Largest Collection of Siberian Indigenous Voice Recordings to be Digitised

Pushkin House – Phonogramarсhive – tape reels

The voices of indigenous people of the north including Siberia were recorded many decades ago on tape. That was the medium of the day to best capture the stories and language of the people. Today those tapes are seriously degrading and to ensure those voices of the past are preserved, anthropologist Professor David Anderson will co-lead a team to digitise them.

In a two year project funded by the Modern Endangered Archives Program at the UCLA Library with funding from Arcadia, Professor Anderson from Aberdeen University and a team of specialist sound technicians will extract the audio recordings from tapes which are currently held at Pushkin House in St Petersburg, Russia.

Professor Anderson said:

“Cassette tapes like these are the most endangered medium we have. Within 20 years they are all going to be dust but what they contain is important material which can never be replaced.

“The archive contains recordings taken from the 1920s through to the 1980s made by Soviet ethnographers and linguists but it is now extremely fragile. Having the stories, songs, language and history of indigenous groups from the Siberian region spoken in their own voices is hugely important for future generations of local people and scholars.

“Industrialisation and other external interferences have in some cases near extinguished the local and Indigenous languages and traditions of these groups so losing this material would be devastating.

“For the most badly damaged tapes, extracting what they contain requires them to be baked in an oven but after that, you only get one chance at playing them before the recordings are lost.

“We will be working with Russian sound technicians on this process which then requires them to be disassembled, rewound and played at different speeds to remove the interference caused by damage to the tapes, which stick together causing squealing sounds.

“It is difficult to believe that this medium, which I myself used as a young researcher, has now become so badly endangered.

“Russian cassette tapes from the Soviet era are particularly fragile and here the process of degradation has been speeded up by water leakages in the building which have increased the humidity.”

Pushkin House – Phonogramarсhive – wax cylinders

Researchers will then share the digital resources created with Indigenous communities in Siberia and the North through relationships built up through other projects and work in this area, for which the University of Aberdeen has established an international reputation.

The Arcadia fund, which will support the project, is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin

Co-leader Dr Dmitry Arzyutov, an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen added:

“This is the largest collection of Siberian indigenous voice recordings in the world. It may rival the Smithsonian collection both in terms of its design and scope but remains little known.

“We hope this project will help to shine a light on this important collection, which is in great risk of disappearing and with it this intimate portrait of lifestyles.

“Our work and analysis can help to reconstruct the transnational history of Arctic indigenous voice recordings and most importantly, make them accessible again to the indigenous communities to which they belong.”

Pushkin House – Phonogramarсhive

2 replies »

  1. Today we call it globalization. 100 years ago it was another history, and we don’t know how many ‘minorities went extinct.
    Still there are lots of them indigenous around the World to be cared of.
    Even English language lives in assimilating way in every country.
    We are various and still try to go the same path and judge every corner of the globe in the same way.
    The great works of scientists who go for human understanding.

    • Years, in fact decades, ago I was working in a factory, and there was a man working there who had fled Lithuania with his family to escape from the Nazis.
      While I was still working there he retired, and fulfilled a life-time dream of going back to the village he’d left as a child, and had never returned to.

      When he came back to England he told of how no-one in his village, or the nearby area, spoke the same dialect as him anymore. A lot of the population had been killed in the war, many had left the country to escape, and the old ones had since died. So, there was no one left who spoke his specific dialect.

      Imagine how that felt. He was deeply disappointed.

      Sometimes someone is the last of their tribe, the last one to speak their language, and they know it.
      A wonder is – how many languages, and forms of writing, humans have managed to produce through time, and across the world. Many of which will have been lost whilst new ones develop. In so many ways, we can be so extra-ordinary.

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