British Library Archival Sound Recordings

By Wilkins, Frances | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

British Library Archival Sound Recordings


Wilkins, Frances, Yearbook for Traditional Music


British Library Archival Sound Recordings URL: http://sounds.bl.uk

Digitization of archive material has been on the agendas of numerous repositories in recent years. In 2010 the Heritage Lottery-funded "Tobar an Dualchais" resource (found at www.tobarandualchais.co.uk) was completed, giving online access to thousands of hours of Scottish archive recordings. The English Folk Dance and Song Society now have seven manuscript collections available to view online through its "Take Six Initiative," and a number of other archives are following suit. The British Library's "Archival Sound Recordings" project was an exceptional undertaking, covering a five-year time span from 2004 to 2009, and was financially aided by the Joint Information Systems Committee under its Digitization Programme. This was a two-phase project, the first providing 12,000 recordings online to licensed UK institutions, and the second increasing the number of recordings to over 44,000 and, where copyright permitted, giving public access to them. On the website, the volume of material available online is described as follows: "If you were to listen to all the recordings on this site for eight hours each day, every day, it would take you around four years to hear them all!" However, considering the entire British Library sound archive contains over 3.5 million audio recordings, this is only a tiny representation of its holdings.

Music, spoken word, and environmental sounds are represented on this website in eight different categories, one of which contains material from the Archive of World and Traditional Music. This material is presented through nineteen collections spanning over one hundred years. The earliest recordings (from wax cylinders) include those of anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon from his Torres Straits expedition in 1898. The more recent recordings include Rolf Killius's Indian collection from the early 2000s. Most of this material is unpublished, and preservation has been an important part of the project, especially the digitization of Klaus Wachsmann's Uganda collection of approximately 1,500 recordings on acetate discs.

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