Family Memories Are Under Attack From Climate Change
A second badly infected tape
Tape mould is not a big hairy green fungal beastie but a fine dust like infection that appears at first sight like random dandruff. Only in its later stages of infestation does it become obvious to the untrained eye. Its caused by storing tapes in damp or humid places during warm moist Summers and its destroying tapes as never before. Its as infectious to other tapes as measles is to children and if it gets onto the recording heads of tape players it destroys them too, as well as infecting every other tape played on that machine. So its not surprising that there isn't a professional audio restorer in the World that will handle mouldy tapes. From a rare phenomena seven years ago its now affecting almost ten per cent of all the old audio and video tapes seen by specialist audio restorers.
The extremely hot dry Summers of almost a decade ago were tough enough on the fragile tapes, causing them to dry out and become very brittle indeed. At over 40 years old a lot of tape material was entering a critical stage for restoration. But the warm wet Summers and milder Winters since then have provided ideal breeding conditions for tape mould to flourish. And its not just tapes that are being destroyed. In the 1950's it was surprisingly common for amateur singers to cut a single vinyl disc recording of their performance at a local concert. These records too are under mould attack in increasing numbers. Although its not the same technology, the mould eventually eats into the recording groove and destroys the recording track forever.
Its so disappointing to have found an old family treasure at last, located an audio restorer who can handle the job, only to have it returned as unplayable at the very last hurdle. And that's an increasingly frequent scenario.
Tapes and old records should be stored in cool dry conditions with very little variation in the daily temperature range. Nor should they be exposed to the strong magnetic fields of other electrical equipment. A spare bedroom wardrobe with just enough heating to keep it warm in Winter is ideal. The worst possible place is the loft with its daily temperature fluctuations and humidity.
Even so tape
was never meant to last and needs to be digitised as soon as possible.
The CD and DVD will be superseded in time, but transfer from one digital
format to another should not degrade the sound any further. Rescuing sound
from the old ferric oxide reel to reel tapes is not a job for amateurs
and often the worst thing they can do is try to play them on an old machine
that's also been lurking in the loft. Even if the drive belts are not
completely perished the most frequent result is to rip the ferric oxide
track off its tape backing and then the sound is lost forever. Often brittle
tape will disintegrate completely under such abuse. The best advice is
the Blue Peter mantra please don't try this at home!