About Magna Żmien

About Magna Żmien

The Magna Żmien project was set up as a grassroots movement in 2017, advocating for the digitisation and preservation of unique home audio-visual collections to form a community archive accessible to researchers and artists.

During the twentieth century, the world began to capture events of everyday life on film and tape. The Maltese were no exception, recording moments of family life, society, language and identity on photographic film, 8mm film and audio-tape. Today these artefacts and their content have become part of our intangible heritage.

Magna Żmien set out to salvage Maltese memories that lay neglected and deteriorating on their original analogue carriers, freeing them from obsolete playback formats by converting them to digital files. We give individuals and communities access to previously lost images, sounds and narratives. This content is shared on our platforms and through our activities, preserving it for future generations, while being careful to credit and respect the wishes of the donor. We believe that all the material that we gather in our archive is part of our shared heritage, and that this heritage must be properly cared for.

Our History

Magna Żmien began its work in 2017 as part of Valletta’s title of European Capital of Culture 2018. Since then, we have digitised a significant and valuable selection of analogue recordings from home collections in Malta and produced a series of events and exhibitions using this material.

In December 2019 we were awarded Arts Council Malta’s Investment in Cultural Organisations, which has provided us with vital support to continue our work through to 2022. In 2019 we were proud to be awarded Arts Council Malta’s Il-Premju għall-Arti award for Innovation in recognition of our work.

Our Studio

Magna Żmien operate a digitisation studio that can handle a range of legacy analogue audio-visual formats that were common among home consumers throughout the twentieth century. We digitise our collections using the best equipment we can feasibly source and apply good practice technical standards, following international standards set by IASA and Library of Congress, where possible.

As we work with formats that are often fragile and have a limited life span we are careful to obtain the best transfers that we can, mindful that future re-transfers may not be possible. Our small team of engineers include artists and researchers who have experience with the formats and content that they work with.

Formats

We digitise a range of legacy analogue image, sound, and moving image formats that were common in Maltese households throughout the twentieth century.

  • Print photographs range in size from contact prints or passport sized images up to large format. The quality and resolution of printed photographs can vary considerably depending on their size and the type of the print. If your images are in books or in frames we will attempt to remove them for a better scan, if possible, but otherwise we can use a DSLR if this is not possible.
  • Film negatives are typically found as 35mm film, but sometimes as less common formats such as 110 Instamatic, or 120 Medium Format. The image of a negative is inverted, so it cannot be viewed properly until it’s digitised (or processed into prints, which a professional photo studio can do for you). If stored under good environmental conditions, negatives will typically contain a great deal more detail than print photographs and can be ‘blown up’ larger. The earliest film negatives date to the early 1900s.
  • Glass negatives were a common means of fixing a reproducible image through the nineteenth century up until the 1930s. These objects are extremely delicate and susceptible to scratches and peeling of the photographic layer due to humidity (and time). They can come in various sizes and can be digitised at a very high resolution.
  • Slides are usually found as 35mm transparencies, mounted in a cardboard or plastic frame. These were used in slide projectors and typically contain a high resolution colour image. These can be digitised in their mounts – which may contain handwritten text indicating the content, or sometimes the date when they were printed by the developer.
  • 8mm film can be found as ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ 8mm, appearing in the 1930s and becoming increasingly popular until the 1960s, when it was replaced by the higher resolution variant Super 8 (which could also record sound) that quickly became the standard 8mm format through to the 1980s. Both formats are essentially the same, but Super 8 will typically have better quality due to its larger frames. Both silent and sound 8mm film can be digitised.
  • VHS tape was a common video format from the late 1970s through to the 2000s, taking over from Super 8 as the favoured home user format. VHS is particularly susceptible to degradation over time. We can also digitise S-VHS (or Super VHS), which was introduced in the late 1980s as an improved version of the VHS format. We cannot currently digitise Betamax tape, which looks similar to VHS.
  • Open reel audio tape appeared in the 1950s as a relatively cheap and high quality way to record at home or, with a portable machine, in public places. Up to four different tracks could be recorded on a typical quarter inch tape reel, which come in various lengths / recording times. Small reels (3″ diameter) were commonly used to send messages or music to friends and relatives abroad, whilst larger reels (5″–7″ diameter) could record uninterrupted for an hour or more, capturing radio broadcasts or whole għana spirtu pront sessions. Tapes from the 1950s–1960s are at particular risk of rapid degradation.
  • Audiocassette tape was introduced in the mid 1960s as a miniaturised variant of the much larger open reel tapes. They were robust in their plastic cases and much easier to use and store, becoming a standard from the 1980s through the 1990s. Audiocassettes ran at a much slower speed and on a thinner tape composite than open reel, so their quality was typically inferior. Audiocassette tape is at high risk of degradation owing to these characteristics.
  • Vinyl or gramophone discs typically contain commercial recordings, which we do not digitise. However, some 5″-6″ diameter ‘instant’ discs pressed on a cardboard base contain unique recordings of messages which were sent to friends and family abroad. We are also interested in unique Maltese recordings on vinyl or 78rpm gramophone discs.

