Srila Gurudeva's Audio Seva
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Dandavat Pranams Didi. Although we have heard something about Audio Seva before, can you shed some light on it?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: This is an initiative to offer Srila Gurudeva a systematically compiled and restored archive of an estimated ten thousand lectures for his Centennial coming up in 2021. Although it really began in the year 2000 with Isa Prabhu collecting the recordings, it was formalized as the Audio Seva Team in February 2018. And a lot has happened since then.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: What has been the progress so far?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: We've already content reported 10000 lectures; 1000 have been sound engineered and 270 are ready for fidelity check.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Could you elaborate a bit on the process? What each file goes through before being finalised for Srila Gurudeva’s archive?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Yes, sure. Let me take you through the lifecycle of a lecture in Audio Seva. After the cassettes are collected from the devotees, firstly they are digitized. This is not an easy task as one might think.
Each of the cassettes were painstakingly collected, labelled and organized before digitization. In some cases, some portions of the reel was twisted, so the cassettes had to be physically opened and the reel had to be adjusted and wound up so that the cassette could be functional again before the digitization phase. Each tape had to be played for its entire duration during digitization. However, there were some which we could not do anything about since they were completely broken.
In our team we're all motivated by greed. Greed to save as much of Srila Gurudeva's vani as possible. And you can see in this video, to what extent these devotees are going during digitization alone.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: This is so much of hard work…
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Next is the content reporting phase where the devotees briefly summarize the topics after hearing each lecture allotted to them through a customized online form. Our backend is heavily automated justto ensure that all the information we receive is structured. In this way, at a cursory glance, we can access all that Śrīla Gurudeva has spoken in each of these lectures. We shall almost be through with this phase very soon.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: That sounds like a professional approach! What happens after Phase one?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: It’s all Srila Gurudeva’s mercy! After phase one comes Sound Editing, which is phase two. In this phase we do a detailed sound quality reporting for each and every audio. At this stage, the unwanted parts to be cut and the sound issues are noted in detail [through another customized online submission form].
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Can you please elaborate on this?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: We're not cutting out anything that Srila Gurudeva is speaking. Even if it's some visitor coming and Gurudeva is saying - "give him some prasadam", or he is inquiring from the visiting devotee - "how is your family?", we're not cutting any of that, because it's all so sweet! And, we are also not cutting out any of the speakers that Srila Gurudeva is requesting to speak during the katha. So, the audios are really as complete as they were when Gurudeva spoke them. The unwanted parts that we'll be cutting are simply like blank spaces or irrelevant parts, such as someone forgot to put off the recording. And, by the way, there are many of those.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: You must have come across varied recording qualities?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Most of us know that the quality of audios is a real challenge with our archive and there are several reasons for this: From the quality of the cassettes on which the recordings were done, how they were stored, how far away the recorder was from Srila Gurudeva.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: I assume this last factor would be most crucial.
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Yes, that’s true, because it means that Srila Gurudeva's voice frequencies were not captured in full in many cases. This is the case especially before 1996, where the hawkers and traffic noise outside Mathura matha is literally as loud or louder than Srila Gurudeva. The quality of audio that could've been achieved after restoration by a sound engineer if the recorder was close by, can never be achieved in those kinds of cases, but in most cases the very expert sound engineers that we're working with, are restoring a lot of the audio.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Are there cases where even the sound engineer gives up?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: There are some which are of such bad quality, that not much can be done to restore the audibility of those. Still we try to reclaim them, at least sufficient enough to transcribe them, so that we don’t lose Srila Gurudeva's vani. This is one of the reasons why we call it a “rescue mission”. Each and every audio is being quality checked thoroughly by our team after the sound engineer cleans it. Be assured that in all cases we have tried our very best.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: So what happens after that? Lavang Manjari Dasi: Next comes the part of cutting and merging audios, what we call Track Editing. And what I call a ‘jalebi’. And that's because of all the duplicates we have. One of the fundamental issues we are facing currently is that we have files from digitized tapes collected from so many different devotees. The case would have been different if all the recording was done by one source.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Yes, I can imagine. That would have made your job easier.
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Definitely. Each individual is different. Some devotees would not even waste ten minutes of space on cassettes. So, what they would do is they would split the recording of one class across three or four different cassettes. Ten minutes on one, five minutes on another, fifteen minutes on another. That is an eco-friendly way, but that doesn't help us. They knew which class was recorded where, but we don't.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Certainly not an ideal scenario. So how are you dealing with this challenge?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: In order to sort this out we have several parallel streams of sevas going on currently. On one hand we are finding duplicates and sorting them out by better sound quality, more content, and so on and so forth. And on the other hand we're piecing the files together that comprise each and every lecture.
Forinstance, we one scenario where one lecture has been created out of four different audios. A part of the file is on one part of the cassette, and another on another cassette, and likewise we are trying to search out all those continuations to make it into one single file. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes very, very complicated and needs a lot of patience and persistence. Once we have these equations in place, for each of the ten thousand files, they will be cut and merged by the track editors.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Is the file then ready to be archived or are there more steps?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: After the Sound Engineering and Track Editing is done, the file is technically ready for phase 3. But in order to make sure everything is in place, we send it for a fidelity check and all the details are checked again. After that process is finalized, the file is ready for labelling.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: How are the files being labelled? I mean there are so many different possibilities.
Lavang Manjari Dasi: That’s true. It will be a very dynamic archive. with options to filter on many, many parameters. For instance, you can filter the audios on the basis of sound quality the detailed topics of each class and of course, date, location, lectures, darsanas, walks and the works!
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: That is just incredible. Can’t wait to see the archive. How many files are being finalized every day?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Right now we're managing to finalize about 8 to 10 lectures per day for the archive. But we should be doing about 25, if we want to make it in time for the centennial. We have ten devotees on board to manage the backend, and we'll be hiring six to seven more. There are about 450+ devotees around the world helping with this seva and we're still short. So, we really do need help, and that's because we're not compromising quality at all. It takes time, it takes effort and definitely it takes a lot of hands.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: My last but most vital question. How is the funding being managed?
Lavang Manjari Dasi: Our Audio Restoration budget alone is USD 200,000. And the admin costs, which include manpower, automation, software, hardware and so on is USD 150,000. We are expecting to raise half this amount by November 2019. Which means we will still be looking to raise USD 175,000 by the end of 2020. So, please do spread the word. You never know who you might inspire. If you have any questions, we're very happy to answer them. Please either write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp us: +91-8171316662, or speak to us.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Thank you so much for that wonderful and inspiring interview!