Decolonizing South East Asian Sound Archives Project Launch

Key information

10:00 am

About this event

As the Decolonizing South East Asian Sound Archives project comes to its conclusion, we invite you to join us in launching three new knowledgebases based on the research and curation of the DECOSEAS' Digitization Work Package.

At the launch event, we will introduce the public face of the three sites, meet the curators and developers and listen to stakeholders give their user reviews. We will also have the opportunity to discuss issues and recommendations with the wider audience.

The three knowledge bases are based on the following three Sound Collections:

Jaap Kunst Sound Collection

The Jaap Kunst Sound Collection, managed by Amsterdam University, is a sound archive that encompasses recordings, photographs, silent films, and correspondences collected by the Dutch ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst (1891-1960).

Between 1922 and 1934, Kunst recorded more than 500 wax cylinders of music and practices from the Indonesian Archipelago. A large part of the wax cylinders is stored at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv. Even though the wax cylinders have been digitized, they were not accessible before now. Over the years, the collection expanded to include materials from different places deposited by his assistants Ernst Heins and Felix van Lamsweerde, in addition to other researchers and students.

Kunst’s oldest recordings concern gamelan music and were recorded in Java in 1922 and Bali in 1925. A big wealth of collection dates between 1929 and 1934, when he extensively travelled and recorded all over the archipelago. Katy Kunst-Van Wely assisted in some of the recordings as well as recorded independently. At Kunst’s request, Father Verschueren, a missionary in Merauke, recorded in Irian Jaya in 1933 and Pieter Middelkoop, assistant pastor in Kapan, recorded in Central Timor. This collection allows us to imagine how the Indonesian Archipelago sounded to the Dutch ethnomusicologist during colonial times.

The BBC in South East Asia

The BBC in South East Asia is an expanding collection of primary source materials focusing on the British Broadcasting Company's significance in the region during Great Britain's late colonial and early post-colonial periods (1927-1961). As of 2024, the BBC has granted open access to only 45 sample sound recordings that can be listened to in this collection.

The project gathers BBC-produced sound recordings for and about these geographical entities (currently the nation-states of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines, Brunei, Timor-Leste, Laos, and Thailand). The recordings begin with the earliest surviving BBC broadcasts, now digitized and accessible at the British Library. They encompass diverse materials, such as a 1937 broadcast featuring an Englishman's reaction to the 1927 Krakatoa explosion, the inaugural address of the BBC Empire Service in 1932, and the initial broadcast in May 1951 of London Calling Asia, a program transmitted to South and South-East Asia as part of the BBC's Far Eastern Service. 

Pre-1961 recordings of BBC broadcasts were expensive and only done for practical reasons. Consequently, the corpus in the inventory is selective and incomplete. Yet the archive still enables us to listen to sounds that might otherwise remain unheard: commercially viable popular music, field recordings for ambient sound, speeches, and the social and ideological positioning of colonial subjects through voice inflections and sonic expressions.

CNRS/Musée de l’Homme Sound Archives

The CNRS/Musée de l’Homme Sound Archives encompass field recordings of music and oral traditions from all over the world, from 1900 to the present. The establishment of these archives has been a long process. In the 1930’s, André Schaeffner organized and archived old audio recordings, completed by numerous other collections from anthropologists, linguists and ethnomusicologists. Out of 30,000 items available online in open access, 4,500 were recorded in Southeast Asia. 

A selection of collections are available on this platform: recordings at the Paris Universal Exhibition (1900), Java-Bali (1950 and after), Papua New Guinea (1950 and after), Vietnam (1900-1963), Cambodia (1930-1962), Laos (1964-1966), the Philippines (1955-1999), East Kalimantan (1953-1954), Timor (1957- 1972), South and Central Sulawesi (1993), Tanimbar (1993), West Kalimantan (1997), Flores and neighboring islands (Solor, Lembata, Adonara, 2006-2017), Timor-Leste (2019-2022). All the recordings, hosted at the French National Library (BnF), are managed by the CREM (Research Center for Ethnomusicology), Nanterre University. Some recordings are not yet available (because they have not yet been digitized or are not yet in public domain). Commercial records from the colonial period are also not yet available.

The entire project has been funded by the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change (JPICH), 2021-2024 with research grants to the University of Amsterdam (with meLê yamomo and Barbara Titus as Principal Investigators and Project Leads), SOAS University of London (with Maria Cristina Martinez-Juan as Principal Investigator) and the French Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Paris and CNRS (with Dana Rappoport as Principal Investigator).