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Alex Hartov's musical tastes run more to Frank Zappa than to klezmer music. Still, when he discovered that a family member had thousands of old Yiddish radio program recordings in his basement, Hartov knew they should be preserved.
"My wife's uncle, Eddie Gilman, worked for 'The Yiddish Hour' radio program in Boston for years. He had a large collection of recordings from the show, but most of them were in bad shape because the basement where they were stored flooded periodically," explained Hartov, a Research Assistant Professor of Engineering at the Thayer School. "One year, I asked him if he would allow me to borrow the collection and digitize it."
That request six years ago signaled the birth of the Jewish Sound Archive, a web-based collection of recordings related to Jewish music, culture, society and history. Still a work-in-progress, the collection has grown beyond Gilman's recordings to include folk songs and theater pieces, cantorial readings, stories and songs for children, speeches, music by Jewish composers and historical recordings, among other items. All told, Hartov has painstakingly digitized and restored more than 6,000 sound files that span most of the 20th century.
Among the more historically significant recordings is the radio broadcast of the United Nations vote on the creation of the state of Israel. The range of languages represented in the archive include Russian, Hebrew, French, Yiddish, Arabic and other rarer languages, such as Ladino, an archaic form of Spanish that incorporates some Hebrew elements.
When fully functional, the website will allow researchers to search the collection by title, performer, genre and composer. The site will also offer information from album labels and jackets. Lewis Glinert, Hartov's partner on the project and a Professor in the Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures Department, believes the collection will be a rich resource for Dartmouth students, as well as other researchers.
"There is apparently no website anywhere that permits scholars around the world to listen to a wide range of Jewish recordings. And anyone studying music or other recorded material is no doubt aware of how difficult it is to persuade outside libraries to loan recordings," said Glinert. "With Dartmouth's world renown as a center for computing technology, this site will place us at the forefront of the online revolution in Hebrew and Jewish studies."
Due to copyright restrictions, the recordings will not be downloadable. However, Dartmouth community members and other researchers will be able to listen to the files online. Glinert, who already uses some audio materials in his classes, would like to see the sound archive integrated into other curricula and into the library holdings. A College Venture grant awarded earlier this year is helping fund the initial design and creation of the site.
In the meantime, Hartov continues to seek submissions for the collection. To avoid duplications, however, he asks that people contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org before sending recordings. Hartov, who has a life-long interest in audio recording and even travels with a tape recorder, doesn&Mac185;t know how many hours he's spent digitizing and restoring the sound materials. Since many of the materials are old, the process of preparing the files for the web can be laborious. For example, warped and scratched LP&Mac185;s are played at very slow speeds to prevent the record player needle from jumping and landing hard on the record. Then, after the recording is in digital form, the audio file is speeded up again using computer technology.
Despite the sometimes slow pace of the process, Hartov doesn&Mac185;t question the value of the enterprise.
"I want to preserve these as a reflection of an era that's disappeared," he said.
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