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Hi all—I've both been busy at digitizing my cassette tapes that Dick didn't get to, and have been unable to get into this page to tell you about it, because of a technicality with the site.  But here's a quickie-update.

First, Peter was here in October, and not only cleaned up (streamlined) a lot of the wiring of my computer/audio set-up, but selected for me a nifty little machine into which I can record my cassette tapes, leaving my computer free for me to do Other Things while digitizing progress is being made: a Tascam DR-40.  This is pretty easy to use, AND did not break the bank (they cost about $150).  In addition, I now have a decent portable device on which I can make new recordings, besides digitizing the ones I have.

So I bombed through several trips' worth of tapes, and then...I tried to record one, and it sounded—not merely "bad", but AWFUL!  I could hardly hear anything, and the sound was wobbly.  I cleaned the play head and pinch rollers, tried it in the other deck, in the other direction, but nothing helped.  Yet evidence showed that I had once listened to this tape and taken careful notes on contents!  Suddenly I remembered seeing Dick do something many years ago.  Just as he had done, I whipped the tape out of the machine, turned it over to inspect the little felt pressure pad that keeps the tape snug against the record/playback head.  I guess I can't show you exactly what I saw, because that piece of evidence is lost in the shuffle, but here is the difference between a Good pressure pad and a Bad one:

The pressure pad in the upper cassette is the fine, but little is left of the head in the lower one, thanks to M.O.T.H.S....
The pressure pad in the upper cassette is fine, but little is left of the pad in the lower one, thanks to M.O.T.H.S....

Sometimes they get eaten entirely away, which was the case in the poor cassette I had in hand!

So now what?  Fortunately, having lived through this problem before, I knew what to do.  I keep a bag of cassettes whose contents I don't care about, for exactly this purpose.  You have to unscrew the 5 screws holding the cassette together, separate the two halves CAREFULLY, and remove a good pad  (mounted on a narrow strip of springy metal) from an otherwise "dead" cassette.  Having done that, you open your damaged cassette with even more care (the other one was just "practice" for this part).  Most of all, you do not want to scatter the contents.  You don't want the tape itself to unwind, or get out of its "track"; you don't want to lose the plastic sheets that encourage smooth tape travel; nor do you want to dislodge the little rollers with pins inside that can come out  and get lost.  Did all that work?  GREAT, if so, you carefully (using tweezers) lift the bad pad out, throw it away or keep it in your Demo collection, and equally carefully plop the new pad assembly into its place.  Once you're sure it's in correctly, reassemble the cassette (being sure the tape doesn't get pinched somewhere as you do so), put back the screws, and voilà! a cassette with a working pressure pad!

But then, having discovered this one VERY bad one, I examined all the other cassettes in my big box o' recorded tapes.  I discovered some 30-35 that had pads in greater or lesser need of replacement!  I've now spent several hours (is it more than 4?  I didn't count) doing this, and as far as I know everything is back in working order.  In the process I noted a few tapes I thought I should just re-digitize, because though their pads were not Awful, they were definitely not good.  I got pretty good and even quick at doing this, and am thinking of making a video—if I succeed in that, I'll put a link here.

There's one more thing, though.  Having replaced the damaged goods, how do I prevent it from happening all over again?  You know what moths like to eat: WOOL (and some other things, including, as I've discovered, some things like polar fleece that I don't believe are edible!); these little all-important pads are made of felt, which is usually made of—WOOL.  OK, this is a problem I've been dealing with for a number of years.  I've now seriously reduced the number of moths in my house and stuff, but they do come back, either because you miss some eggs, or because new ones enter your house.

The solution is amazingly simple: you asphyxiate them with carbon dioxide!  (Don't believe what you grew up with hearing about moth balls—I've found a living larva in a garment that had been kept for about a month in a heavy plastic bag with mothballs!  Even if mothballs get the living moths and larvae, they don't appear to get the eggs....)  So your prep is pretty easy: you arm yourself with some heavy-duty "contractor" plastic bags (check them for leaks, though), or some bins—or even clean trash cans—with loose-fitting lids.    You put your stuff in one of these things, in a place where you can leave it undisturbed for several days to a week.  When you're all ready, you go to the nearest store where you can get DRY ICE (pellet form is most convenient, but you do what you gotta do).  USE GLOVES so you are not handling it with your bare hands, because you'll get a nice "burn", the stuff is COLD.  You rush home with this, because it sublimates pretty quickly.  You put about 1/2 to 1 pound of dry ice into each bag/bin/barrel, and close the top LOOSELY.  As the dry ice sublimates, it releases carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air, so it settles.  You want it to drive out the air, and you don't want the bag to explode!  Leave it undisturbed for a few days to a week, and you should be home free.  Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has a nice page on this.

And now, back to work....

