Historical importance, however, doesn’t always translate to attention. Quimby is hoping that cataloguing and digitizing Belfer will help bring the often-ignored lab – referred to as “the bomb shelter” by more than one person who works there – greater recognition on-campus. In turn, he hopes that will help the lab get funds and even more historical recordings.
The saga of Morton Savada illustrates both the potential and the struggles of the Belfer labs. When the noted record collector died in 2008, he gave his collection of more than 200,000 78s to SU. The university says it now has the second-largest collection of recordings of its kind, next to only the Library of Congress. But many of those records are still sitting in SU’s Warehouse, waiting to be catalogued, says Alison Leonhardt, a graduate assistant at the archive who is studying to be a librarian.
Leonhardt spends most of her time poring over Edison cylinders. Among the rare and interesting finds are songs by the Ku Klux Klan, she says. What makes Belfer unique and its oppor tunities enormous is that, with the right care and open access, it could eventually feature recordings that students are making in the same building.
Apart from the rows of old 78s and rooms of antique Edison cylinder players is a separate area with top-notch record ing equipment: microphones, cone-padded walls and a NASA-esque array of knobs, levers and pulleys. Welcome to the “labora tory” part of the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive.
Classes in the College of Visual and Per forming Arts use the Belfer Lab to create new material that might one day be found in these stacks of recordings. One class in the music industry program, MUI 320: Syracuse University Recordings, may even be in line for a 2010 Grammy.
The class’ record is called Edison Español and it’s a collection of historical Spanish-language recordings preserved from Edison cylinders, digitally remastered and compiled into a record. If they finish it by the end of the semester, they could be on the Grammy ballot for Best Historical Album. Previous winners included noted music archivist Michael Brooks and jazz DJ Phil Schaap.
The class is its own record company – Syracuse University Recordings – and production is mostly up to the students.
“The students run this music company in a classroom setting,” says Dave Rezak, the head of the Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries. “We look over their shoulders to the extent that they don’t get in trouble or lose a ton of money.”
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