Chakra Discussions

Setting the Record Straight On Prabhupada's Audio, Part 2

by Ekanatha das

Posted March 5, 2010

Editor's Note: After Ekanatha das detailed the ongoing progress of the BhaktivedantaArchives in an earlier posting ("Setting the Record Straight On Prabhupada's Audio", Chakra, February 8), including his "conservative estimate of 500 new audio files forthcoming", Bhakta Philip has subsequently begun a misguided and unnecessary petition drive seeking the immediate release of the recordings before the Archives have completed the needed work on them. Contrary to his assertion, the audio files at the Archives are being digitized and are carefully protected from deterioration.

Chakra also posted a comment by Pratyatosa das on improving substandard audio files. Separately, Ekanath prabhu has also received other correspondence on Archives-related matters. He responds to these comments below.

Jitarati das wrote:

"There are many devotees that have offered to help, and I have even offered financial help but was just ignored.... Being forced to do research to help justify the changing of Prabhupada's books was a new low for the Archives.... You have to be the one to decide to release yourself from this prison you find yourself in."

My answer: Thank you for your restated concern, which I do appreciate. I have known you over the years to have always been a reasonable, intelligent and friendly person — a supporter of the Archives. I am to a small degree somewhat surprised by the tone of your letter. Yes, I do confirm you did in fact donate a small sum of Laksmi in support of our cause. You also donated us a pair of your newly molded Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet, which we gratefully accepted and acknowledged.

You came here in person a few times, and we both had a sensible discussion regarding the state of Srila Prabhupada's audio during your last visit. Madhuha Prabhu was present as well. We saw eye to eye for the most part. It was clear and understood that this project will take time to get it right. You again offered some financial support which I did not follow up with you on, which I should have. Please don't interpret that as a refusal but as plain inattentiveness on my part.

Yes indeed, several devotees have stepped forward offering their help and are mostly now on board engaged with the much-needed transcribing and proofreading program. I believe I made it clear in my response to Bhakta Philip what we’re up against. Unfortunately Bhakta Philip has misunderstood our intentions and work standards; what can be done?

Regarding "being forced to do research," I am not sure exactly what you are referring to. I can assure you we were not "forced to do research" of anything; we just complied with a request by the BBT, who are the owners of the original book manuscripts, for a digital copy so they can do their own research.

Pratyatosa das wrote:

"Ekanatha prabhu says: 'When unwanted interfering noise and Prabhupada's voice are on the same frequency, separating them is very difficult.' This shows that he has no idea how to remove the noise on the tapes. He is still thinking in terms of 'notch filters' from the analogue days. I have some experience with digital noise removal using Adobe Audition. All that you have to do is to sample the background in a portion of the recording that has no speaking and then have the program remove all of the background noise automatically. It's done using sophisticated pattern recognition and has nothing to do with frequencies being the same."

My answer: We are aware of this technology and indeed use it along with the software you mentioned as well as others. While we still have analogue equipment in house (notch filters, etc.), it has been a very long time since we have used such equipment, I would estimate around 1996, putting it clearly in the last millennium. Let me be clear in this regard: even using sophisticated software as we do, there is no magic wand. You still have to be extremely careful in order to make Srila Prabhupada's voice sound as natural as possible. It is to this point that I refer about being 'very difficult'. Having said that, the issue of cleaning up is but a small part of it.

The real and pressing point is about provenance of the audio and how to make sure that all care is taken to create a real archival collection that will stand the test of time. We have seen in our own lives the complications created (real or not real) of a rush to publish. Our brief as Archivist is not only for 'now' but also for the future. If we release a catalogue of 'Archival Recordings' before all possible steps, checks and balances as to the provenance (time, place and circumstance) of a recording, then all is for naught and we run the risk of future generations dismissing the validity of the Archival Collection and then possibly the content.

We are in the Archival occupation of getting it right, not just getting it out. It is very important that we pass on this invaluable legacy of Srila Prabhupada's spoken word to the next generations of devotees and historians who will have a clear unedited version of Srila Prabhupada's teachings available to them. Historians especially need a clear, delineated timeline of the audio to conduct their research. We want to provide facility for the future generations of devotees' preaching endeavors unhindered by haphazard archival methods.

We therefore ask your indulgence in this matter to allow time for transcribing, proofreading, digital mastering, etc. to take its proper course. As stated before, the Bhaktivedanta Archives are committed to the publication of an Archival collection of all audio recordings.

Pratyatosa das continued:

"The Bhaktivedanta Archives should completely get out of the publishing business. This is the business of the BBTI. For the BA, it's simply a distraction. The BA should be financed by the BBTI so that they don't have to be distracted by worrying about money."

My answer: I fully agree. Indeed, we have been diverting more and more sales away to, thus freeing our time and energy into our core service of archiving. To this end the BBTI has been most helpful in increasing funds for this project, and we are hopeful that future funding will be made available from other sources as well.

Pratyatosa das concluded:

"It costs almost nothing to publish audio files on the Internet. I am willing to host them myself at no cost to the Archives."

My answer: Thank you for this offer; Pragosh prabhu, who manages the website, already has a contract with the BBTI for such hosting.

In closing, it may be worth expanding on the Archival term provenance in quoting a reference in an Archival textbook:

"Archivists arrange records according to basic tenets of provenance and original order, to retain evidence of the activities that created them. That is, records from different sources are not intermingled, and the original filing order of the creator, if usable, is retained. Such principles of arrangement insure both that the records will continue to be useful for the creating organization and that later users can evaluate the content of the records in the context of their creation."

.Madhudvisa das wrote:

"Devotees will naturally suspect the worst of Bhaktivedanta Archives if you keep sitting on this audio and refuse to release it as you have been doing for so many years…. You have refused me access to it many times; you have refused access to it to Bhakta Philip. Who are you to come between Srila Prabhupada and his followers? Anything can happen in the future. You know there are moves afoot to close down the Bhaktivedanta Archives or at lest to take it out of your control.... I have repetiadly volunteered my service for this project. I am prepared to come there and work with you and Parama Rupa prabhu until we can actually release all the unreleased audio. There is no need to get it transcribed and put in the folio before it is released. Rather, releasing it will facilitate getting it transcribed and put in the folio."

My answer: I can only humbly request for you to please re-read our original posting, where I make it very clear we are not hoarding, concealing, keeping secret or coming in between anyone and Srila Prabhupada.

Would you mind expanding on the "close down the Bhaktivedanta Archives" statement, as to who is doing this?

Regarding your offered help in the past, I have followed up repeatedly to your own request to do some much-needed transcribing, but as of now still nothing from you. Please try to understand our position and allow us the time to proceed. As stated before:

"We beg for your blessings to help us complete this final phase of the audio project. The entire original audio collection will be released. It supersedes the existing MP3 ministry in its entirety. All the kirtans, verse recitations, Srila Prabhupada chanting Jaya Radha Madhava, etc., present on the originals will be included. No introductory announcements, as in the current ministries, will be added."

Once again let us state for the record we are not "suppressing", "hoarding", "keeping secret", "acting under force", "denying or refusing release", "blackmailing" anyone for donations, holding Srila Prabhupada's audio "hostage" or in any way standing between Prabhupada and his followers.