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UBCO students, professors podcast about half-century old artistic recordings

Students and professors at UBC Okanagan have been compiling cassette tapes and reel-to-reel audio tape recordings of poets and poem readings, and immortalizing them online through podcasts.

Since 2018, researchers in the Audio Media Poetry (AMP) Lab — the UBC Okanagan research laboratory where the projects are managed — have gathered about 166 original recordings and digitized around two-thirds of their inventory.

<who>Photo Credit: UBC</who>

UBCO's research is a part of a larger, federally funded SpokenWeb Project, led by a Concordia University professor.

Many of the recordings are from local talent and, for the most part, have never been copied.

"We have these unique, one-of-a-kind sound recordings from the 60s, 70s, 80s, made by poets who are really famous now, like George Bowering, who's from Oliver ... and Sharon Thesen, who lives in Lake Country,” said Dr. Karis Shearer, director of the AMP Lab and English professor at UBCO.

Alongside Shearer are five other faculty and staff members from the University, and an array of students that head the digitization and podcast projects within the AMP Lab.

<who>Photo Credit: UBC</who>Professor Myron Campbell, a project collaborator, conducting a presentation

Shearer explains that these types of recordings typically only last 50 years. Even then, mouldy tapes and poor storage can make the digitizing process difficult or impossible.

“So it's really important that we digitize these, because the material objects are starting to disintegrate and because they're one of a kind, they risk being lost forever and they're really important parts of Canadian cultural heritage and the literary scene.”

In the past several months, Shearer has posted the digitized recordings to a web page as well as the series of podcasts which discuss the poems and try to discern the sometimes unrecognizable sounds of decades past.

She’s been able to bring on local poets to talk about some of their own historical work.

<who>Photo Credit: Al Filreis</who>(L to R): Poet Daphne Marlatt beside AMP Lab Director Karis Shearer

"It's just really cool to be able to bring folks like Sharon Thesen and Daphne Marlatt onto the show and talk with students about their recordings from like 34 years ago, in some cases the recordings were made like 50 years ago,” Shearer said.

Hosting podcasts has been difficult during COVID-19, which led to public health orders that effectively shutdown the campus.

"The premise of the podcast that was so important to us, where it was like we're going to gather people together in a space and record face-to-face conversations,” Shearer said.

“We have about four episodes out and then, obviously, with COVID-19 we can't bring people together anymore.

"But the nice thing about digitizing the recordings and making podcasts with them is that now anyone can listen to them online from their own homes."

<who>Photo Credit: UBC</who>(L to R): Megan Butchart, Emily Murphy, Karis Shearer, and Amy Thiessen.

Despite the difficult situation, Shearer and her team have been able to continue the podcasts remotely. Fortunately, they could use the now digitized audio recordings to discuss them from their homes.

Shearer’s hoping that in the future, they can expand their podcast guests from poets, students and professors to individuals from the public.

For more information, or to listen to recordings and podcasts, click here.

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