About the Collection
Nature and Scope
The practice of going into the field to “collect” music dates to the early 20th century, as innovations like the portable phonograph enabled sounds to be recorded on wax cylinders. In response to a growing commercialized music industry, and tied to the Romantic Era notion of disappearing cultures, early field workers such as Frances Densmore and Alan Lomax traveled to remote areas to document and preserve everyday songs and language. By the 1960s, sound collectors began incorporating theories and methods from cultural anthropology—and ethnomusicology as an academic field of study was born.
Ethnographic Sound Archives Online brings together 2,000 hours of audio recordings from field expeditions around the world, particularly from the 1960s through the 1980s—the dawn of ethnomusicology as a codified discipline. Building on their predecessors’ early sound collecting methods, ethnomusicologists began to fill in gaps on the world music map, traveling to field sites to record and document music in its broader cultural context. These collectors’ bodies of work contain some of the most comprehensive surveys of regional music on record, including Mark Slobin’s survey of Afghan music, Nazir Jairazbhoy’s survey of classical Indian music, and Hugh Tracey’s survey of southern and central African music.
Music is tightly woven into society and culture — it accompanies rituals and dances, and fills social spaces. It is the goal of the ethnomusicologist to document sound in this broader context, so field recordings are often accompanied by film footage, photographs, handwritten notes, and records of the larger soundscape. Where possible, the audio in this collection is presented along with its contextual materials, totaling more than 10,000 pages of field notes and 150 hours of film footage, re-creating music’s relationship to its cultural context in a digital space.
Sensitivity Statement and Takedown Policy
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