Work Wednesday

Work Wednesday: Patrick Midtlyng

Tingjun Long | Contributing Photographer

Patrick Midtlyng began working at Belfer Audio Archive in 2011, maintaining audio files and keeping track of metadata as items go in and out of the archive.

Patrick Midtlyng’s grandparents, parents and now his 3-year-old son all own an LP record player. He said his family has a strong appreciation for the sound of vinyl records.

But audio preservation didn’t strike him as a profession until he worked as a research assistant at the University of Chicago. He now works as a sound archivist at the Syracuse University Belfer Audio Archive.

Midtlyng was working toward his Ph.D. in linguistics while employed at a field recordings laboratory. He worked on a team of linguistic anthropologists and sociologists who were documenting languages that were nearing extinction in Latin and South America.

“I was working on the transfer of those and the descriptions of them so that the work that was done from the 1930s to the 1980s would not be lost, and the sounds of the languages would at least be preserved that way,” Midtlyng said.

Midtlyng began working at the Belfer Audio Archive in 2011. The archive boasts one of the largest collections of audio equipment in the country with recordings, records and equipment spanning from 1890 to 1970. Midtlyng procures audio requested from the archive, maintains the upkeep of the files and keeps track of metadata as items go in and out of the archive.

“I want to keep the representation of what the audio originally was. I want people to recognize that at one time, there was a physical involvement in playing sound,” Midtlyng said. “There’s a physical act of having to start and stop that recording and always maintaining that tie to the original object and the original sense it had.”

The audio archive often receives visits from classes, researchers and educators looking to retrieve primary audio from decades past. This is where Midtlyng sees the core value of his work at the Belfer Audio Archive — in the lessons that can be learned from recorded sound.

“I think audio gets kind of the short end of the stick, given that we are such a visual society,” Midtlyng said. “But some of the interesting things you find with audio recordings is that people will just let a recording tape run, and some of the moments in history you can discover from that are very important.”

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