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This may not be a very exciting story, but I want to share some of how I've been spending my time and allowing my recordings to entertain me lately.  I've been to Bulgaria 26 times and counting, and made recordings of some sort on all but the first trip.   My first recordings were made in 1978 (on a $40 Radio Shack recorder), and the most recent were several videos I took last summer.  Three of these trips were formal research trips (including one funded by IREX and one by Fulbright) of 3 months apiece, on each of which I recorded about 50 90-minute cassette tapes.  The others ranged from a week at the shortest, to a month or more, with correspondingly less recorded material.

This means I have a LOT of recordings!!  Now, the three biggie trips (1980-81, 1985, and 1988) are documented to a fare-thee-well: big, fat 3-ring binders stuffed with an inch and a half of pages each.  (I would go back to Bulgaria and friends would tell me my Bulgarian was better, and ask me what I'd been doing.  "Oh, listening to my tapes," I would say.)  These contain complete transcriptions of all the songs plus notes on everything people said that I found potentially interesting (and we didn’t stop the tape recorder between songs, mind you — if you do that, you ALWAYS miss things, because usually the singers don’t “decide to sing something", tell you about it, and wait till you’re ready before they start singing!  A song will start in the midst of a conversation, often while people are talking.  Or they may sing lightly, and decide to continue; or sometimes they will “try a song out” first (and not want you to record the trial — but we quickly learned to let the tape recorder run, because if it does go well they won’t want to repeat it.  So you record everything and figure you can pick and choose later!)  I’ve also made a short "index" listing for each session (date, what tape number, names of the singers, and a listing of the songs and interesting discussion points, with very little comment), and lists by first lines for each trip.  And a few other forms of lists, depending on what struck me as useful at the time.

Recordings, rel neatI’ve been wanting to make a map showing everywhere I’ve recorded, and also to have a master inventory of everything I’ve recorded, so I recently started to work on this.  But...projects always seem so much simpler when you get the idea, than they do when you start to implement them!  For the informal trips I made after about 1990, when I was primarily “visiting with friends” but also recording, I have a very spotty set o’ documentation.  Some of these are transcribed and indexed as carefully as the big trips, but others...to be painfully honest, there are some I have never actually listened to.  All I know about what’s on them is the location and possibly the date — whatever I wrote on the label to identify them.  Some of them are very neat; others look like this:
Recordings, what does this sayand, after all these years, even I can’t figure out exactly what that means!

Around 2000 we started using a Sony minidisc recorder.  When we came home from a trip, Dick would usually make computer files fromRecordings, wozzis the recordings, and we would erase the discs so we could re-use them.  Even later we started using a Zoom recorder, again saving the material to our computer so we could re-use the memory chips.  Now, cassette tapes can have labels stuck onto them, but minidiscs and (worse yet!) files on the Zoom recorder are much harder to label when you are “in the field”.  To complicate matters, I never got into the habit of keeping good external “research notes” in any organized fashion.  I’ve never been too good at writing and talking and gathering up equipment, etc., etc., all at the same time!  That is merely “difficult to do” on a formal recording trip; when you’re visiting friends and having parties...it becomes downright impossible!

So here I sit, surrounded by piles of sometimes barely-identified objects, trying to identify a variety of objects positively and make a good list of the contents — which for my present purpose means listing location, date, what tape number/disc/whatever it’s on, how many songs I recorded in that place on that date, and a very cursory description of the informants, usually as simple as “8 women born between 1917 and 1942.”

Where am I with it now?  In retrospect I would say that, because I already had Lists galore, I breezed through the material up through 1988 (though at the time it seemed pretty slow and painstaking, but then....I was inventing my system as I went along).  But then I got to about 1992, and things slowed down and got way more difficult.  I’m now up through 2001, with something between sketchy and full info for all the trips since then, and man! but it can take me days to finish listing one trip!  (On what date DID I go to X in 2001?  Oh, maybe my calendar will tell me....nope, I didn’t make notes in the calendar!  In the more recent years of digital cameras, the date on my photos helps...)  I guess it's fair to say that I'm coming down the home stretch, I have 7 or 8 more trips to do, then I can start merging all the trips into one humungous Master File.

The Good News is that, in the course of doing all this, I discovered that I can still make the minidisc machine work.  And yes!! I left the sound system set up so that all I have to do to record something is play it (no plugs to chase down and rearrange)!  I made the delightful discovery that no, the fact that my Tablet has a pretty strong magnet in it does NOT seem to have damaged the tapes that have spent under it or piled on top of it (magnets, you know, erase cassette tapes! but evidently this was not strong enough to do damage).  And, I’ve been getting reacquainted with tons o’ Good Stuff to post here.  Just the other day I played a 90-minute collection of some songs I find particularly beautiful (solo harvest songs, sedenka songs, and “table songs” — sung as entertainment at some festive occasion) and found that I wanted to just post ALL OF THEM!  Well, bit by bit.

So, if you’ve gotten this far, thank you for humoring me by reading my rant about what my days have been filled with lately, and now....I think I’ll get back to it, so I can finish the List and get to the eventual Map, and have more beautiful, interesting songs for you!

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