Description of the Project and Its Significance

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Description of the Project and Its Significance
This project will preserve, document, and make accessible a carefully selected body of the most significant early twentieth-century audio recordings from South Asia along with related documentation. Both scholarly field recordings and commercial records will be included so that researchers and the general public may more comprehensively explore ex­pressive culture in the subcontinent.

Access to audio recordings is a prerequisite for research by musicologists, anthropologists, historians, and others in the humanities. Yet current library and archive collections in the United States, Europe, and South Asia are distinctly ill-equipped to pro­vide scholars with early recordings in many of the languages and musical genres of South Asia. No collections on South Asia have systemati­cally acquired discs and cylinders from the early era of audio recording and as a rule those re­cordings which are held are not well docu­mented. Demand for these materials has in­creased dramatically as the result of fifty years of U.S. federal funding for study of "criti­cal languages" and renewed attention in Europe to South Asia as an arena for scholarly engage­ment.

Musicological research provides an example of the increasing demand for early recordings. It is common for libraries to hold recent critical studies about early musicians of colonial India and yet not have a single original recording. Changes in taste of the South Asian listening public have meant that these musical works have not been reissued in modern form by South Asian recording companies. Many students now find it necessary to postpone their critical in­quiry until they can consult recordings during research in South Asia.

This project will add digital copies of at least 890 field recordings (most from wax cylinders), 8,500 shellac discs, 750 photographic images, and 550 archival documents to the stock of research mate­rials available freely via the Internet for non-commercial use. The audio files, field photographs, and archival documents will be prepared according to inter­nationally accepted standards for preservation reformatting. All of the recordings included in the project will be cataloged fully. Biblio­graphic data will be ac­cessible to scholars and librarians through the major bibliographic utili­ties and by connection to the Web-based South Asia Union Catalogue. The digital audio files will be archived following established interna­tional practices. The digitized recordings and documentary files will be accessible via the Digital South Asia Library Web site and the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv’s. This project will adhere to international copyright laws and act ethically with respect to the creators and their heirs of the works we handle.

Wax cylinders and the related field notes will be drawn from the renowned Berliner Pho­nogramm-Archiv collection. The recordings made by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Ar­nold Bake during the first four decades of the twentieth century will receive first attention given their pivotal importance for South Asian studies. Commercial gramophone recordings will come from collections owned by the Uni­versity of Chicago and sister institutions in South Asia. A small number of shellac discs will also be digitized from archival collections in Great Britain.

The project guidelines for the selection of recordings have been developed to ensure that the resources chosen are diverse enough in musical genre and geo­graphical origin to meet the needs of South Asia scholars from numerous disciplines. Project staff will imple­ment the guidelines in selec­tion of individual recordings for digitization. The Advisory Board will re­view those item-level decisions periodically throughout the pro­ject and suggest necessary adjustments.

The impact of this project will be most pro­nounced on the universities and colleges where instruction in the languages and music of South Asia takes place, as well as those institutions where graduates of such programs have posi­tions. These scholars will be able to listen to recordings prior to research abroad and conse­quently have more time abroad for consulting unique resources. Users will also be able to return easily to a recording, a capability of funda­mental importance in the humanities. As these recordings are also rare in South Asia, this pro­ject will benefit scholars there as well.

Recovery of South Asia Recorded Heritage:

Preservation and Access to Field and Commercial Audio

Recordings for Understanding Expressive Culture in the Subcontinent

An Application to

The National Endowment for the Humanities
The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
The University of Chicago
Ethnologisches Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Project Directors

James Nye

Bibliographer for Southern Asia

The University of Chicago Library
Prof. Dr. Lars-Christian Koch

Leiter der Abteilung

Musikethnologie, Medien-Technik und Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

Ethnologisches Museum der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Table of Contents

