Members of BCMCR had a strong showing at the recent Pararchive conference held at University of Leeds with Vanessa Jackson, Dave HarteSam Coley and myself in attendance and presenting papers. The conference was held to mark the end of the AHRC Connected Communities funded Pararchive research project  and also to launch Yarn Community the new digital heritage platform that has been developed as part of the project.

George Mckay welcomed delegates to the conference and I was pleasantly surprised when he said that there was to be forty-two presentations from academics and thirty-nine presentations from practitioners during the weekend. This gave the conference a really nice balance between practice and research (and of course some of it was practice-based research).

I had been scheduled with my colleague Sam Coley for the very first panel of the event which I’m never sure is a good or bad thing!

The panel was titled Music & Art Archives and included a presentation from our good friends at the Manchester District Music Archive and Rob Knifton, Kingston University as well as Sam.

Alison and Abigail gave an overview of why the MDMA was created and their approach to the construction of popular music archives. They reported on the response they had got from institutional archives and archivists who questioned their practice as not being ‘archival’ in the traditional sense. The MDMA shares a lot of similarities with my own Birmingham Music Archive in the belief of democratising archiving and history and its relationship with memory.

Rob presented his research on the archiving, repurposing and exhibiting of the holdings of Kingston School of Art. Rob spoke of how he approached the curation and exhibition of materials by drawing on a network of creative practitioners with connections to Kingston in order to create a ‘community of narratives’ and so ‘summon up a spirit of ‘being there” at Kingston Art School for visitors to the exhibitions.

Sam presented his work on audio, specifically cassettes of the New York Radio Awards, rescued from the tip, of which you can read more about on this site.

My paper was the last presentation of the panel and I think (by happy accident rather than design) contextualised Alison and Abigail and Sam’s papers in particular. The title of my paper was Preserving and Sustaining Popular Music’s Material Culture and was an adaptation of a jointly authored journal article and recent conference paper with Sarah Baker, Griffith University, Australia who has been researching DIY popular music archives. In my presentation I explored the work of scholars Terry Cook, Andrew Flinn and Howard Zinn  and their calls for the democratisation within archival practice. For this paper I was particularly interested in Cook’s theoretical framework in which to analyse the evolution of the archival profession. Cook names four evolutionary stages in terms of their individual characteristics as: Evidence; Memory; Identity and Community.  Community, Cook stated, concerns the rapid growth in digital technologies and the advancement of the Internet which is democratising archival practices, allowing for a broad range of individuals, communities and organisations to come together in order to document, preserve, share and promote community identity through shared histories and heritage. Cook’s work compliments Flinn’s research on community archives and how and why they are created. In his work Flinn describes the approach to archiving and history-making as an active and activist practice which can be seen as a “reproach and challenge” to the mainstream.

The use of these scholar’s work allowed me to explore a number of online popular music archive sites and the motivations behind their creation and to introduce Sarah and mine’s framework for understanding sites of popular music preservation. This has emerged from our joint creation of a database that logs popular music archives and museums from around the world and where we have currently listed over 350 examples of music preservation sites.

Our approach to the database is inclusive, rather than exclusive, as at this stage we don’t want to leave anything out. While we are thinking about popular music heritage practices in the broadest sense, the types of activities we are logging can be roughly understood as encompassing two distinct types of practice – physical collections housed in physical locations and digital and online collections. We divide each of these types of practices further: Physical – authorised; Physical – do it yourself; Online – institutional; Online – Community.

Following this introduction I then presented a number of examples of online music archives. Some, like Holy Warbles, had been forced to close, resulting in the loss of a large number of recordings and user comments, liner notes, scans of albums and other associated material. I highlighted the reaction to this type of loss and the cultural value the community placed in it. I also highlighted the fragile nature of the huge amounts of popular music materials and comments  being uploaded and posted to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and the precariousness of this material in the mid to-long term. In concluding I sought to highlight that practices such as the MDMA are revealing the hidden histories and narratives of popular music which are important historical insights in to the role that popular music plays for individuals and communities and that more robust solutions need to be found if we are to protect, and sustain, this music history.

The panel was well balanced between practitioners and academics and this was reflected in a good q&a session, a theme that was to continue throughout the conference.

A full list of abstracts from the conference can be found here 

The other aspect of the conference was to launch the Yarn Community site. This has been developed as a part of the research project with Leeds based Carbon Imaging. Yarn is online platform for that brings together social media, open data, personal perspectives and large institutional archives and collections into a new digital public space. It’s a space for sharing and learning for individuals and communities about their histories, heritage and archives. I’ve not had a chance to play around with it yet but I am looking forward to testing it out!

 

 

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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