Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The New "Non-Baking" Cure for Sticky Shed Tapes: How Forensic Chemistry Saved the Annapolis Sounds Masters

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

The New "Non-Baking" Cure for Sticky Shed Tapes: How Forensic Chemistry Saved the Annapolis Sounds Masters

Article excerpt

In 1976, Richardson Records produced Annapolis Sounds, a record album intended to preserve the musical heritage of Annapolis. Produced for the National Bicentennial celebration, the recording reflects the character and history of Annapolis, Maryland, and faithfully captures a wide range of performances of music from sea chanteys like Down Among the Dead Men to liturgical music such as Ava Maria. Nearly thirty years later, the Annapolis Sounds master tapes were needed for a new CD edition for the. Annapolis Tercentennial. Unfortunately, the tapes (Ampex 406 with carbon black back-coating) had severe Sticky Shed Syndrome and were virtually unplayable. Although others were baking Sticky Shed tapes, we desired a safer and more permanent treatment that would provide a superb playback and preserve tapes for future re-use without additional treatment. After several years of careful experimentation and research, based on Edward F. Cuddihy's chemical research at National Aeronautics & Space Administration's (NASA's) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1976-1982) and backed by forensic chemists, we devised a new harmless conservation alternative to the baking method. Many now admit that the baking method is simply expedient, trading a quick-fix and mediocre playback for permanent damage to the tape. Baked tapes require even longer repeated baking treatments, until they eventually are destroyed by heat energy consequences.

Despite the high humidity and hot summer temperatures of the Annapolis environment, the new process safely and gently restored the Annapolis Sounds tapes to superb condition. Not only was the full sonic fidelity of the original recorded sound obtained for the CD, but the physical and chemical integrity of the tapes was preserved. This article explains how Sticky Shed Syndrome occurs, why baking or lubricating tapes is unnecessary and harmful, and how the new process restores and preserves Sticky Shed tapes like Annapolis Sounds. Perfect playback fidelity of an original recording can be achieved and tapes restored for a long life span versus an inferior migration copy from a, potentially final, playback of a baked Sticky Shed tape.

Introduction & Background

In 2006, faced with the severely sticky Annapolis Sounds masters, Richardson Records confronted the dilemma that many tape owners now face: how to diagnose and treat Sticky Shed Syndrome in magnetic recording tapes. If the tape's condition is correctly diagnosed and well understood, proper treatment may prove beneficial to both playback and future playability. Unfortunately when an ailment is misunderstood, misdiagnosis and mistreatment often occurs. It is commonly believed that Sticky Shed Syndrome is an incurable problem that reduces the useful life of most tapes to ten years or less. Sticky Shed threatens an estimated 40-50 million hours of audio, video and data tapes made since 1970 (Schuller, Kranner, 2002). Because of Sticky Shed's reputation as incurable, many of the quick fix solutions offered for Sticky Shed problems are intended to merely facilitate tape playback, rather than treat the tape's chemical conditions in a way that will provide a long life and numerous playbacks. Merely facilitating a single or final playback is not a satisfactory solution.

The Annapolis Sounds masters have already provided material for several albums and held the promise for more. In addition, analog magnetic tape recordings produce a depth and richness of sound that most digital recordings cannot rival. Many Sticky Shed solutions ignore tape handling and storage standards. These solutions rely on misinterpretations of early Sticky Shed research by Edward F. Cuddihy, a chemist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), to rationalize the permanent damage these methods can cause. Rather than risk the loss of masters by forcing a playback, studies and tests described in this article were undertaken to identify solutions that prepare tapes for both excellent playbacks, as well as a long and useful lives. …

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