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The sounds of the past are historically important

The sounds of the past are historically important

Digital Sound Archives Are As Important Culturally As Everything Else from History

You may know already of the value of real artifacts from the past for education purposes and just for evoking nostalgic memories.

You may know of equal value placed on old manuscripts, books, paintings, cartoons, old films, clothes, factories, oral histories of places/families/industries … in private collections and museums.

You may not have appreciated the value of distinctive sounds. For many, lost sounds are as much ‘endangered’ in our consciousness and humanity as endangered plants and animals.

European Money Funds New Sounds Project

Swedish museum curator Torsten Nilsson is due to arrive in Britain in September to start recording sounds that are today rarely heard. Some sounds are completely history. The plan is to stimulate memories for the oldies and interest in the young ones. Now and in the future.

In consort with the British Library, the European Union is funding a two-year £170,000 project to collect sounds from the Union before they disappear. They are regarded as a vital part of our cultural heritage.

This library of found and saved sounds will be uploaded to Wikipedia and to Europeana, a digital database of archives.

Who will use them? Well, they hope that TV/film producers and musicians will gain inspiration. Some sounds are rhythmical, others are unusual enough to be interesting. Some are bizarre or spooky.

The BBC also has The Listening Project, which ‘aims to record British conversations.’ The preservation of accents, local words and dialects are important to understand our history as a nation.

What Sorts of Sounds?

Well, interest in the First World War triggered by the centenary of its outbreak has meant that many people are interested, fascinated in old footage, artifacts and sounds from that terrible conflict. But people generally and in great numbers are absorbed by our roots.

The recordings will cover such things as:

  • dialing a rotary telephone
  • a dial up modem working
  • early keyboard clacking
  • payphones
  • a whistling kettle
  • a Merlin engine inside a Spitfire
  • birds singing that may not be around for long

The website calls it ‘building a jukebox for Europe.’ When jukeboxes first hit the public in the USA in the 1940s, it was possible to buy 2 minutes of silence from them. But this project means that sounds will be preserved before they fall silent forever.

Last December we identified a host of tasks that people (can) no longer do in this digital age: A Few of the Things That Most People Can No Longer Do, such as writing cheques, darning socks, putting film in cameras, playing a record, using encyclopedias, eating round a dining table….

This project is probably timely. Modernity and now is fine, but we neglect the lessons from the past at our peril.

From MBF Blog archives and related:

Trying to Keep Tabs on Virtual and Slang Worlds of Today’s Teenagers, 18 February 2014

As We Cure Old Diseases, Technology Brings Up New Ones, 11 February 2014

The Photo Album Has Had Its Day and Is Now Only Good for History, 30 July 2013

Forward to the Past as Polaroids Make a Comeback, 25 March 2013

Observations on the Way/How We Live Has Changed and Will Change Again, 19 February 2013

How Technology Serves the Past, Present and Future, 14 September 2012

Image: Thomas Sienicki