Sunday, March 24, 2013

Equipment Graveyard

Talk to anyone about archiving and very quickly the conversation becomes one about obsolescence. At some point, all types of film and video equipment, hardware and software, audio-visual formats – all the technologies used to produce and playback moving images – die. And by 'die' I mean they are no longer in wide use, no longer supported by the companies that manufactured them and brought them to market. 

As we continue to inventory the collections, we record the format of each item we inventory, creating a kind of format map of the archive. This will help us better address reformatting parts of the collection.  So when we set off on the inventory last year and created a database that could account for all kinds of current and obsolete formats - film, video, audio, even hard drives – we didn't think much about what to do if we came across any gear. There wasn't supposed to be any – not in the archive. And well over a year into the inventory there wasn't any, until now.

Lyra Hill, who is inventorying all the of the film elements, opened a box and found this: 

The Auricon Sound-On-Film Recording Amplifier

"Singing with music"

What is it?

In short, it is part of a system designed by Auricon that allowed filmmakers to record sound directly to film with an optical soundtrack, in-camera. The sound quality wasn't great and the system was bulky – Auricon later released cameras that would record sound onto film with magnetic sound tracks which became more common. When Kartemquin bought its Auricon, Camera #1, they stripped it of this gear because they were not interested in recording sound on film in this way and modified the camera to their own specifications.

The amplifier and a few of its accessories were packed in a box, taken to The Hall and forgotten. 
The original Auricon ribbon microphone (as heavy as it looks)
RCA electron tube
Yes, that's a tiny bottle of motor oil

Lyra and I needed a little help from Kartemquin's tech guru, Jim Morrissette, to understand more about how this thing functioned. We were all pretty fascinated by it.  It's beautiful to look at and in great condition though there are no batteries and the various odd connectors spilling out of it show their age.  

Gordon said, "it's junk", but we're keeping it. In spite of being obsolete, obscure, and something that Kartemquin never even used, it taught us about one more way filmmakers could record sound on film and fleshed out a little more of Camera #1's history. It is also evidence of how evolving technologies shaped the way filmmakers worked, while filmmakers continued to transform those technologies into the tools they desired.

As an active production company, Kartmequin has and maintains quite a bit of production equipment – cameras, lights, sound gear, etc. All of it is very well organized, secured and maintained, including historic items like Camera #1. We have removed the Auricon Sound-On-Film Recording Amplifier from the inventory and are turning it over to the equipment room at KTQ for safe-keeping with the other historic gear.

Post by Carolyn Faber
Photos by Lyra Hill

 The Kartemquin Inventory Project is generously funded by:

1 comment:

  1. Looks rather venerable. It's nice you've got these tech pictured - and online. Since not a lot about cinema cannot be digitized into data as is. One of these is film equipment. So, we do the next best thing. Film preservationists should really do photo and video documentation of these equiptments which may all just fade into memory.