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Ricardo Dal Farra

Latin American Electroacoustic Music Collection

Bake, freeze... eat and enjoy!

Instituto Torcuato Di Tella (CLAEM), Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1966
In order to provide the public with access to information and musical works that could be of interest, while keeping the large amount of material I had already collected as safe as possible and knowing a large portion of it would be hard to find and listen to in Argentina or neighbouring countries, I was searching for a place where the preservation of documents was not only important but also possible. I felt that the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology in Montreal would be the ideal place to propose my project.

I applied to the Foundation's Researcher in Residence program and proposed developing an archive and database based on my personal collection of recordings and documents. The all-digital archive would be preserved and made available for listening at its Centre for Research and Documentation (CR+D), and the database would provide public access through the Internet.

Two consecutive grants as Researcher in Residence during 2003 and ongoing work in 2004 have allowed me to work for some 20 months with recordings on open reel, analog cassette and DAT tapes, and vinyl LPs and CDs, digitizing and/or converting from different formats, editing and baking as needed, and filling the database of the Foundation with all of the available information on the pieces involved (title, composer, year of composition, instrumentation, program notes, production studio, version, duration, composer bio; etc.). To date (November 2004), there are approximately 1,800 digital audio files archived at the Foundation’s CR+D, most of which are in AIFF, stereo, 16 bits, 44.1 KHz format.

The work has been extensive: navigating through myriad technical problems (recovering from massive hard disk crashes, finding tape recorders with old track formats, re-digitizing material to correct severe DC offsets in brand-new equipment, OS and FireWire conflicts, etc.), defining how best to work with very noisy old recordings (a few pieces were processed using an advanced de-noise system to moderate hiss, always preserving the original recording and following the composer’s advice), working with three different computers and nine hard disks to manage the audio and visual files, the database and the large amount of info and daily international communications, and the list goes on.

The music archive includes pieces for fixed media (tape, DAT, CD or similar) as well as mixed works for acoustic instruments or voices and fixed media or live electronics/interactive systems. There are also some multimedia works. In the case of pieces for fixed media and other sound sources (e.g. mixed works), full recordings as well as "tape only" (i.e. fixed media) parts (cues) are preserved and catalogued. The archive also includes audio and audiovisual recordings of interviews with composers and technical innovators as well as photographs, videos, DVDs and a few very rare scores.

Most of the text-based information contained in the music archive's audio files database is available through the Daniel Langlois Foundation Web site. Online access to a versatile search engine allows the user to explore the data by title, composer, date, etc.

In most cases, the composers represented in this archive were born in Latin American countries. There are also a few composers who, although not originally from the region, pursued at least a portion of their musical career in Latin America. The database contains information on composers associated with 18 Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela. The list of composers and compositions included in the archive as well as a number of statistics, such as compositions by decade and country and composers by country, are all available on the Foundation's web site.

It should be noted that not every audio file in the archive is a complete piece, as there are cases where each movement of a composition is stored as a different file with its corresponding individual information (according to the rules the composer used to store his or her work).

A significant number of compositions from the '60s and '70s have been archived as well as many more from the '80s, '90s and recent years. Only a few pieces from the '50s were found and included. I hope this archive will trigger similar projects to help to preserve, document and disseminate electroacoustic music, both in Latin America and other regions in the world with comparable historical situations.

Given the aforementioned difficulties the public has in accessing this music, even in centers with hundreds or thousands of hours of musical recordings and considerable human and technical resources, I find it a major achievement that free access exists to listen to the recordings included in this archive at the Daniel Langlois Foundation’s CR+D. I hope that in the near future, this archive will be mirrored in other research and/or educational centers and that other institutional archives will also be opened to the public.

A short selection of pieces is also available for listening through the Web. Several criteria were used to define this selection, including dates (ranging from the mid 1950s to 2004), geographic representation (15 countries), instrumentation (e.g. works for fixed media, mixed pieces for acoustic instruments or voices and tape, live electronics), techniques, etc. Some of the texts included in the database were originally written for the UNESCO reports mentioned above.

It must be noted that the meaning of "archive" in this text refers to the place where an ordered group of documents and information of special interest or value are guarded for preservation. This archive integrates the results of more than 20 years of research. It also represents more than 20 years of action, building bridges for communication and confidence, and giving and receiving.

Last but not least, as a Researcher in Residence at the Daniel Langlois Foundation, I have had unlimited use of a phone line for international calls. This seemingly minor factor actually allowed me to contact composers for whom I had been searching for many years and in some cases decades. Only someone who has tried to contact a large group of people to research activities that took place 40 or 50 years ago in Latin America can truly appreciate the complexities involved. There is a story behind virtually every recording obtained, every date confirmed, and, without question, every email or telephone contact. It would astound readers to learn how long it took and how difficult it was to obtain Juan Blanco’s early recordings from Cuba or to contact Joaquín Orellana in Guatemala or César Bolaños in Peru, but today they and many others are present in this archive with their music, recordings and scores. I am delighted to have been able to contribute to keeping the work and thinking of these wonderful artists alive, for today and for the future.

Ricardo Dal Farra © 2004 FDL