Have you ever seen an Ampex 456 tape? No? Neither had staff in the Dalhousie University Archives until it acquired almost 1,000 master recordings created in an old Halifax recording studio above Long and McQuaid on Cunard Street.
In 2012, the Archives acquired a large collection of master recordings from Thom Fitzgerald. The Halifax-based film producer stumbled upon the collection when he purchased a recording studio above Long and McQuaid on Cunard Street. Thom didn’t realize the space held over 1,000 master recordings, mostly recorded between the 1970s and 1990s by Solar Audio and Recording.
The recordings are held on fragile magnetic tape and it is very likely that some have already been lost to what archivists call sticky-shed syndrome, a condition when the magnetic tape splits apart.
Archives Assistant Kevin Hartford has been working on organizing the tapes and identifying material of greatest long-term interest. As part of this process, the Archives shipped a sample of various audiovisual media to be digitized, including a 24-track Ampex 456 tape attributed to Dutch Mason, a well-known Blues musician from Nova Scotia. The tape contains a recording of Trying to Find my Baby, an original Blues song released on the album Gimme a Break but apparently recorded with other songs released on the album Janitor of the Blues.
We were thrilled to see that all of the tracks recorded on the tape were recovered! Each track contains recordings of individual musicians in Dutch Mason’s band. Studio engineers would have edited and mixed the tracks together to create a stereo recording for commercial release.
To provide a sample of this exciting collection, Digital Archivist Creighton Barrett created a basic mix of the audible tracks and uploaded the song to the Archives’ YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k84HtWhxF0g
We’ve also posted a few photos to our Facebook page. The Archives is just getting started on this project, but the Solar Audio and Recording Studio Collection will eventually show how music was recorded before digital technologies took over; it also happens to hold the key to understanding three decades of Nova Scotia music history. The collection includes recordings of prominent Nova Scotian musicians such as Rita MacNeil and Dutch Mason, lesser known artists and bands from Halifax and beyond, and numerous local radio jingles.