BISA 2019 - presentations

2019 British & Irish Sound Archives (BISA) annual conference

Abstracts and presentations:

Naomi Harvey, PhD researcher, Heriot-Watt University & National Library of Scotland: Exploring the impact of access to sound archives on traditional song practice in Scotland.

This paper will reflect on issues surrounding the accessibility of ethnological sound collections, and explore the effects that access to sound archives is having on traditional song practice in Scotland.

Taking as a backdrop the ‘Scotland’s Sounds’ network of sound collections, this presentation will describe outreach and engagement projects carried out within the network in recent years which have involved elements of traditional song, in both Scots and Gaelic. It will cover such diverse themes as: the ‘small-scale repatriation’ of songs from archival sources to the communities in which they originated; ideas around the creative re-use of archive recordings; and the role of the archivist in developing and delivering such projects. It will also draw together evidence gathered through fieldwork interviews with traditional singers about their experiences of using sound archives – both through these Scotland’s Sounds projects and also in their wider musical practice. These interviews explore singers’ range of methods and motivations for accessing archives; ideas about learning, performing and passing on songs learned from archive sources; and also positive and negative impressions of their archive experiences.

Through this two-sided exploration, the presentation will consider the impact that access to sound archives may be having on contemporary traditional song practices, but also, conversely, how understanding the experiences of this particular group of sound archive users could challenge or inform ideas in archival practices around access.

Donal McAnallen (National Museums NI), Katie Scaife (Bristol Culture), David Baldwin (London Metropolitan Archives): Engaging audiences with sound recordings - case studies from Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

In July 2017, a five year project commenced entitled Unlocking Our Sound Heritage. Led by the British Library and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project aims to digitally preserve almost half a million endangered sound recordings and open them up to everyone. Ten partner organisations, or hubs, from across the UK are currently working together with the British Library on the project. This paper will examine some of the ways in which the hubs have started to use sounds preserved as part of the project with different audiences. In Northern Ireland, oral history recordings have been used to explore issues relating to culture and identity with a women’s group from Belfast who worked with a visual artist to produce a creative response to what they had heard. In London, sounds have been used to support people living with dementia, whilst in Bristol, pub-based engagement has been used as a way to increase the public’s awareness of sound, in particular jazz music. Volunteering is another way in which audiences are getting involved with the project. Up and down the country, volunteers have been helping to preserve and interpret a diverse range of sounds, increasing their understanding and appreciation of sound collections in the process. This paper will share some of their experiences to date, providing a personal perspective in relation to audiences' engagement with sound recordings.

Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music Collections, British Library: Let’s get digital – acquiring commercial releases for the British Library’s Popular Music collection

The British Library’s Sound Archive holds one of the largest collections of commercially-released recordings in the world. Over 250,000 LPs, 360,000 CDs and 200,000 shellac discs have been acquired over the last half century representing more than 100 years of music history. The BL’s historical practices have concentrated on the acquisition of physical items which were labelled, catalogued and put on shelves.

However the digital domain has brought about a reassessment of how to collect and represent popular music. Many commercial releases today are digital-only and have no physical manifestation yet need to be part of the BL’s collections in order to properly represent the UK’s audio heritage.

In this presentation I will outline the steps the British Library has taken to deal with the digital domain and how, by working with record labels and industry organisations, the BL has introduced a new methodology to add digital audio releases to the Sound Archive.

Fionnuala Parfrey (Irish Traditional Music Archive) & Michel Merten (Memnon): Developing a New Strategy for Preservation and Access – A Case Study from the Irish Traditional Music Archive

In 2018 the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) received generous funding from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as part of the Digitised Collections Funding Scheme. Thanks to this funding the Digital Audio/visual Preservation (DAP) Project was made possible. Prioritising at-risk non-commercial material, the DAP Project involves digitising over 2,500 audiovisual carriers, including CD-Rs, DATs, DVCAMs and MiniDVs, ingesting the digital assets into a digital preservation system, and making these assets discoverable by the public. This project is the first phase of ITMA’s new strategy for preservation and access, a strategy that involves ongoing digitisation of ITMA collections as well as the development of a new digital preservation system and access platform.

This talk, co-presented by the project archivist at ITMA and the founder of Memnon Archiving Services, will address the lifecycle of the project from the perspective of both the archive and the digitisation service-providers. Memnon will provide insight into the workflows for carrying out mass audiovisual digitisation (in this case 1,500+ hours of audio and 1,200+ hours of video) and secure file delivery, while ITMA will provide insight into various aspects of the project, including the barcoding and packaging of the carriers for digitisation overseas; the development of a QC workflow; the parsing and re-formatting of rich legacy metadata to ISAD(g) descriptive standard; and the ingest of digital audio files into Arkivum’s digital preservation system. The paper will also address the working relationship between both parties and the collaboration and communication at each stage from procurement, through the testing stage, and finally to scale-up and completion.

Dr. Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, Director, National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin: “Acetate” Disc Recordings in the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin

The National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin holds a collection of approximately 4,000 acetate disk recordings made by the Irish Folklore Commission in the period 1947-1955. It contains some of the earliest high-quality sound recordings made in Ireland, featuring some 650 hours of speech, song and music from exceptional performers and tradition bearers. The originals are in surprisingly good condition, due largely to the fact that they were seldom played. In the mid-1960s, the disks were dubbed to quarter-inch magnetic tape. In partnership with RTÉ Archives, the NFC is preparing to digitize this valuable collection of recordings, making it available for programme makers and the general public on the NFC’s digital platform at 

Malachy Moran, RTE: Connemara Community Radio Digital Archive project

The purpose of the Connemara Community Radio Digital Archive project is to create a pilot digital archive of CCR‘s radio broadcast recordings and associated objects. The pilot archive offers a framework for managing the administrative, technical and human resources needed to maintain the radio station’s broadcast recordings for future access. Since the project started in 2016, a four year sample of radio broadcast recordings has been accessioned and digitised, and day book content for the relevant period has been transcribed. A storage platform has been installed and the existing logging system has been adapted for integration with open source cataloguing and publishing software. Audio and metadata publishing follows a curatorial model, with a greater emphasis on browsing the stations historical collections rather than on the search experience. The project is accompanied by communication programmes to disseminate the project’s learning results to the Irish community radio sector.

Dr. Tomás Mac Conmara, Oral Historian: Oral Tradition and the Irish War of Independence

In the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), much of the fighting was conducted within communities who often knew both the killer and the victim. Where conventional warfare offers the anonymity of distance and impersonality of soldiers, the Irish War of Independence was inherently local. In relatively homogenous, stable communities, traumatic incidents were sometimes dealt with through silence, which in turn became intergenerational. However, in areas where the experience was felt most intimately, much is to be found within that same oral tradition. This presentation explores this reality as understood through a careful assessment of the oral history, tradition and social memory of the period in County Clare, gleaned from over 400 interviews conducted by the author. The presentation will suggest that oral history is critical in order to register and investigate aspects of history which have remained hidden, particularly in relation to an experience that took place a primarily local level. The presentation will involve the use of some samples of recorded audio from the author’s collection.