From Deep in a Mountain, a Cache of Classics

Monday, January 10, 2011

A huge number of musical gems, including an as-yet unknown volume of classical tracks, are now being transferred from a subterranean storage facility to the Library of Congress, in what the Library has described as "a major gift to the nation."

The transfer of 200,000 metal, glass and lacquer master discs dating from 1926 to 1948 include seminal recordings of jazz, pop, country, spoken-word and “light classical" and is the largest single donation ever received by the Library’s audio-visual division.

“What I’ve seen so far of the classical is some Andrés Segovia, some Jascha Heifetz,” said Gene DeAnna, head of the recorded sound section of the Library of Congress. “There appear to be maybe 30-40 sides of classical 78s, including alternate takes, probably very short pieces. But there could be album sets in here too. We’re just not sure yet.”

The Library of Congress, which anticipates the complete cataloging of the trove to take between five and ten years, began to receive the recordings last month in what Vinnie Freda, executive vice president for digital logistics and business services at Universal Music Logistics, describes as “the first phase of a long term relationship.”

“It always bothered me that no one has been able to access that music for so long, especially with the digital era when everyone could have access to much of the world’s music collection,” explained Freda. “I talked to the Library two years ago, and we formed a mutually beneficial relationship in which we retain copyright. Meanwhile, the Library, in their mission to preserve American music, would embark on a digitization program and allow us to have a copy of the digital file they make.”

Classical music will likely be the first among the collection’s genres to be made widely available to the public, DeAnna explained, owing to the greater number of published works that will now fall into the public domain under Title 17 of US copyright law. “Copyright issues will certainly be much easier for classical music prior to 1923,” said DeAnna.

The vault itself, called Iron Mountain and located near Boyers, Pa., conjures images of a bat-cave of national treasures. “You literally drive your car into this mountain and there’s an entire city down there,” explained Freda. “You drive down what looks like a tunnel, and it’s a grid. You drive to where our vault is located, carved out of the mountain. Not all of our catalogue is in there, but our deep catalogue is down there.”

Now, a good portion of that catalogue is making its way to the Library of Congress in the first of what will likely be a series of transfers. “We live in an era where anything can be digitized and made available to a mass audience at less expensive rate than in the past,” said Freda. “This is an opportunity for us as guardians of historical materials to make them available and to have people understand the history and what has led to what we’re hearing today.”

For the Library of Congress, it will be a labor of love. “It’s a mile of audio, about 5,000 linear feet,” said DeAnna. “This stuff hasn’t been looked at for half a century. It’s going to be a big discovery.”

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Comments [2]

Kenneth Bennett Lane

This donated find reminds me of the Hackensack, NJ find of original manuscripts of George's and his brother Ira Gershwin's collaborations many years ago. Also, they found in Russia, recordings of major American artists of the 1930s, some 20 years ago. Collections, public and private, may yet release major recordings and printed, as well as manuscript, music. Musicologists are often aware that certain music may exist, but to get the rights to it from the estates of the performers or composers may be difficult. Unfortunately, most of the extraordinary recorded performances have not been transferred from their formats that have no equipment currently available to play them. That applies to singers, instrumentalists and actors.

Jan. 11 2011 01:02 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

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"It always bothered me that no one has been able to access that music for so long, especially with the digital era when everyone could have access to much of the world’s music collection," explained Freda. "I talked to the Library two years ago, and we formed a mutually beneficial relationship in which we retain copyright. Meanwhile, the Library, in their mission to preserve American music, would embark on a digitization program and allow us to have a copy of the digital file they make."
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I didn't for a second think this was actually a gift to "the people" from Universal Music, just one of the overlords of world "intellectual property." So I did a quick scan for the copyright aspects and there they were just after the 'deeply felt' expression of concern from a corporate flack for the people's access to the people's intellectual property. Sorry if I sound like an old style communist with all that "the people" stuff, but it's hard not to what with the mega-corporate dominance of our world today.

A rerun -
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"It always bothered me that no one has been able to access that music for so long, especially with the digital era when everyone could have access to much of the world’s music collection"
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[I bet she was a big fan of Napster. :P]

This from the people that have repeatedly extended the copyright term so that it's now 95 years for a corporation (extended just in time to protect Mickey Mouse from access by "everyone" in the "digital era." It's 70 years after death for an individual so don't expect open use of "White Christmas" till some time around 2070 - if copyright term isn't further extended in the interim. "Happy Birthday?" Around 2020.

These are the same people that rejected the idea that copyright should require a $1 (ONE DOLLAR!) fee after fifty years to allow further term extension. This was mainly to allow forgotten and unprofitable works to fall into the "public domain." 'No deal' and here we're supposed to be so pleased with this "mutually beneficial relationship in which we retain copyright." The technology to preserve and protect these works will now become the responsibility and cost burden of "the people" but the profit aspects, in case any of these forgotten artists become "pop" again, will stay with the mega-corporation.

Sweet deal, but not for "everyone."

Jan. 11 2011 09:08 AM

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