- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Thanks to a grant from the National Recording Preservation Foundation, rare and original recordings by Orson Welles will soon be digitized as part of the “Orson Welles on the Air” project.

In 1978, the Indiana University Libraries purchased a collection of recordings, papers, photos and more related to Welles. That collection included original lacquer discs containing 14 radio broadcasts of the “Orson Welles Show” and other recordings.

While much of the collection is in good condition, the recordings are in a much more fragile state.

“Lacquer is chemically unstable,” said Dan Figurelli, audio preservation engineer at IU’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.

IU’s MDPI is hard at work preserving various recordings in the university’s collection. While some are still in good shape, others have started to deteriorate. The discs have either an aluminum or glass base with a black lacquer coating. Sometimes, the chemicals used to create the recording begin to deteriorate, causing the coating to flake from the recording.

The state of the Welles recordings is still unclear. Erika Dowell, head of public services at the Lilly Library, said about 250 discs have already been digitized, with the grant covering the remaining 330 discs in the collection. The grant will also include the digitization of the scripts.

Dowell said an initial assessment has been made of the remaining discs to be digitized but no determination has been made if any are too degraded to be preserved.

Dowell said the Lilly Library had previously converted some of the discs to reel tape. But those original discs will be used for the digitization process.

“It should, if only because it’s coming from the most original source,” she said.

The digitization process involves the disc going through an initial cleaning process by audio visual technician Jonathan Richardson. Once it is cleaned, Richardson will then examine the disc, looking for damage through a microscope.

Richardson will also measure the grooves to determine which stylus should be used during playback. Then the audio preservation engineer will work in one of the media digitization studios designed to allow for the playback machine to capture the audio without interference from the room.

The steps the recording must go through will ensure that the digitization process will capture the best audio possible. That means that each disc must be treated individually. The size of the stylus may vary in millimeters.

“That much difference can give us improvement in sound quality,” said Melissa Widzinski, one of two audio preservation engineers.

Deciding which discs to work on first will be determined by quality.

“Every disc we have is degrading at different paces,” Richardson said.

The fear of losing the recordings is an important part of why the National Recording Preservation Foundation presented the $25,000 grant to digitizing these discs.

“That there were so many extant scripts and vulnerable recordings immediately piqued our interest. That they were housed in Indiana’s venerable Lilly Library gave us great confidence that such an important collection was in the right restorative hands,” Gerald Seligman, executive director for the recording preservation foundation, said in a prepared statement.

The nonprofit National Recording Preservation Foundation was mandated by an act of Congress to find, preserve and make accessible the recorded history of the U.S. The foundation’s $25,000 grant will also help the Lilly Library to create a website dedicated to the collection.

According to library records, in the past three years, 90 researchers representing 19 states and 11 countries have accessed the Lilly Library’s collection of Welles manuscripts.

“A lot of them have been listened to by researchers,” Dowell said of the recordings. “We know that there are some things people have never heard.”

Work will start on the discs this summer with hopes of debuting the website in August 2017. The website will give wider access to the Lilly collection and will also include better information. Dowell said meta data on the website will include information about the recordings including actors, score writers and more.

The creation of the website also meant the library had to look into any legal issues that might crop up with sharing the information online.

“There are two copyright issues, but we’re working on license those,” Dowell said

IU’s collection represents the most complete, original source of Welles’ radio work from the late 1930s and 1940s. While most people associate Welles with his “War of the Worlds” broadcast, he helmed various radio broadcasts including “Mercury Theater on the Air,” ”Campbell Playhouse” and “The Doorway to Life.”

One current recording available online is a broadcast of “Rulers of the Earth.” The broadcast was part of Welles’ production “Ceiling Unlimited,” that was sponsored by Lockheed-Vega Aircraft Corp. The 15-minute episodes ran from November 1942 to February 1943. In the “Rulers of the Earth” recording, Welles plays the devil meeting with four historical leaders where they discuss Hitler’s efforts to conquer the world.

Dowell hopes the website will allow the public to not only access the recordings but the corresponding script. The bound scripts include penciled notes by Welles that show where deletions and additions were made.

IU’s collection also includes broadcasts from Welles’ “Hello American” series that was designed to foster relations with the western hemisphere during World War II. The broadcasts were focused on various cultures and their history. There are also outtakes that will most likely pique the interests of many.

The collection, which has been available to the public since 1980, will likely be of interest to many from scholars who study Welles to those interested in radio to history buffs.

“It’s going to be so easy to use, too,” Dowell said.


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1YA2baf


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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