A. Application Cover Sheet

B. Description of the Project and its Significance
C Narrative

1. Introduction 1

2. Significance 1

3. History, Scope, and Duration 5

4. Methodology and Standards 7

5. Work Plan 11

a. Tasks and Agents 11

b. Schedule 12

c. Evaluation 12

6. Nature of Collaboration and Staff 13

7. Dissemination 15
D. History of Awards 16
E. Consultants and Advisory Board Members 17
F. Budget

1. NEH Budget

2. DFG Budget

3. NEH Subcontract Budget

G. Appendices

1. Work Plan 18

2. Selection, Standards, Specimens, Equipment, and Data Archiving 20

3. Work to be Outsourced 29

4. Brief Résumés for Key Staff 31

5. Letters of Commitment 48

1. Introduction

The University of Chicago and the Ethnologisches Museum der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Abteilung für Musikethnologie, Medien-Technik und Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv (BPA) jointly propose a three-year collaborative project which will preserve, document, and make accessible a carefully selected body of the most significant early twentieth-century audio recordings from South Asia along with related documentation. This three-year collaborative project encompasses a wide chronological and geographical focus, including scholarly field recordings and commercial recordings made in the current South Asian nation-states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Tibetan region of China, ranging from the earliest acoustic recordings made in 1898 through 1947, the date of independence in South Asia. The project will select recordings for digitization from all genres of music from collections currently held in Berlin, in Chicago, and by private collectors and sister institutions in South Asia. This project will adhere to international copyright laws and act ethically with respect to the creators and their heirs of the works we handle. The result will be the addition of digital copies of at least 890 field recordings (most from wax cylinders), 8,500 shellac discs, 750 photographic images, and 550 archival documents to the stock of research materials available freely via the Internet for non-commercial use. The audio files, field photographs, and archival documents will be prepared according to international standards for preservation reformatting and all of the recordings included in the project will be cataloged fully with the bibliographic data made accessible to scholars and librarians. The exchange of digital resources and expertise in digitization between Berlin, Chicago and colleagues in South Asia is central to the project.

This project addresses the significant lack of easily accessible early-era audio recordings from the South Asian subcontinent, which are a prerequisite for research by musicologists, anthropologists, historians, and many others in the humanities. It is common for libraries in the United States, Europe and South Asia to hold recent critical studies about early musicians of colonial India and yet not have a single original recording. The scholarly significance of these recordings as well as their importance to the preservation and study of South Asian recorded heritage ensures their wide usage by both the scholarly community and the general public.

2. Significance

There are several compelling intellectual rationale for recovering South Asia recorded heritage. First, digitizing recordings from both field research and commercial record companies distinguishes the project from previous approaches. Historically, the ethnographic study of South Asian music has emphasized the collection of repertories and genres that supported constructs of authenticity, embedded either in the classical traditions or in the religious and regional exclusiveness of folk music. Such distinctions reflected both the colonial heritage of anthropological and ethnomusicological projects and the nation-building programs of South Asian societies. Commercial recording, in contrast, sought to create and disseminate expressive culture that would be consumed widely. Accordingly, commercial studios more readily recorded repertories and genres regardless of whether they affirmed constructs of authenticity. Stylistic hybridity, for example, in the recordings of music from popular theater and religious rituals reflected change along the shifting social and musical borders of a modern society. The historical distinctions between these two approaches to recording have precluded the study of the musical resources of the subcontinent from the perspective of hybridity. Even more than in most approaches to ethnomusicology, those working on classical, tribal, folk, popular, film, and religious musical traditions of South Asia rarely looked at the borders between traditions. Important scholarly studies produced a paradigm shift in the 1990s which was critical to a new ethnomusicology of India, but this new approach rarely has been extended to commercial audio recordings. Allowing scholars to explore the ways that field and commercial recordings overlapped will be a critical contribution of this project.

Second, the audio resources digitized and made available through this project will support new ways of understanding and disseminating expressive culture in South Asia. By looking at a continuum of links and connections rather than artificially constructed distinctions, this project will stimulate new ways of understanding the audio heritage of the subcontinent. It will preserve the ways in which field and commercial recordings overlap and intersect. This project will not separate "music as sound" from its wider expressive context. Dance, theater, religious devotion, poetry, and speech often converge in the recordings the project will preserve. Preserved together, they will become a critical resource for scholars from the many disciplines contributing to South Asian studies.

