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Gesellschaft fr Historische Tontrger (Society for Historical Sound Carriers) its role within the project and the collections in its care

Gerda Lechleitner, GHT Vienna


Introduction

1. General remarks
The collections which form the basis in respect of this project were accomplished by private collectors:
The collection of Alfred Seiser comprises mainly classical music with a focus on opera singers, also operettas, but only few examples of popular music Ernst Webers collection is dedicated to Viennese music (vocal and instrumental genre) Axel Weggen, a member of the society, provided this project with his great collection of Jewish music (mainly from Eastern Europe).

These private collections reflect individual interests and are not led by general collecting strategies as pursued by public archives, museums or other (national) institutions. The above-mentioned society is not meant to be the dpt lgale of any country, but a network for private collectors following the international guidelines for the technical standardisation of re-recording and the standardised guidelines in discography.

The private collections include only commercial recordings, recordings made by record companies. Such recordings were produced for a distinct market, subject to the rule of supply and demand, and were published in numerous pressings; they thus differ from archival or research recordings, unique recordings made by researchers with a specific scholarly aim. Yet may commercial recordings not be of the same interest and value as those produced for research purposes? Commercial recordings used to be thought of as objects of utility, held in less esteem than printed objects (books and journals), and thus for a long time perhaps for too long we were in doubt about commercial recordings and neglected these. Nevertheless some efforts have already been made by record collectors, by discographers and others to compile information about the early history of commercial sound recordings.

Today the interested public should be grateful to private collectors who following their own interests reconstruct bit by bit a sounding history which seemed to be lost forever. Some recordings are easily available, even today, others are very rare. Private collectors have created strategies, have founded collectors associations and cultivate a well-functioning network to gain knowledge about historical recordings. The Society for Historical Sound Carriers assists them in their endeavours and is therefore taking part in the connecting memories-project.

2. The workflow and some results
During the one-year duration of this project it turned out that the four participating institutions had very different ideas of discussing and working out that topic. This fact is also the result of the institutions various duties. Two institutions concentrate on national heritage, mostly folk music; two are dealing with collections focusing on specific themes without regional restrictions. Folklore collections mostly comprise examples of rural culture, while the private collections represent much more the urban part. In discussing the own and the foreign and trying to find a common concept, some insurmountable barriers of thought arose. Nevertheless, these discussions were extremely fruitful and show work in progress, a process which should be visible in the final product. In short, the results to be discussed cover a rather wide range, from the description of an institutes history (together with the development of the discipline ethnomusicology) and the reconstruction and application of historical methods, to the discussion of the situation and cultural expressions in borderlands and the insights into urban (Viennese) music as well as Jewish music, both genres including the own and other in a specific kind. The outcome of this work is not only a reflection on connecting memories from the historical point of view, but also the chance to connect people and their impressions in the present.

3. Private collections as sources
When dealing with the topic of this project from the private collections point of view, we must first of all mention the memory of the collectors, who enable sound images from the past. How did their specific interest come into existence, what does the one or the other topic mean to them, and how was it possible to convince them to take part in this project and make available their record collections? As already shown, two restrictions have to be kept in mind: 1. commercial recordings were produced for amusement, they were used and then thrown away, and 2. private collectors have their specific interests and their (limited) possibilities (financial and content-related). Even if we had access to the whole production of sound recordings ever made we would not get a complete idea of the sounding past sound recordings at that time (and even now) could map only glimpses of reality. Therefore sound recordings are very useful and important documents in addition to all other (written, printed) sources.

4. Own and foreign models and methods
One of the ideas of this project lies in connecting memories of cultural expressions by the dichotomy between own and foreign. The definition of these two terms is very difficult because of historical implications, the influences and changes in history, and because of different collective or individual identifications (what seems own to the one may seem foreign to the other etc.). Central Europe as a region of multicultural characteristics offers some kind of laboratory to study the phenomenon of closely related but also distinct cultural expressions. Even similar expressions are sometimes seen as foreign because of a different (incomprehensible) language. At the same time, however, diverse cultural manifestations may be regarded as identical (own), a phenomenon typical e.g. of Viennese cuisine, where Bohemian, Italian and Hungarian food are mixed together representing the Viennese food. The same phenomenon might be seen in musical genres.

In sharing memories it seems to be a useful method to analyse song lyrics. Some of the texts go down as examples of the own and the foreign. But we have to be careful with interpreting texts created some 90 years ago, since words may have changed their meaning and say something else to us now. We have to consider historical circumstances and motives of composition and have to explain, not only to describe, we have to de-construct, not only to construct the meanings, knowledge and feeling of the former socio-cultural environment.

5. Rural versus urban music culture
The idea of collecting folk songs in all languages of the Austro-Hungarian empire emerged around 1900 and is often explained as an attempt to connect memories. This great project could not be finished before WWI, and after the Great War there was no chance to continue the pilot works. In the end, the national successor states began to complete that project on their own. Consequently, disconnected results were achieved and the idea of a collective cultural heritage of folk music vanished.

Popular songs, urban music culture, comprise ideas of own and foreign in a different manner in contrast to folk music from rural environments. Towns were the melting pots of various cultural influences (mostly caused by migration waves) and artists articulated these circumstances. The record companies, realising that there was money in the market, made recordings of all these genres not only Viennese music but also Jewish music as well as folk music. The audience obviously felt attracted by all these musics and bought the records, probably the listeners recognised something own or foreign or even both.

6. The concept of memories
Perhaps we can look upon these commercial recordings as historical documents similar to monuments or written documents etc., which are part of the concept of memories and play a major role in public and political discussion today. Times are changing fast, and historical research takes care of this phenomenon by trying to find answers. We all agree when we state that in fact we belong to a national culture but also integrate many foreign cultural elements. Nowadays we therefore recognise that manifold identities existed and have always been part of daily life. In that respect we have to face individual and collective identities, a fact very essential in the discussion of connecting memories.



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