Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lost and Found in the Digital Age

Ben Ratliff’s recent feature in The New York Times reminds us all how much great music might still be out there on recordings buried away in boxes, attics, garages. In this case unreleased jazz gems by Coleman Hawkins were discovered amid in a collection of recordings donated by the estate of William Savory, a recording engineer from the 1930s.

In my novel, Now’s the Time, protagonist Didi Heron finds a twenty year old reel of vintage bebop—the last recording made by her father and the legendary trumpeter with whom he played. She finds it in the discarded trench coat of a man the world has presumed dead for more than a decade. In a sense, the man and music he’s carrying have ceased to exist—except that they haven’t exactly. Recording technology

It is hard to imagine any current work of recorded music—great or not so great—ever being lost, even for a moment. Digital technology has given us the means to preserve pretty much any image or sound we want. I wonder if this gargantuan sum of recordings will help us appreciate all the great performances that occurred before it was possible to record, reproduced and ultimately digitized and burned into the permanent memory of human culture.

There have been science fiction stories involving time machines—from HG Wells’s book to last years Hot Tub Time Machine movie. To my knowledge, not a single one of these stories finds the time traveler bringing a video or audio recording device to the globe theater for opening night of Hamlet or to 18th Century Vienna to hear the premier of Don Giovonni, etc.