Friday, March 20, 2015

Back to the Future

During my academic career, my dorm rooms were burglarized twice—once during my senior year in college and once during the first three weeks of graduate school. Luckily, these were not grand larcenies because I didn’t own very much in those days. The thieves got away with a nice overcoat, a small stereo system, a clarinet that was of much better quality than the person playing it, a book of prepaid tickets for athletic events, and some assorted other items. In both cases, one thing was conspicuously left behind—my collection of opera records. Frankly, I was a little hurt. I decided that the thieves lacked class.

I have carried those opera albums with me for more than 40 years over a number of moves. They have gone from prominent places on bookshelves to storage boxes in the attic of our current home. They have been neglected but not forgotten as I moved on to cassette and then CD players.

Then, for my Hanukkah present this year, my kids gave me a new toy, a USB turntable. It’s a gizmo that looks a lot like an old-style turntable for playing LPs but includes a cable that can plug right into your computer. With that cable, it is possible to take music locked in the grooves of an old, dusty, neglected record album and turn it into digital files that can be stored on a computer and then transferred to a modern digital device such as my iPod. (Or so I read online. Frankly, it all sounds like magic to me, but I’m still amazed by modern miracles from telephones to fax machines. And don’t get me started on scanners!

 I decided I wanted the toy after reading reviews on the Amazon website. These reviews extolled the simplicity of digitizing favorite records, though they all hinted at some “minor complications.” Now, I worry about minor complications ever since the time Audrey bought some furniture items from Crate and Barrel that required “some minor assembly.” The assembly instructions were written by a Vietnamese furniture maker intent on getting back at Americans who fought a war in his homeland a few years back. I, luckily, avoided fighting in that war, but I did suffer through assembling the furniture.

I finally opened my gift this week and picked out an old favorite of arias from Madama Butterfly to serve as my guinea pig. Or was I the guinea pig? 
Butterfly finds new life in my computer
I discovered that this miraculous turntable functions in large part because of the presence of a small rubber band that fits over a spindle. I was warned to make sure that the rubber band was intact. If not, I should contact the manufacturer. It took me a while to figure out just where the band was, but luckily it was there. So much for minor assembly this time. Then I was instructed to input a software program in my computer to oversee the digitizing. I read the instructions once, twice, three times. I looked at the sample screens which didn’t quite match mine. That was because the instructions were older than my new computer. I had to go online to find newer instructions.

I won’t go into all of the boring details of my first digital transfer, but after only about 4 hours, I had brought new life to my old Madama Butterfly recording. Take that, you old thieves! But I wasn’t through. I still had to find a way to convert these files into a newer format to play on my iPod. That meant going online again, downloading a program, watching a You Tube video to make sure I was doing things right, asking my anti-virus protective software to stop flashing red warnings at me and let me download s potential virus source this one time. Of course this took more time, but what is a little time when you’re recapturing a piece of your history!
What digital music looks like on my computer screen.
Where is the magic?
In the end, I had a new recording of an old recording. And I can listen to it now as I type this overlong diatribe.

The good news is that it took only about an hour to make the next opera album transfer, though I still don’t know how to label and store individual tracks. That comes in Volume 2 of the instructions and is explained further in another You Tube video. But when I learn all of this, my family says I can play my old opera records whenever I want to—as long as I keep my headphones plugged in.

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