Monday, April 5, 2010

Sound archive of the British Library goes online, free of charge

 
 

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To say they are diverse may be understatement. There are Geordies banging spoons, Tawang lamas blowing conch shell trumpets and Tongan tribesman playing nose flutes. And then there is the Assamese woodworm feasting on a window frame in the dead of night.

The British Library revealed it has made its vast archive of world and traditional music available to everyone, free of charge, on the internet.

That amounts to roughly 28,000 recordings and, although no one has yet sat down and formally timed it, about 2,000 hours of singing, speaking, yelling, chanting, blowing, banging, tinkling and many other verbs associated with what is a uniquely rich sound archive.

"It is recordings from around the world and right from the beginnings of recorded history," said the library's curator of world and traditional music, Janet Topp Fargion. "This project is really exciting. One of the difficulties, working as an archivist, is people's perception that things are given to libraries and then are never seen again – we want these recordings to be accessible."

Much of the British archive was obtained by the library in 2000-01 in a lottery-funded project.

"These were recordings that were under people's desks and in people's attics and now we're really excited because we're able to put them out to a much wider audience," said Fargion. "These are unpublished and often raw recordings and there are people fluffing the words and discussing the songs so they give you a real sense of the store of traditional music that people carry around with them in their heads."

The archive includes many folk songs, and troop songs. Other clips might provide a lunchtime pick-me-up for workers trapped in offices, such as a boisterous pub version of It's a Long Way to Tipperary recorded at the Boldon Lad in Newcastle in 1979, complete with banjos and spoons and beery refrains.

Fargion said the cheering news was that, in Britain at least, traditions are still alive and well. "You do hear doom and gloom about traditions but I think we're seeing a bit of a revival of interest in traditional music, especially among younger people."

The recordings go back more than 100 years, with the earliest recordings being the wax cylinders on which British anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon recorded Aboriginal singing on his trip to the Torres Strait islands off Australia in 1898.

There are also recordings which were published but are little heard such as the Decca West African yellow label recordings, recorded between 1948 and 1961, which include calypso from Sierra Leone, quickstep from Ghana and the not easily categorisable - Ma Felreh and her Susu Jolly Group, possibly from Togo, performing Kingsway Bairie.

And then there is the downright peculiar. Someone, for example, has recorded an Assamese woodworm as it chews away at a window frame at 4am with crickets chirruping away in the background. "It is not easy to record a woodworm," said Fargion.


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1 comment:

  1. Good post, here's a couple posts that link digital content to the library, also discusses the importance of curating in a digital age. The librarians need to somehow get control of the important content otherwise its the wild west! Here are the links:
    Curating content
    and
    Information and Content topics

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