I’ve recently presented papers at two International conferences about my research interest; online popular music archives.

The first conference was organised as part of the pan-European project POPID which stands for Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity and was held at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

According to their website, POPID explores the relationship between popular music and contemporary renderings of cultural identity and local and national cultural heritage. By looking at the articulations of popular music heritage in specific European contexts, POPID examines popular music’s contribution to the narratives of cultural identity and representations of cultural memories. Furthermore, it explores how these articulations are re-articulated and negotiated in the business practices of the global popular music industry.

The overall aim of the project is twofold: (i) to assess the role played by local popular music, as a mass mediated cultural form, in the negotiation of cultural identity in a local, national, and European context; and (ii) to specify how the European music industry can feed into Europeans audiences’ ongoing connections to local popular music heritage in a way that continues to be meaningful for local audiences.

The ‘Re/soundings: Documenting music and memory’ conference presented the findings of  the research undertaken to date. Kicking off the conference was a round table discussion about DIY Preservation and as well as old friends Sara Cohen, Les Roberts and Gurdeep Khabra from the University of Liverpool being there, I was really pleased to see Sarah Baker from Griffith University, Australia as part of the round table panel.

Sarah and her research partner, Alison Huber have been researching Popular Music and Cultural Memory and I’ll write about this project later. For the POPID event, Sarah was reflecting on this work whilst also introducing her current research project  ‘Do-it-yourself popular music archives: an international comparative study of volunteer-run institutions that preserve popular music’s material culture’  Sarah’s blogsite will be an invaluable resource for those of us interested popular music, heritage, archives, and the relationships with history and memory and crucially looks at the role of those people, usually volunteers, who create, manage and (try) sustain these organisations.

Sarah was the key speaker on a stimulating panel which also included Amando Brandellero (University of Amsterdam) who talked about Museum RockArt, Bas de Koning, the founder of the online brilliant encyclopaedia and research resource Europopmusic, and Stan Rijven of the Ritmundo Foundation. Stan was a founding member of the Pop Archief Nederland which has recently lost its funding. During the conference Stan struck me as someone with a deep understanding of popular music as culture and its role in cultural heritage, memory, meaning and identity.

The panel was titled as DIY Preservationism and was described as a knowledge exchange session with the blurb stating: “In this knowledge exchange session we will focus on the role of DIY (Do-it-yourself) preservationism in the construction of popular music heritage. A recurring finding in the various papers is the pivotal role of volunteers, fans and collectors in cultural memory practices. Popular music heritage projects are often initiated outside established heritage organizations or they strongly rely on the efforts of, for instance, amateur archivists. The aim of this session is to reflect on the meaning and implications of this DIY preservationism for the construction and preservation of popular music heritage. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for researchers, heritage practitioners and DIY preservationists to exchange ideas and share insights. A panel of experts will address questions such as: What is DIY preservationism? What is preserved? How does DIY preservationism relate to professional heritage institutions?”

Sarah spoke about her research (and presented a paper later in the conference) in which she describes music heritage practice as a way of life for practitioners and this was reflected in all the panellists, and contributors from the floor. There was a clear commonality between the very different sites of DIY (more on this term in a minute) popular music heritage – lack of funds, time, staff, space and the continual worry about sustainability.

I made an observation that whilst such activities can be understood within the DIY context, what the panellists almost universally were talking about was a Do It Together environment; communities of shared practice and interests were coming together to help celebrate, preserve, digitise and share popular music histories. For me, this subtle distinction in terminology is important if groups, communities and organisations are to be able to make a case for the importance of recognising popular music as part of cultural heritage discourse and practice. I know from Sarah’s blog postings that the term DIY is also something she is unpacking and seeking to define in relation to her own work and that of the archives and museums she is researching. I hope that between us we can reach some common ground on this as we continue to find, and share, music heritage, archive and museum practices from across the world.

The rest of the conference was as equally stimulating and I thought the session I was involved in was of particular interest. As well as my paper ‘Multiple voices, multiple memories: public history-making and activist archivism in online popular music archives’, the audio is below, Gerome Guibert from the Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle) ‘Popular Music Heritage: Initiatives and Contentions in France’ who highlighted the Ethnodoc project which seeks to preserve oral histories of the Vendee region which includes popular music songs and other media, Thomas Herscht (Mediacult) ‘Austrian Popular Music in Media Archives’ who spoke about the activities of the Archiv Osterreichischer Popularmusik in documenting and preserving Austrian popular music and Line Vestergaard Knudsen (Roskilde University), ‘Participatory Archive of the Sites of Danish Rock Music Culture’ who spoke about the creation of a musical memory map and participatory archive at the soon to be opened Danish RockMuseum.

I really enjoyed this conference, and the opportunity to meet up with, and hear from, some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in popular music heritage. There is a rich seam of research material to be mined right across the globe and we will be exploring, highlighting and discussing these in the months to come on this site.

The second conference was organised by the Åbo Akademi University in Finland and was the 17th Finnish Music Researchers’ Symposium:The Cultural Memory of Sound and Space.

Paul Long and I were going to present a joint paper but Paul had to stay in England due to work commitments. Our paper was titled “A pile of my history, found in my parents attic.” Online music memories. and was a variation of my POPID paper. I took a broader view of online practices taking place for this presentation, extending from the city of Birmingham to other sites of online music archives and the use of recorded music in some of these sites. Here I was seeking to highlight those sights commonly referred to as pirate or downloading sites but whose founders or communities articulate their work as belonging to cultural preservation and sharing of threatened cultural artefacts, in this case the recorded music. Again, you can hear the audio of my presentation below. The paper was well received but the conference as a whole was more, understandably, focussed on Finnish music studies and a fair portion of the conference was conducted (again entirely understandably) in Finnish.

A couple of papers that did stand out though were Kimi Kärki’s ‘King Arthur on Ice: Rick Wakeman’s Ephemeral Spectacle at Wembley Empire Pool in May 1975’ and Kim Ramstedt’s ‘The sound system performance and the localisation of Jamaican dancehall culture in Finland’.

However, one of the main reasons for attending was to hear Sara Cohen’s keynote speech about sites of music heritage. Annoyingly my train from Tampere to Turku was late and so I walked in half way through Sara’s presentation but in time to hear her talk about the relationship between music, place and cultural memory through ethnographic research of live music performances. This was broken into three sections; dominant or ‘official’ histories; vernacular musical memories, people’s recollections of live music experiences, the music (less often remembered), the bands, the venues, the journeys to the gigs, and how these are embedded in personal and collective experiences and thirdly the complexity of musical memory, and the multiple and diverse ways in which it is practiced and mediated.

As always, it was a pleasure to hear Sara’s insights in to music and memory and great fun to go to Finnish karaoke bar where we both politely declined to become objects of live music study!

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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