line-level input. I would therefore have to get an audio interface.
- Use a cassette deck or portable player that can convert recordings to digital files and can connect to a computer through USB. These digital converters are normally either fairly cheap (about €20) but a bit “hit and miss” in quality or prohibitively expensive (>€100) for this project. Obviously, the latter options have better sound quality, though poor sound quality tends to be more noticeable in music compared to spoken word. There are some options in the middle, but ease of use is still a significant factor.
While looking for a reasonably priced cassette converter with good reviews overall, I found a cable that can convert cassette recordings to digital files. It connects to a regular cassette player through a 3.5mm jack and connects to a computer through a USB plugin. Because I was able to find one of these converter cables for approximately €20 with pretty good reviews, I decided to recommend this option, and my supervisor intends to order this digital converter for this project.
The cable can convert to WAV and MP3 file formats, amongst others. WAV format is uncompressed and has a higher quality than MP3, but it is also much larger than MP3 files. Ideally, I will convert the recordings to WAV file format, edit them, and then convert them to MP3 files for transfer and storage on the website.
The unofficial metadata standard for audio files is ID3 for the MP3 format. This seems to be a good option for embedded metadata. Ideally, I will also apply an external metadata standard, specifically Dublin Core. Based on a few oral history projects I found, Dublin Core is a common metadata schema for interviews because it is well-established, media-independent, and relatively simple (Hunter and James, section 4; IASA, section 3.9; Florida Voices, Dublin Core oral history sample; “Oral Histories: Metadata,” DC metadata table for interviews; English, “External Metadata“).
English, Eben. 2010. “Metadata for Digital Audio Collections.” University Libraries: Faculty Publications & Other Works. Loyola eCommons. Loyola University Chicago, December. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=lib_facpubs
Florida Voices. 2008. “Cataloguing Interviews.” Florida Electronic Library. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://www.fcla.edu/FloridaVoices/catalogingInterviews.shtml.
Hunter, Jane, and Darren James. 2000. “The application of an event-aware metadata model to an online oral history archive.” Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 291-304.
IASA Technical Committee. 2009. Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects (web edition), ed. by Kevin Bradley. Second edition 2009. (Standards, Recommended Practices and Strategies, IASA-TC 04). Accessed 12 April 2015. www.iasa-web.org/tc04/audio-preservation
“Oral Histories: Metadata.” 2008. Ball State University Library Wiki, 21 October. Accessed 12 April 2015. http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/wiki/index.php?title=Oral_Histories#Metadata
Ashenfelder, Mike. 2013. “Name That Tune: Adding Labels and Descriptions into Your Audio Files.” The Signal: Digital Preservation. The Library of Congress, 31 January. Accessed 24 March 2015. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2013/01/name-that-tune-adding-labels-and-descriptions-into-your-audio-files/.
Audacity Manual. 2015. “Audacity Manual Contents,” March 15. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/Main_Page.
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Bell, Donald. 2012. “Transfer Cassette to MP3 (photos) – CNET.” CNET, May 7. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.cnet.com/pictures/transfer-cassette-to-mp3-photos/.
Broida, Rick. 2006. “Alpha Geek: How to Digitize Cassette Tapes.” Lifehacker, December 18. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://lifehacker.com/222394/alpha-geek-how-to-digitize-cassette-tapes.
Brown, Korbin. 2013. “How to Digitize/Backup Cassette Tapes and Other Old Media.” How-To Geek, December 11. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.howtogeek.com/177084/how-to-digitizebackup-cassette-tapes-and-other-old-media/.
Harris, Mark. “Converting and Digitizing Audio Cassettes to MP3.” About Tech. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://mp3.about.com/od/tutorials/a/Converting-Audio-Cassettes-To-Mp3-Essential-Equipment-For-Digitizing-Audio-tapes.htm.
Harris, Mark. “Factors to Consider Before Converting to MP3.” About Tech. Accessed 24 March 2015. http://mp3.about.com/od/musicformats/a/MP3settings.htm
“How to Transfer Cassette Tape to Computer.” WikiHow. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.wikihow.com/Transfer-Cassette-Tape-to-Computer.
Kishore, Aseem. 2014. “How to Record Cassette Tapes to PC/Computer.” Online Tech Tips, December 1. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.online-tech-tips.com/computer-tips/transfer-audio-cassette-to-computer/.
Mallery, Sam. 2012. “Recording Cassette Tapes into a Computer.” B&H. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/audio/tips-and-solution/recording-cassette-tapes-computer.
Peek, Sean. 2015. “Best Cassette to MP3 Review 2015.” TopTenREVIEWS. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://cassette-to-mp3-review.toptenreviews.com/.
Trivedi, Yatri. 2011. “HTG Explains: What Are the Differences Between All Those Audio Formats?” How-To Geek, January 18. Accessed 19 March 2015. http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/40465/.