Third, by expanding common domains of expressive culture, the project hopes to encourage new methodological approaches for considering the relationship between national and global histories. Some of the recovered audio files from this joint DFG/NEH project will be included in a series of CD publications1 with accompanying analysis and interpretation. It is hoped that these publications will foster a reconsideration of the history of South Asian music similar to the recategorization which occurred in American music during the 1990s when the Smithsonian Institution published a collection CDs drawn from commercial recordings of "American folk music" from the 1950s2

Fourth, the project will create a model framework and infrastructure for future collaborations between repositories and institutions in South Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. At the technical level, the collaboration will foster a better understanding of the best methods to preserve, digitize, document and disseminate the recorded heritage of South Asia. In addition, the existence of a framework will encourage and contribute to additional projects such as the recently funded University of Chicago proposal focusing upon recordings to improve advanced language pedagogy.

Most importantly, this project will promote and sustain a community of scholarship not only through the collaborative production of new digital resources but also through additional institutional collaboration, academic conferences and publications outside the immediate scope of the project. For example, the newly formed Center for Ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago has joined with the BPA to participate in the Humboldt-Forum in Berlin. The University of Chicago, led by faculty member Philip Bohlman, will also propose “Expressive Culture in South Asia” as the theme for the second bi-annual Hebrew University/University of Chicago Seminar on South Asia. Both institutions also hope to bring the materials produced by the project to the attention of a wider audience through publication of CDs by the BPA that will complement exposure given to the resources on the Internet at the Digital South Asia Library.

The Recovery of South Asia Recorded Heritage project is also significant for its several products and the consequences of our approach. 1) The infrastructure created by this joint project will both result in the digitization of at least 9,000 important audio recordings as well as facilitating continuing, coordinated efforts to preserve the audio cultural patrimony of South Asia. Project participants will continue their exchange of expertise beyond the end of this project in such important areas as long-term preservation, metadata standards, and intellectual property issues. 2) The project's initiation of a union catalogue covering analog field and commercial recordings from the critical acoustic period and the early microphone era will permit researchers to discover what has been recorded in South Asia and in which collections the recordings are held.3 3) The project will foster a greater awareness of South Asia's large and influential audio heritage. That heritage is generally little-appreciated and under-protected even though it was an important force in the creation of modern consciousness in the region. 4) Early recordings will serve as a basis for revival of endangered performance traditions. 5) In South Asia, the project's engagement with colleagues will give impetus to a new audio archive movement, equipping younger archivists and librarians with the required tools and methods for musicological curatorship. Program staff will receive training on the job, expanding their expertise.

The Collections

This joint project will build upon the foundation laid by Professor Carl Stumpf of the Phonogram Archive in Berlin for research on the world's traditional music where early field recordings by such luminaries as Erich Moritz von Hornbostel, Georg Schünemann, Robert Lachmann, Carl Meinhof, Felix von Luschan, and Richard Thurnwald have been collected. The BPA, often described as one of the most important ethnomusicological archives in the world, is part of Ethnological Museum in Berlin. Much of the traditional music held can only be found fragmentarily in the countries of origin. The collection was built by outfitting geographers, linguists, ethnographers, missionaries, and colonial officers with Edison phonographs and cylinders. The resulting recordings fueled rigorous musicological analysis and interpretation under the directorship of von Hornbostel in a comparative musicology program which came to be known as the "Berlin School". The Archive continues to document musical traditions throughout the world and now holds more than 150,000 musical recordings or more than 10,000 hours of audio-visual materials encompassing many world cultures. Recording media in the collection include Edison-phonogram cylinders,4 analog and digital tapes, and many types of discs -- from 78 rpm shellac discs to LPs and CDs. The sound recordings are often accompanied by transcription, photographs and other documentary evidence describing the people, musical instruments, cultural context, and technical details of the recordings. The international significance of the collection was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 when the cylinder recordings were listed in the Memory of the World Register.

