It was recently announced that the National Jazz Museum acquired a set of nearly 1,000 discs made during the 1930s and 40s, the height of the Swing Era. The discs, collectively known as the Savory Collection, due to their being recorded by audio engineer William Savory, are something of a Holy Grail in jazz circles.
Artists represented include Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong, as well as some esoteric pieces, such as James Joyce reading segments of his work. The recordings, made on shellac 78 rpm discs, are causing some to re-evaluate musicians who were under-represented in their time, due to lack of available recordings.
What is amazing about this story is the restoration process, taking a 70 year old record and converting it to digital media for the 21st century. What is even more striking is the durability and resiliency of the shellac disc. The fact that the recordings are even salvageable at all is something of a marvel to me. CDs, for all their promise of being a permanent media, last about 15-25 years. The first generation of CDs purchased in the 80s are already beginning to skip and deteriorate. MP3s, as any librarian or archivist will tell you, are only as durable as the device which holds them.
What are the odds that the iPod, external hard drive or computer that you own now will be accessible 70 years from now? And what does that mean for the longevity of your information?
It's easy to drive oneself mad thinking about the ephemeral nature of what we create, and how it will ultimately be lost to the vestiges of time.
It's far better to focus on creating something worth preserving in the first place. And doing it while listening to some old Lester Young recordings isn't a bad place to start.