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The Concordia Tape Archive / Collection: What it is, and what it isn’t

Technological developments have played a major role in the building and development of the tape archive. Apart from the changes in recording media formats from tape and cassette, to DAT and CD, the development of the personal computer changed who could have collections, and more importantly, how the information in the collection could be stored and retrieved. The catalog for the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio remained as a filing card system until the late 1980s, as did that of McGill University, Radio Warsaw, Columbia-Princeton etc, as there were no inexpensive computer databases.

In parallel to the development of the personal computer came better communication systems, and the gradual process of the flattening (sometimes called democratization) of the means of production and distribution, but there always was, and remains, a certain kind of cachet associated with having someone else (or a company) publish your work. Self-publication is still referred to as “vanity press”, although this has not been a fair description for some 25 years now — creators can simply decide that they will publish their own work.

These shifts and attitudes are reflected in the collection in a number of ways. While a large number of works from the period 1970 to the present have been collected, this initial work on the collection has focused on the period up to about 1995 when CD-R became the standard medium for distribution, and the internet was rapidly becoming the means of communication. The availability of works after this time is of a different order of magnitude, and comes with an entirely different context.

It is therefore possible to see the collection at four levels. The top level is a simple database of all of the works in the collection, from any period, on any medium, published, unpublished, unique or out in the community. This part of the database (comprising a number of individual databases that could be merged) probably lists some 4000 to 6000 titles. The pieces exist in the collection as tapes, CDs etc. This is a listing of the collection.

The second level is those works from before about 1995. This list contains the well-known and the unknown, the ordinary, and the exotic, but it remains “a list”, the works being able to be consulted by going to Concordia University and digging through the collection.

Of the works on this list, many were digitized and received the composers’ permission for them to be made available in digital form on the web. From time to time, composers (or publishers) did not grant permission for use citing the works as being previous versions, pieces from their youth, not in their best interests, or being against contractual / copyright conditions. Some of these works can be found in commercial catalogs, some are no longer (easily) available.

The works with appropriate copyright clearance for web-based access reflect a vibrant, youthful, growing, expanding community. Some works can be listened to once or twice and there will be a sense of “got that, no need to go back there”, some are diamonds in the rough worth some expenditure of time, and there are a number of polished gems buried away in here. Like all general archives, this does not try to be a collection of “masterpieces”, but rather is a transcription of a record of devotion, conviction, belief and love of, and towards sound.

Concordia University / Université Concordia

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