The South Asia holdings at BPA are comprised of 120 collections, eighty-nine of which are from India. These collections consist mainly of audiovisual recordings made during field research as well as recordings from concerts in Berlin. These 120 collections include various recording media covering the gamut from wax cylinders (more than 500) to digital media. The chronological span represented by the recordings encompasses the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. The collection continues to expand with the September 2008 acquisition of the former International Institute for Traditional Music5 in Berlin.

The Archive is renowned throughout the world for its techniques in preserving, restoring, and copying its holdings and for the facilities which support its mission. Beginning in 1907 the Archive produced copper galvanoplastic negatives, known as "galvanos" from its wax cylinder holdings and has used those galvanos to generate positive wax copies for the Archive, collectors, and other archives around the world. BPA is increasingly relied upon by museums, broadcast companies, and music lovers as a service center for the field of non-European music.

In 1998 the BPA began an ambitious publishing program aimed at making its valuable historical recordings more widely known and accessible. The Berlin Wax Cylinder project, a part of the larger program, has been financed by the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin to digitize about 7,000 cylinders and make them accessible on modern recording media.


The University of Chicago is home to top-rated programs in musicology6 and South Asian studies as well as many other distinguished humanities programs. Those programs are supported by extensive and historically rich library and archival collections.7

The Library's century-long commitment to South Asia has produced a collection worthy of the University's role as a leader in international scholarship. The South Asia collection, described at, has the further advantage of being part of one of America's finest research libraries. The Library's leadership in South Asian studies can be measured in its ambitious collection program, abundant services to readers, strength of staff, efficient provision of inter-library loans, and imaginative projects to further scholarship.

The Library's commitment to South Asia is part of a wider dedication to area studies at the University of Chicago. Together with its South Asia holdings, the collection of materials on Southeast Asia, East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East amount to more than 3,240,000 volumes and comprise one of the world's great resources for area studies. These collections and their support by faculty and staff allow cross-cultural and cross-regional scholarship on topics such as Islamic studies, where the sources and issues cut across all of Asia as well as other regions.

The Library supports scholarship on virtually all topics related to South Asia through an ambitious program of collecting contemporary materials that complement the foundation of a century of collection development. More than 664,090 volumes comprise the South Asia collection. There are 412,163 volumes of books and 251,927 volumes of serials in more than thirty languages of the South Asian subcontinent. The Library also holds more than 11,200 sheet maps and a vast array of photographs, and posters, and since 1959 has been the most comprehensive participant in the Library of Congress' overseas programs for acquisition of audio and video recordings on South Asia. The University of Chicago is the only academic library in the U.S. to collect in all languages of the region. The collection is widely regarded as the most comprehensive university library collection of South Asia materials in North America.

Since 1994 the Southern Asia Department has purchased private collections in South Asia and retained the collections in country for development in collaboration with South Asian partner institutions.8 The India collections are in Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Kolkata while others are located in Karachi, Pakistan and Kathmandu, Nepal. Two such collections of audio recordings are described in Section 3 below. Additional, strong partnerships link Chicago with libraries, archives, and academic institutions in the subcontinent, England, and Japan. Examples include the Archive and Research Center for Ethnomusicology, the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, the Society of Indian Record Collectors, and EMI Archive in London.

Extensive services are provided to readers and institutions beyond the University. In addition, requests to explore the collection from scholars from across America and throughout the world are routinely accommodated.

Probable audiences

This project will be of benefit to scholars, appreciators of South Asian music, and to members of the general public. Scholars and a wide variety of others will be interested in the project's outcomes because they will have access to audio recordings many of which were previously inaccessible. As noted elsewhere in this proposal, scholars will have new resources for exploring expressive culture in South Asia. Further, the cost-free availability of these recordings in a high quality digital format will allow contemporary composers and musicians to manipulate, sample or incorporate these earlier recordings into their own compositions. The recordings will also be a new corpus for contemporary musicians, dancers, theater troupes and others to draw from in staging new artistic performances. Additionally, the recordings will aid tribal communities and other traditional performing communities in South Asia to maintain their heritage.

