Hilo man hopes to preserve and share isle tunes online
HILO » KHBC radio station owner Buddy Gordon in Hilo wants to preserve the falsetto songs of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and the music of Bing Crosby singing 1940s hapa-haole tunes by putting them on the Internet.
"I want to preserve 'Tiny Bubbles' (sung by Don Ho) right along with 'Hiilawe' (by Gabby Pahinui) or, for that matter, 'Blue Hawaii' (by Elvis Presley)," Gordon says.
To achieve his vision, Gordon created the nonprofit organization Malama Na Mele, with the goals of cataloging all recorded Hawaiian music, digitizing it so it can be downloaded from the Internet for a fee, and establishing a brick-and-mortar museum in Hilo for Hawaiian music and hula.
The museum might be a distant dream, but Gordon's intermediate goal could happen sooner. "We intend to change the way Hawaiian music is bought and sold," he says.
Malama Na Mele took a critical step forward recently when the Atherton Family Foundation granted $25,000 in seed money for the project. That can be matched with grants from other sources and then matched still further.
But why do this?
Gordon holds up a record with the 49th State label, possibly made during the 1940s. The title is "Ne Ia Pua Nani," sung by the Keaukaha Mothers Club. Gordon grins. "Who has ever heard of a group called the Keaukaha Mothers Club?" he asks.
Under his plan, anyone could use the Internet to listen to a sound bite from the Mothers Club, and could download the entire song for perhaps $1.50.
Part of cataloging would be determining who gets royalty fees. Another aspect would allow searching for specific instruments.
"A researcher researching nose flutes can find every style of nose flute recording ever made," he says.
With 40 years in the radio business, Gordon and his station have about 800 Hawaiian records made at 33 rpm and about 650 in the earlier 78 rpm format.
Getting good sound out of these can be a challenge. Gordon shows a quarter-inch-thick Edison record made sometime between 1912 and 1929 with the tune "Somewhere in Hawaii."
Edison recorded sound with the needle moving up and down, unlike all later records, in which the needle moves side to side.
But even non-Edison 78s were often recorded at any speed from 60 to 100 or more rpm, Gordon says.
Malama Na Mele will remove grime with a $5,000 record-cleaning machine and then play old records on a $10,000 variable-speed turntable so the right speed can be discovered by trial and error.
Even the size of the grooves varied. Gordon will work with nationally known sound engineer Eric Jacobs, who developed a technique of measuring grooves with a microscope.
Then trial and error returns, with six different styluses playing a record and a listener judging which is best. At least two recordings will be digitized: a "flat" one with no improvements and another with hisses, cracks and pops removed. The final products will be stored in two servers, one in Hilo and another in Honolulu.
And the original records? "Hopefully they will never see the light of day again after they're digitized," Gordon says.