Magna Żmien are recipients of Arts Council Malta’s Investment in Cultural Organisations award, 2020-2022.

Magna Żmien received Arts Council Malta’s Premju għall-Arti award for Innovation, 2019.


Magna Żmien Foundation

Andrew Alamango

Researcher and musician Andrew Alamango has a profound interest in local and Mediterranean musical heritage, cultural lore, instruments and musical repertoire. With an MA in Archival Sciences, he specialises in archival collections and audio recordings related to the socio-political history of Mediterranean cultures and is interested in their dissemination, application and reinterpretation in the context of music and theatre. Andrew has a special interest in making audio collections of historical interest accessible to diverse audiences through publications, performances, public talks and workshops.

Andrew Pace

Dr Andrew Pace is an archivist and ethnomusicologist, born in London and now living in Malta. He has a PhD in ethnomusicology and has spent ten years researching music and cultural traditions in Maltese communities across Australia, Canada and the US. He has been employed on archival research and community engagement projects by the British Library, IASA, UNESCO and works with the Heritage Malta Digitisation Department. Andrew manages Magna Żmien’s digitisation studio, delivers workshops and lectures about the organisation’s archive.

Margerita Pulè

Margerita Pulè is an artist, curator and cultural manager, with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. Her practice and research are concerned with the contradictions of politics and social realities. She is founder-director of Unfinished Art Space, an independent and nomadic space showing contemporary art in Malta, and is currently the editor of Artpaper, Malta’s quarterly art publication. Recent curatorial projects include group show Strangers in a Strange Land (2020), Hackable Animals (2019), Alex Urso’s Grand Hotel Europa Part III (2019) and Daily Bread (2019).

Our Aims

a) To collect memories about Malta, the Maltese and the Maltese diaspora that are held on legacy analogue and digital audio-visual media formats (including sound, moving images, still images, and other material ephemera) by digitising and migrating this content for long term preservation and open access.

b) To record supporting information about this content through documentation and further research.

c) To produce artistic and academic interpretations of this content in collaboration with memory stakeholders and creative arts practitioners in Malta and abroad.

d) To provide advice, consultation and educational programmes in audio-visual preservation practices to individuals and organisations.

Our Activities

a) Collecting Malta-related audio-visual ephemeral material, migrating the content from obsolete carriers to more stable and accessible formats, and preserving this content to international archival standards for long term public access.

b) Documenting communities in Malta and its diaspora by undertaking primary research via interviews, oral histories and other methods.

c) Conducting academic and artistic research upon Malta-related intangible cultural heritage and disseminating our findings by producing installations, exhibitions, performances, and print and digital publications that creatively reuse and reinterpret this material in publicly engaging contexts, in collaboration with creative practitioners and researchers in Malta and abroad.

d) Educating individuals and organisations in audio-visual archiving and creative project development through formal and informal training programmes and partnerships.

e) Developing working relationships with cultural heritage institutions in Malta and abroad.

f)  Fundraising, and thereby financing, aiding, supporting and developing selected projects that fall within the Foundation’s remit.