The Library: It was in 1994 that you started making recording systematically, right?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: Yes. Initially, I intended to investigate the nature of the act of recording. Yet, I didn’t do it in depth. Neither did I have a large collection of recordings. I had a box of tapes with recordings of radio commercials. I also recorded some public service announcements, such as cinema announcements informing the audience that no sound or video recording is allowed, or MTR announcements. There was also a box of tape recordings of answering machines.This segment appears simple but actually the recording process was very complicated. I purposely modified my telephone at home. That’s why the sound quality was especially clear. My telephone was a model with a rotary dial. If you disassembled it, you would see the four electric wires inside the telephone. Two of them were connected to the receiver and the other two were connected to the transmitter. I tore apart the two from the receiver and connected them to different plugs, before attaching them to the recorder. That way, the recording would be very clear. Even the average answering machine nowadays may not be able to achieve such clarity.
The Library: Were the recordings from that period all done by cassette tape recorders?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: Mainly cassette tapes. Later, there was a type of digital cassette tape called ‘DAT’, similar to the size of a DV tape for video recorders. At that time, it was considered to be a luxury pursuit. Many musicians would invest in a DAT recorder. After completing a production, I would convert it to a DAT, which served as the master tape. It was the highest quality way of keeping master tapes in those days. This segment of answering machine recording was directly recorded by a DAT recorder through the modified telephone. As for the current version you’re listening to, it was in fact an edited version. It was done by playing the DAT master tape, while recording it with a cassette tape recorder. In the editing process, I slowly adjusted the sound effect of the DAT recorder to achieve fade-out and silence. Then, I used the DAT recorder to play another segment of pre-recorded master tape, followed by the same procedures: play, waiting for the right time, fade-out, silence and stop.
The Library: Would the quality deteriorate when converting a DAT to a cassette tape?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: It’s inevitable. This is mainly due to the limitations of cassette tape – there are a lot of frequency it fails to capture. There weren’t really other choices. If I used two DAT recorders for the conversion, then I wouldn’t be able to share with others, as not everyone had a DAT recorder, which wasn’t a popular thing. If I wished to let everyone around me to listen to these recordings, I must convert them into a popular format.
The Library: Did you share these recordings with others in the end?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: I had lent them to my friends. In those days, sometimes we would make something like what we call ‘playlist’ nowadays. We converted our own favorite records into cassette tapes, drew a cover for them and then exchanged them with friends.
The Library: When you shared these cassette tapes with friends, what did others give you in exchange?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: They were all ordinary music.
The Library: Any discoveries listening to these tapes 20 years later?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: Yes. This first discovery is that all phone numbers in the past were six-digit. The way people talked was also different. In general, the wordings in the recordings were expressed in a very objective tone. At the end of the segment, there are a few sexually explicit recordings and recordings from the governmental department for drug abuse treatment introducing every drug. They’re quite hilarious. In these recordings, you can hear the tone those people would use to convey formality – how they expressed humor, or how they got across erotic messages. Sound is different from other media. How did people make use of language at that time? How did they handle spoken words? Through recording, all these could be recorded authentically.
The Library: Did you spend a lot of time on recording at that time?
Steve Hui Ngo-shan: Whether it’s a lot is something relative. A 20-year-old definitely has more time than a 40-year-old. Haha! At that time, I did it with full concentration, which was very lonely, as people didn’t really know what I was doing. Yet, I wouldn’t let go of any opportunities to share my works. Say when someone gave me a lift, I’d say, “Let me share some good stuffs with you.” Then, I played my recordings through the car hi-fi.
- 聲音圖書館: 你是從1994年開始有計劃地去做錄音？
許敖山: 對，最初我其實是想探討錄音這個行為的本質，但我並沒有很深入地去做，也沒有大量的聲音收藏。我有一盒聲帶是錄收音機的廣告，也有試過錄公共廣播，比如戲院叫人不要錄音、錄影或地鐵的廣播。還有一盒聲帶是電話答錄機的聲音。這段聲帶聽起來很簡單，但錄音過程其實是很複雜的。我特意改裝了家裡的電話，所以音質特別清晰。我的電話是撥號那種款式，如果你將它拆開會看到電話裡有四條電線，兩條連著話筒，兩條連著聽筒， 我把聽筒的兩條拆出來，然後接上不同插頭再接駁到錄音機。這樣錄音效果就會很清晰，即使使用現在一般的電話錄音機也未必可以那麼清晰。
許敖山: 主要是用錄音帶，後來有一種叫DAT數碼錄音帶，類似攝錄機DV帶的尺寸。當年，這可算是一種高級玩意，很多玩音樂的人都會投資買一部DAT機。當完成一個製作，就把它錄成DAT當作母帶，這是那個年代儲存母帶最高音質的方法。這段電話答錄機的錄音就是用改裝的電話直接錄進DAT的。至於你現在聽到的版本其實是編輯過的。做法是一邊用DAT機播放母帶，另一邊用卡式錄音機錄音，期間慢慢調控DAT機的播放效果，做出 ──淡出──靜止的剪接。接著又用DAT機播放另一段預先選好了的母帶，按同樣的步驟: 播放、看準時間、淡出、靜止、停。
- 聲音圖書館: 由DAT轉錄到錄音帶的質素會否流失？
- 聲音圖書館: 那你最後有沒有跟別人分享這些聲帶？
許敖山: 我曾經借給朋友聽。 那年代，我們有時侯會弄一些現在叫播放清單的東西，即是將自己最喜歡的唱片輯錄成錄音帶，繪畫一個封面，然後跟朋友交換來聽。
- 聲音圖書館: 你跟朋友分享這些錄音帶，人家跟你交換甚麼？
- 聲音圖書館: 20年後再聽這些錄音帶你沒有甚麼發現？
- 聲音圖書館: 那時候你會花很多時間來錄音嗎？