Friends on tape: A time capsule of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, David Amram, and Gregory Corso

Ginsberg-Corso Cassette

One of the remarkable things about large digitization projects is that not just formal events are preserved but also informal events are preserved for future access. As a matter of process the Stanford Media Preservation Lab takes part in the preservation of media that captures these special informal events.  Recently while working on a portion of the Allen Ginsberg papers many recordings were digitized but (at least) two recordings were re-formatted that informally capture his friendships with other important 20th century figures.

The two sound recordings were digitized from compact cassette and feature Allen Ginsberg in two very different settings. One cassette was recorded at a musical and social gathering that occurred October 31st of 1971 (M0733, series 11, subseries a, cassette box 377, audiocassette 71S1/016). The other is a conversation between Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg in the fall of 1989 (M0733, series 11, subseries a, cassette box 36, audiocassette(s) 89E3/005-007).

On Halloween of 1971 sometime during the day there was a gathering that included the flautist, composer, and French horn player David Amram, Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg playing music together with Gregory Corso and many others in the audience. Corso can be heard commenting on the proceedings and a listener is transported to this special moment in time when a room full of creative people assembled to spend time together.

The other recording(s) (three cassettes in breadth) made nearly two decades later during the fall of 1989 captures Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg in an informal interview. During the course of the conversation the two of them reflect back on their many decades of friendship, their youth together, Barry Miles’s documentary work on the beats, and how deep their friendship, acceptance, and caring for each other was.

Both of these recordings offer a glimpse into the social life of the respective participants and the affection between Allen and his friends is clear through the tone of voice, pacing of speech, and expression. These characteristics are difficult to capture any way but through time based media, and by undertaking the digitization and continued digital preservation of these informal recordings insight into these important relationships can continue to be accessed well after the last cassette deck plays tape through its transport. 

Digitization would not occur if it wasn't for the expert processing by the Department of Special Collections and digital preservaiton infrastructure created and maintained by Digital Library Systems and Services. How digitization is only one step in a process that ensures long term preservation is a topic for another blog post. To get access to this collection and enjoy the work of many people contact the Stanford University Library Special Collections.