With the proliferation of digital recordings, music has never been more portable or easy to acquire and preserve.
Such conveniences haven’t come without a price, though. Liner notes, album covers that are often works of art unto themselves, and other tactile embodiments of music largely have been replaced by invisible files stored on devices.
One celebrated Atlanta record label, however, manages to leverage the best of both worlds by combining digital reissues with historical images and descriptive texts to create high-quality, cultural artifacts. Most importantly – and as its aptly chosen name suggests – Dust-To-Digital’s conversions of 78rpm, phonautogram, barrel-organ roll and other archaic recordings to digital audio are saving rare, essential music that might otherwise turn to dust.
For more than ten years, they have become a place that connects archivists and artists, musicians and musicologists, collectors and adventurous listeners.
Dust-To-Digital’s releases have been consistent contenders in the Grammy Awards’ “best historical album” category since its very first project, Goodbye, Babylon, received a nomination in 2004. The six-CD box set comes in a cedar box packed with raw cotton and is accompanied by a 200-page book documenting the collection of decades-old Gospel songs and sermons. In what might be the greatest unsolicited plug of all time, Neil Young said in an NPR interview that “I got this great boxed set from my friend Bob Dylan, and it’s called Goodbye, Babylon.”
In the decade since Goodbye, Babylon, Dust-To-Digital has completed dozens of other projects. One of the latest is Michigan-I-O: Alan Lomax And The 1938 Library of Congress Folk-Song Expedition, a 100-page e-book with 28 audio recordings and five short films that was produced in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
While we will always cherish the physical, original form of a work of art, Dust-To-Digital is helping make sure that through electronic preservation, generations from now will be able to experience the essence of our musical heritage.