Recent Tweets and an Exotic Dance, or, The Joy of Archiving

Two January entries from my tweet diaries.

The first is about professional identity:

The second was a response to one of my tweets by the guru of archives social networking, Kate Theimer (@archivesnext):

The original tweet

was in regards to the Folkways album “Exotic Dances,” which you can view in its scanned glory (newly available via the beautiful new Smithsonian Collections Search Center) below:

Exotic Dances (FP 52/FW 8752, 1950) selected by La Meri

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Archives Relief, West Africa

The BAPMAF archives (Bokoor African Popular Music Archive Foundation) in Accra, Ghana were flooded on October 26 of this year. The damage appears to be serious, and a plea for financial support has been circulating via email, blog, twitter, etc. John Collins, the archives founder, state on 10 November: “As you may know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct 2011 in the form of a flood. . . . The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept.” It is estimated that 10 to 20% of the archives holdings were damaged or destroyed, including all electronic equipment. Further illustrations of the damage were posted by the Afropop blog on November 19—if you have any doubt as to the extent, have a look at the photos!

If you are able to help, monetary donations can be made via Paypal. Information is given at the AfroPop post above, and via the BAPMAF Facebook page.

Further information about the BAPMAF project and its collaboration with Africa House at NYU can be found at the BAPMAF collection page.

Copyright, Education, Access and "Other" Media

In the CLIR report “Why Digitize?” (1999), Abby Smith suggests that digitization offered great potential for increasing the access to hard-to-find collections or fragile collections. There are, as she notes, some major problems:

The notion on the part of many young students that, if it is not on the Web or in an online catalog, then it must not exist, has the effect of orphaning the vast majority of information resources, especially those that are not in the public domain. This is not what the Framers had in mind when they wrote the copyright code into the Constitution, “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This skewed representation of created works on the Web will continue for quite some time into the future, and the complications that surround moving image and recorded sound rights means, ironically, that these will be the least accessible resources on the most dynamic information source around.

This points to a fundamental tension that complicates the existence and use of audiovisual materials in many museum and archival collections: copyright and access. If the purpose of copyright was to promote innovation and progress, then copyright certainly isn’t doing its job anymore but serving the purposes of corporations and profit. There’s currently an important review of copyright going on, which will affect audiovisual materials in the U.S., particularly the access of copyrighted recordings held in research collections.

The Society for Ethnomusicology just released a position statement regarding copyright. You can learn more by reading the statement (click to link).

Fusion Instruments

I recently caught a profile of the duo Būke and Gāss on NPR. There are many wonderful new groups and recordings out there, but this one caught my ear because of the emphasis on handcrafted, fusion instruments that are the duo’s hallmark. Their name, in fact, is based on hybrid instrument names!

The toe-bourine

The toe-bourine. Photo by Abby Verbosky/NPR

Viz:

  • Būke: a six-string ukulele with a baritone range
  • Gāss: a guitar that includes bass strings (and it’s also made from body parts of an old Volvo!)

Hence the group’s name. They also include other homegrown originals, such as the “toe-bourine” (at right). The style is also a bit eclectic, described on WNYC’s Soundcheck as “ornate distorto-twang.” They hail from Brooklyn and, to hazard a guess, fit into the urban hillbilly mode (or perhaps what Eric Cook calls home mode production).

More Info and Listening!
The full NPR profile from 27 December 2010 is available here, and it includes the sound file from the interview. Listen to and watch a video of the duo in the NPR Tiny Desk Concert here. You can listen to the full Soundcheck piece here, or check out the WNYC Culture blog’s review of the duo’s debut album Riposte.