M3 Features

Digitising old records

March 27, 2015

If you have inherited a collection of old gramophone records that you have no idea how to preserve or perhaps even where to play, you have an address to head to now: Weavers Studio Centre for the Arts in Kolkata. It has opened a digitising centre in its gallery space in Ballygunge Place where old and rare records are being digitised.

Founder of Weavers Studio, Dashan Shah said they want collectors to come forward. They will digitise and archive their records and return the discs to the owners along with a CD of what was archived. They have started with 400 records and can digitise two records per day. Early 20th-century single-sided cardboard Nicole, shellac Pathe, paper records and pre-World War I Beka-Grand records form part of their acquisition, sourced from flea markets. The genres are also wide-ranging – Hindustani and Carnatic classical, folk, early film or theatre music, Bengali songs and speeches of leaders.

The centre wishes to disseminate the digitised content among music lovers and researchers through audio-visual exhibitions, listening kiosks and portals, guided listening sessions etc. It has set up a permanent listening facility for visitors to enjoy the digitised sound, on two computers with headphones and 10 Android phones gifted by Tata Docomo. On each phone, close to 150 audio clips have been uploaded, which are being changed depending on the theme of the exhibition organised most recently by the centre. The phones can be taken to schools or to other cities during travelling exhibitions.

Schools are also being invited to send students over to experience India’s audio history. One can walk in and listen to any of the digitised material like the ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech of Jawaharlal Nehru or Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address, or voices of Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi. There are also 70 versions of Vande Mataram. The listening facility is available on weekdays, from 3 pm to 7 pm.

According to Suresh Chandvankar, the secretary of the Society of Indian Record Collectors in Mumbai, who inaugurated the centre, in Kolkata, where India’s first commercial recording was done in 1902 by Gauhar Jaan for The Gramophone Company, there are people with knowledge in the field but not many are ready to come forward and share it. This is the first time that a digital archive is being set up and exhibitions on records being held by a private body unsupported by the government.

Even after a record has been digitised, Chandvankar argues for its preservation, as, according to him, digital can never replace the physical form. When a new technology comes, the physical recording will be needed again.

The future of preservation, he believes, is a virtual archive. And for outreach, the best channel is social media. But when it comes to sound quality, aficionados abroad are getting tired of the digital sound. So some experts feel that a revival of the disc is on the cards.


Feature image: Shutterstock


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