Sound memories

Sounds add greatly to memories.

The very first column in these pages spoke about the nostalgia of family albums. I could not but help being reminded of it the today when a singularly unusual thing happened.

I was rummaging about in the desk drawer looking for something when my old Sony microcassette dictaphone surfaced from the dark recesses. Seeing it brought memories flooding back. Not of all the times I had used it in business to dictate cover-your-rear memoranda in the world of corporate politics. No, that is mercifully forever behind me now. Rather, I recalled that the last time I had put this great, if now very dated, analog tape recorder to use was some three years ago when our son was but one year old. He used to hang out in his crib and merrily squeal to himself as he discovered his vocal chords. So I had switched it on ‘record’ and placed it in his room under the crib, so he could chat away undisturbed.

Coming back half an hour later, sure enough, there were several minutes of squealing and general joie de vivre on the tape. I put it back in the desk drawer and pretty much forgot about it until it surfaced again today. Now with my new awareness of the value added by sound to my photographic efforts, it immediately occurred to me that the tape had to be somehow recovered and placed on the family web site, next to the snaps of our son. This proved trickier than you would think.

You see, the tired old tape, used who knows how many times, decided to come off the end spool when I rewound it. Now these cassettes are not rebuildable, being heat sealed, unlike in days of yore when they were actually screwed together. And the idea of somehow transplanting the precious tape to another microcassette was a prospect I dared not contemplate. Why not buy a regular tape cassette and splice in the tape from the microcassette? And she was right – the tape sizes are identical and I had always used the 1 7/8 inches/second tape speed on the Sony for best quality. That’s the same speed regular cassettes run at.

Off to the local Target store where, to my dismay, I was hosed down for no fewer than ten cassette tapes, individual ones no longer being sold. Still, at $7, the damage was bearable, particularly given the importance of my mission. Back home, I pulled out enough tape to make room for the spliced section coming from the microcassette, managed to get hold of the tape pigtail in the latter, and glued in the whole tape with superglue, winding it in laboriously with a pencil through the hub….analog to digital was never so difficult.

The next step was to track down a tape cassette player – our tape cassettes exited stage left years ago. Then it occurred to me that I had an old boom box in a guest room and before you could say ‘yipee’ I had the tape playing on the boom box with my Edirol digital recorder placed nearby.

Into Audacity with the MP3 file, a few moments later a noise sample was made and the noise filtered out (Audacity is great!) and our happy son made his way to the family web site for all to enjoy. They’re just squeals to you, so I will not repeat them here, but for us it’s a wonderful enhancement to our memories of Winston when he was but one year old.

So when you take pictures of your kids, why not record the sounds they make too?

A related lesson is to digitize all your old media – records, tapes, pictures, because before long it will be impossible to get the playback devices these need. Plus, backing-up of digital is very easy.