Timeless Preservation

By Sarah Lewis

Why are we here at Brockwood? For most of us the immediate answer is simple – we are here because of Krishnamurti. But is this the whole truth? As we approach three decades since Krishnamurti’s death, more and more of those who come to Brockwood ‘because of Krishnamurti’ have never had the opportunity to meet him. So how is it that Krishnamurti is still able to speak to us so strongly that we are inspired to dedicate a week, a year, ten years of our lives, or more, to explore what it means to live the teachings?

Early Stenographer Typescript 1933
There is a second part to our answer – an often overlooked but critical component, which has been at work throughout Krishnamurti’s life and has continued to the present moment. This is the dedication of decades of staff members and volunteers who have ensured that Krishnamurti’s words would not be lost with his passing. From the pre-digital age of stenographer’s notes to the modern age of online videos, Krishnamurti’s words have been recorded and re-recorded, allowing Krishnamurti to speak to present generations with the same impact and urgency as to those who came before.

Jane Hammond making a transcript from audio
Krishnamurti’s speaking career is remarkable in that it spans every significant advance in recording technology since the typewriter. Over half of Krishnamurti’s talks, upwards of 2,000, were documented by stenographers in shorthand. For the increasing number of those unfamiliar with the term, shorthand is a form of handwriting that, to the untrained eye, resembles a jumble of loops and squiggles. A stenographer trained in shorthand can loop and squiggle at the same speed as a normal conversation, and then use a typewriter to make the conversation readable to the public. As one might imagine, shorthand notation was an extremely labour-intensive process. A 1926 issue of the publication The Herald of the Star reads, ‘At the Camp Congress this year there were only two or three, among the 2,000 present who were capable of taking down the lectures verbatim, and the work that fell to the lot of these few was so arduous that it cannot be expected of them every year.’ Despite the arduous nature of the task, thousands of typescripts were produced in this manner, and it is these, which provide the basis for many of the books published today.

Box front: 1st Recorded Talk in London May 1961
In addition to typescripts, there were some rare and sporadic audio and video recordings made before the 1960s. These include early silent film footage from the 1920s and 1930s documenting the Ommen and Ojai camps, Krishnamurti’s travels in Latin America and a few short moments of his pre-war activities. Some of this footage was filmed by major newsreel companies such as Fox Movietone. These clips were played as part of longer newsreels before feature films at the cinemas – the main source of visual news at the time (think flickering grayscale imagery, grand orchestral introductions, and tin-can, rapid-fire narration). In the 1930s, Fox Movietone even filmed a five-minute excerpt of Krishnamurti standing in the Oak Grove in Ojai, reading part of his 1929 Ommen talk in which he dissolved the Order of the Star using the now famous words ‘truth is a pathless land’. The following caption from Fox Movietone’s archives gives an insight into the public’s perception of Krishnamurti at that time: ‘YOUTHFUL PROPHET FROM INDIA IN NEW YORK CITY... HINDU MYSTIC KRISHNAMURTI SPEAKING ABOUT THE WAY TO SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS.’ Thanks in large part to this exotic allure, newsreel companies took an interest in Krishnamurti and preserved critical moments in his early life that would otherwise have been lost.

The transition to the systematic audio recording of Krishnamurti’s talks began in the 1960s with the first talk taped on 2 May 1961 in London. Already in 1949 an attempt had been made to record a series of talks in India and America using a new machine, which magnetized silver wire to record sound. Although most of the original wire has been lost, the KFA archives in Ojai still houses the silver coil for the Ojai 1949 talks. At this point the sound-recording experiment appears to have been dropped and not taken up again until the 1960s when ‘reel-to-reel’ recording became the established way of capturing sound. The notes of Doris Pratt, who helped organise Krishnamuri’s talks in London in 1961, show the relative expense of using such leading-edge technology, with tape recorder hire costing around £12 and the tapes costing just over £20 (by today’s standards, about £450 total).

Kathy Forbes video mixing
In 1976, a donor from the US offered funds to begin video recordings of Krishnamurti. Scott Forbes, at Brockwood, took on the project and purchased a black and white camera and a recording machine. Scott made the first few U-matic recordings, beginning with Saanen in 1976, alone, still experimenting with the new technology. Soon after, he and Kathy Forbes expanded the project, adopting the roles of technician and editor and training a number of Brockwood students to work as cameramen. In 1978, this passionate bunch of amateur cinematographers packed themselves and their equipment into a van and drove back and forth across Europe, following Krishnamurti. Technically, the process was daunting. The cameras needed to remain stationary so as not to disturb the gatherings, the talks were only one take, and all video mixing was done on the spot and could not be edited afterwards. Furthermore, there was always a great deal to learn as technology advanced, from the first black and white camera to colour recording in 1983 and beyond.