Project staff will take several steps during the project to expand awareness of the digital recordings. They will place articles and notices in scholarly journals, newsletters, and listservs. Musicians, other performers, and the general public in South Asia will be targeted through the placement of articles and notices in newspapers, magazines, and other forms of media. Efforts will be made to collaborate and share digital files with governmental bodies (such as Sangeet Natak Akademi in India), non-governmental organizations (such as those working with tribal communities in South Asia), and community and cultural organizations both in the subcontinent and internationally.

3. History, Scope, and Duration

Following World War II the vast majority of the Phonogram Archive's cylinder collection was located in the Russian sector while the corresponding documentation was in West Germany. The collection was effectively inaccessible until Germany's reunification. In the 1990s, soon after the cylinder collection was returned to the Ethnological Museum, the BPA began transferring the holdings from analog to digital resources for preservation purposes. Several research projects considered how best to make the historical cylinder collections accessible with modern technology. The historical collections were catalogued and approximately half of the cylinder collections were digitized with funding from the Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin. The BPA also initiated the Historical Sound Documents series of CDs that publishes sound recordings along with extensive field notes. Project ILKAR, a new program that runs from 2008 to 2011, supports research on the preservation of cylinders and tape recordings and their long-term storage. These ILKAR activities are providing the BPA with the necessary expertise and equipment to carry out digitization under the Recovery of South Asia Recorded Heritage project.

From 2006-2008, the Berlin Archive participated in two digital library projects (DISMARC and ethnoArc) to improve access to the BPA collections. The BPA led the activities related to metadata for both of those projects. A metadata scheme and a union catalogue for music archives were among the project outcomes. Additionally, project staff created an export mechanism for BPA's local collection database and addressed intellectual property rights (IPR) issues related to the presentation of resources on the Internet. These previous projects created a foundation of knowledge and expertise upon which the BPA will build in carrying out metadata work for the proposed DFG/NEH project.

The University of Chicago has laid the groundwork for this proposed project through several recent and continuing programs, projects, and activities. The University's Library hosts the Digital South Asia Library (DSAL)9 which contains a widely adopted and expanding set of Internet resources with a special emphasis on reference materials. DSAL will host the recordings and other resources created under this project and make them accessible via the Internet in a fashion similar to the approach under creation in presenting the audio files from the Linguistic Survey of India.10 The South Asia Union Catalogue (SAUC)11 is one of the most recent additions to DSAL resources. SAUC will host the discographic information from the Recovery of South Asia Recorded Heritage project.

In 2004 the University of Chicago Library purchased a private collection of extremely rare 78 rpm recordings from Mr. V Sundaram with support from the University's Library Society. The shellac discs, in excellent condition, dated between 1921 and 1950, include classical music, folk music, comic music, political speeches and drama sets. Examples of recordings include works of the revered female vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi and early recordings of percussion pieces on the rathi tavil, an instrument with ancient origins used in temple processions. Drama sets constitute a category of particular importance and are accompanied by printed text of the plays and songbooks that provide essential aural details on dialect, thespian style, and early practices of singing dialog in the theater, all of which informs the development of Indian cinema. There are also political speeches by luminaries of the Indian Congress and recordings addressing social issues of the day such as alcoholism and the needs of the untouchables.

The Roja Muthiah Research Library, our sister institution in Chennai, India, is in the last stages of negotiations for purchase of the V.A.K. Ranga Rao collection which consists of more than 34,500 gramophone records of music, drama, and speeches in at least forty Indian languages and dialects and many foreign languages. That collection will be available for digitization under this project.

Finally, Dr. Suresh Chandvankar's Endangered Archives Programme project titled "Digitising Archival Material Pertaining to 'Young India' Label Gramophone Records" is an important resource which will be associated with this project. Dr. Chandvankar is the Secretary of the Society of Indian Record Collectors, a body founded in 1990 to bring together music lovers and freely disseminate information about early recordings from India, the artists, and the care and preservation of old discs. The Society publishes The Record News, a quarterly journal.

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