Inside the digital archive

Hard Drive Guts by Erica_Marshall, on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by  Erica_Marshall

After Ignacio Varchausky gave his musicality seminar at the Casa de tango here in Buenos Aires, where the TangoVía project resides, he was kind to show us around the premises and demonstrate the current state of the digital archive.

They have a very nice set of equipment, he showed us the machine they use to clean the discs properly before doing the transfers, the different turntables for different kinds of discs, amplifiers and ADC as well as tape equipment. In addition to the recordings themselves, they are scanning or photographing the covers and where available, the original scores.

Now the really interesting part was when Ignacio sat down in front of a computer and demonstrated the already working database with everything that was already digitized and properly catalogued. From a nice web interface, one could perform all kinds of searches in the music, matrix number, original format, artist, year etc. From the results page, you could play an mp3 version of the material directly, and where available you could open the scores and watch them while listening to the music. Very impressive, and no doubt this will become an important tool for musicians, dancers and researchers in the future.

Naturally, I was very interested in their plans with respect to releasing the material they are collecting. That is the next phase, said Ignacio, first they have to collect the material, and archive it properly. Then the legal issues have  to be resolved. They hope to be able to put the database online eventually, for everybody to enjoy the richness of tango through the ages. Then they will think about releasing records. They don’t get much if any help from the record companies, in fact in a way they are competitors, as the record companies don’t have access to all the material themselves anymore. The record companies have themselves to blame, of course, as they burned the masters themselves…

TangoVía are collaborating with a lot of important and knowledgeable collectors, including the local partner of the Japanese Akihito Baba of Club Tango Argentino ‘fame’. In addition to published recordings, they will digitize rare gems; tracks recorded from radio broadcasts, outtakes. Ignacio demonstrated a few such hidden jewels of the collections, Horacio Salgán playing and Alfredo Gobbi (violinist) playing solo piano.

How can you and I help? If you didn’t already listen to the interview by Keith Elshaw, I can tell you that they are launching a program for donating money around March 2010. For U.S. citizens, it will even be tax deductable. I will keep you posted when they launch the new program.

In addition to spreading the word, you can start thinking about organizing some charity milongas or adding a voluntary donation to festival/marathon/milonga payment options. I think this is a project clearly worthy of the support from the entire tango community all over the world!

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