Krishnamurti & Harsh Tanka outside the Video Van
Over the years, this group recorded and produced footage of gatherings, meetings with students, discussions with staff, and conversations with such figures as David Bohm, Pupul Jayakar, and Iris Murdoch. Kathy explains that it was a huge undertaking and an incredible amount of work, but that it was a privilege to be a part of it. This group eventually became so skilled at the process that they were able to produce a video recording with a translated audio track in one day’s time, enabling foreign-language attendees to watch in their own language the same talk that they had seen live the previous day.

From U Matic to Betacam
Krishnamurti’s death in 1986 marked a turning point in this process. With no new material to record, the focus was now on preserving as accurately as possible all of the content that had been gathered over the last six decades. Preservation essentially became a race of technology against time. Many of the original U-matic tape recordings were deteriorating with age, as the magnetic particles that made up the recordings were literally sticking to the inside of the machines which played them. It became apparent that if the tapes continued to deteriorate in this way, many of these talks would be lost. Therefore, in 1992, volunteers and staff members gathered every U-matic ever made and transferred them to Betacam – the cutting-edge technology of the early 1990s.

Digital Storage on Hard Drives
The Betacam copies were to be replaced by reliable, compact, and streamlined external hard drives in 2004. This began slowly, but was rapidly accelerated in 2008 thanks to the generous help of a donor who provided the funds, equipment, and even a trained technician from India to convert all of the remaining videos into uncompressed digital files. With the round-the-clock work of three people, the videos were digitised in three months. Duncan Toms, the Foundation archivist who worked on this project, says that these months were intense, but enjoyable. Although converting to uncompressed files was the less expedient form of digitising the tapes, Duncan explains that it was the best way to ensure that the historical quality and accuracy of the tapes were preserved. This focus on authenticity and quality has been a priority since the recording process began, and continues to be the primary objective of the Foundations.

Late last year, the Foundations succeeded in securing a digitised audio copy of every talk that had been recorded on reel-to-reel. Audio digitisation is still in progress, as many of the gaps and hiccups from these files have to be smoothed out using audio from a second recording of the same event. However, the work that has been done, including professional audio remastering, has made all recorded content ready for assembly.

The Archives
At the Foundation, Samuele Bastianello manages media production by ensuring that the archival audio and video from a talk are synced and continuous. This sometimes requires that he use multiple recordings from the same talk to ensure that the content is kept whole and presented in an accurate and unbiased manner. The completed files are then archived and transcoded into several digital formats, including one for the Foundations' YouTube channel, where, in addition to hundreds of free full-length videos already available, Q&A extracts are released weekly. English subtitles for these files are produced from archival transcripts of the recordings, and volunteers in Krishnamurti Committees from around the globe do the remainder of the subtitles. It is a constant game of catch-up for these subtitle volunteers, but in the end it is a tremendous contribution as it allows for Krishnamurti’s work to spread beyond the English-speaking world.

The Video Digitization Process
As the past and the present have been shaped by the technological revolution, so too are the future goals of the Foundations. JKrishnamurti.org will be completely redesigned this summer to provide free, searchable, high-quality content to an international audience, and is expected to go live later this year. There are already more than 300 recordings available online, but the goal is to increase this number to include all recorded content. Furthermore, with the services of professional film studios in London, there is the possibility for a number of High Definition quality videos to be produced from original frame-by-frame film footage. Resources continue to limit the speed at which these tasks can be accomplished, but they do not deter those invested in the process.

There are many here now at Brockwood who give generously of their time and energy to make Krishnamurti’s teachings accessible. When one takes into account their counterparts at the sister Foundations in the US, Latin America and India, their predecessors, and the countless volunteers who have participated in this process, one begins to sense the scope and magnitude of this undertaking. Taken together, all of Krishnamurti’s books, CDs, MP3s, DVDs, and digital video recordings represent decades of time and energy given by hundreds of people, contributed out of the unshakeable conviction that Krishnamurti’s words should be preserved for future generations. The intent is still the same as the message Krishnamurti asked Scott Forbes to put on the early videocassettes: ‘The teachings are important in themselves and interpreters or commentators only distort them. It is advisable to go directly to the source, the teachings themselves, and not through any authority.’

We are here because of Krishnamurti, yes. But we are also here thanks to those who, when Krishnamurti spoke, listened, when challenges arose, met them, and when inspired by his message, shared it. To the decades of those who acted behind the scenes and to the man that moved them to do so, thank you. We are here because of all of you.

A sample of books

Recording Krishnamurti

The Back of the Van at Saanen