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Sound museum opens branch in Richmond Hill

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There's very little Dan Gaydos does not know about sound and audio recording.

Sitting at a table with volunteers Cathleen Angelo and Tom Ronan, Gaydos discussed the history of sound as he outlined his plans for a new branch of the Museum of Sound Recording in Richmond Hill's RKO Keith's theater Monday.

"It all started really with the disk," Gaydos explained about the invention of records and the museum's large collection of recording equipment. "Disks launched the capability of sharing songs."

Gaydos said he and a group of artists, performers, producers, engineers, students and volunteers have come together to create one of three branches of the museum that will also be housed in Yonkers, the birthplace of FM radio and Camden, N.J., the city where sound pioneer RCA was founded.

The museum, established 13 years ago when Gaydos started collecting equipment from the audio industry, is dedicated to preserving collections of all periods of sound technology from its beginning to the present, according to its mission statement.

"Our goal is to preserve art forms and spring forth new ones," said Gaydos, who is an instructor at the Institute of Audio Research in Greenwich Village. "The museum is a celebration of the history of recording and the phenomena of sound."

One line in the advertisement for one of the museum's exhibits, "When Vinyl Ruled," highlights the museum's dedication to preserving the past.

"Here is your opportunity to experience the world of audio before lasers replaced razors," according to the ad that was placed in a journal put out by a group with which Gaydos said the museum works, the Audio Engineering Society.

Gaydos and Co-CEO Bernard Fox, who also works in the recording industry, have been collecting equipment that has been used to record the works of artists such as Nat King Cole, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan and B.B. King. The magic of the museum, Gaydos said, is the collaborative efforts that come about from maintaining, using and searching out pieces for the museum.

"Our job is just to set the stage; people will bring in their own ideas," said Gaydos, who added that he started the museum because of his interest in education. "There's something about the playfulness of invention."

Gaydos, who has also taught at New York University, said he plans to revitalize the old RKO theater, once a venue for such personalities as the Marx Brothers but now home to bingo and a weekly flea market, into a community entertainment center.

Only 40 percent of the theater is being used, Gaydos said. Benjamin Franklin Keith partnered with RCA and built the venue in 1929 as just one of many double-bill, vaudeville and cinema buildings. The museum is housed in the upstairs lobby and is setting its sights on repairing the balcony, which still has the original seats and carpeting from the time it was a commercial theater.

Gaydos said he and his volunteers plan on using the vast unused space in the theater, which seats 2,500 people, to complement the museum's collection, incorporating recording equipment with hands-on, engaging exhibits, a café with performance space, workshops, theater productions and big band nights.

There is also a control room in the back part of the theater behind the stage where volunteers can come and record their music in exchange for their time.

"I'm just involved in everything," said Angelo, director of publicity for the museum, who comes in every Sunday when not attending the Institute of Audio Research. "I'm always here."

Angelo and Ronan are just two of the museum's 20 regular volunteers who come whenever restoration, planning or clean-up work needs to be done, Gaydos said. They are just a sampling of the museum's 2,500 supporters who do everything from donate equipment to offer financial assistance, he said.

"I help [Dan] out in any way he needs," said Ronan, a native of Richmond Hill who now works at WNYE radio in Brooklyn.

Gaydos and the theater's owner, Bob Wooldrige, consider the museum a "venture partnership" and both want to ultimately help restore parts of the venue, Gaydos said.

But for now, Gaydos and his volunteers will continue collecting equipment, repairing it and preparing for upcoming exhibits.

"It's been difficult to accept donations from outside the area," Gaydos said of the museum's collection. "This here is just a sampling of the equipment we have."

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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