Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In   |   Join SEM
Institutional Histories Entry: The Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv
Share |

Throughout its history of more than one hundred years, the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv devoted its activities to the collection of and research in traditional music from all over the world. While the sound carriers and recording techniques have changed, the purpose of the sound archive has remained the same: the collection, preservation, research and publication of the world’s musical traditions.

The Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv as part of the Ethnomusicology Department of the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin (formerly the Museum für Völkerkunde) today comprises one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of traditional music, a unique treasure of the history of Ethnomusicology, not only in Europe, but in the entire world.

The Archive was established by Professor Carl Stumpf of the Institute of Psychology at Berlin University. The recordings of a Thai theatre group made at the Berlin Zoological Garden in September, 1900, served as the foundation of a unique collection of music that began with recording foreign musicians in Berlin. Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) was mainly interested in acoustics and music psychology, whereas Erich Moritz von Hornbostel (1877-1935), director of the Phonogram Archive from 1905 to 1933, soon established close links and fruitful cooperation with the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin. Professor Felix von Luschan, then director of the Museum, was one of the first to take a phonograph with him on an expedition, to excavations in Sendshirli (present-day Turkey), where he recorded Turkish and Kurdish songs in 1902. Inspired by von Luschan, other members of the Museum also became interested and included phonograph recordings in their ethnological fieldwork, for example, Albert von Lecoq (Turkestan, 1904), Karl Theodor Preuss (Mexico, 1905), Bernhard Ankermann (Cameroon, 1908), Richard Thurnwald (Melanesia, 1907 ff.) and others. They were all instructed in recording techniques before they left on their research trips. The arrangement was clear: They received a phonograph with the necessary equipment and a bulk of blank wax cylinders from the Archive. Upon their return, the equipment was given back, together with a so-called "journal” with all the necessary information about the recordings, such as place, date, informant and the recorded piece of music. The Archive was then responsible for reproducing galvanoplastic negatives (so-called galvanos) and a set of copies, one for the collector and one for the Archive. Hornbostel himself or other researchers transcribed the music and published the material.

The main concern of Stumpf, Hornbostel and other members of the Archive was to collect as many examples of traditional music as possible in order to create and follow theories about the origin and evolution of music in general. Thus, on the basis of the great number of recordings on wax cylinders from all over the world, a new university subject came into being: "Comparative Musicology” or "ethnomusicology,” as it is called today.

The Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv with its specific intention, organisation and scientific output served as a demonstration institution for other archives of the world such as the "Archives of Traditional Music” in Bloomington, Indiana, founded by George Herzog who spent two years as assistant to von Hornbostel in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv.
The wax cylinder recordings of the Phonogramm-Archiv comprise a history of more than fifty years. Between 1893 and 1954, more than 16,000 original cylinders reached the Archive from almost all areas of the world. All in all, 350 different collections, each collection ranging from one to several hundred cylinders, have been inventoried together with their original documentation, correspondence, references to the literature and photos. The range of recordings covers non-Western music in a variety of songs, traditional as well as popular, secular as well as ritual, musical instruments, examples of foreign languages and speech, experimental recordings and a few examples of Western music.

During its eventful history the Archive was forced to change its place and institutional affiliation several times. Originally the Archive was part of the Institute of Psychology of Berlin University. In 1922, when Stumpf retired, the Archive was attached to the Music College; in 1934, when Hornbostel had already left Germany, it was incorporated into the Museum für Völkerkunde under Marius Schneider and moved to Berlin - Dahlem. In 1944, the greatest part (90%) was evacuated to mines in Silesia and later taken to Leningrad. At the end of the 1950s, the holdings were handed over to authorities in East Berlin, partly exchanged with the West, but later put under seal.

Meanwhile in West-Berlin the remains of the former Phonogramm-Archiv formed the basis for a new ethnomusicological department, which opened in 1952 under Professor Kurt Reinhard (1914 – 1979) as a combination of the sound archive and a collection of musical instruments. After the Second World War, a new era of recording started with the purchase of the first tape recorder. The number of recordings steadily increased, from 13,000 items in 1961 up to 150,000 items in 2000. The stock of music recordings on tapes, records, cassettes (analogue and digital), and videos, in original and copy, considerably exceeded the holdings of the pre-war Phonogramm-Archiv not only in size, but also in its content and scientific perspective.

It was a great event when the historical collections were returned to the Museum für Völkerkunde after the unification of East and West Germany in 1991. A review of the number and status of the cylinders in 1993 showed that about 95% of the wax cylinder collections of the former Phonogramm-Archiv survived, whereas 40 % of the collection of shellac records was missing. The Archive's early wax cylinder collections received the honour of being entered into the UNESCO register "Memory of the World” in 1999. The 100th anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv in the year 2000 provided an excellent opportunity to impart the history and holdings of the Archive to the public.

Today the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv is able to use its resources in manifold cultural and scientific ways. Much of the traditional music preserved here can be found only fragmentarily in the countries of its origin. International demand for these sound documents is constantly increasing. Enquiries from institutions throughout the world testify to the continued growing interest in cooperation, exchange and, above all, the cultural historic significance of the Archive’s collection. In many cases, the recordings have been handed over to foreign institutions in the place of their origin. Publishing parts of the Archive’s collection, phonograms as well as tape recordings, in the form of CDs with appropriate documentation, also opens the Archive up to the public as well as to the scientist.

Looking back upon a long tradition in Berlin, the huge collection has many purposes to serve. Besides receiving many musicologists and other guests, the Phonogramm-Archiv has increasingly become a source in the field of non-European music for other museums as well as radio, television and film companies, teachers and interested music lovers.

Susanne Ziegler

Richard Thurnwald making phonographic recordings in East Africa (1930).
Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Sources and additional information:

Artur Simon (Hg./Ed.): Das Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv. Sammlungen der traditionellen Musik der Welt. / The Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv 1900-2000. Collections of Traditional Music of the World. VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 2000.

Berlin, Gabriele/Artur Simon (Eds.): Music Archiving in the World. Papers Presented at the Conference on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv. 520 p.+1 CD. VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 2002.

CD-Konvolut: Music! 100 Recordings • 100 Years of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv 1900-2000. Eds. Artur Simon & Ulrich Wegner. 4 CDs + 284 page booklet (engl.). Museum Collection/WERGO SM 1701 2. Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.

Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv – Historische Klangdokumente/Historical Sound Documents No. 1: Walzenaufnahmen japanischer Musik (1901-1913)/ Wax Cylinder Recordings of Japanese Music (1901-1913). Text: Ingrid Fritsch. Eds.: Artur Simon/: Susanne Ziegler. CD + 96 p. booklet (German/engl.), transcriptions, photos. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz BPhA-WA 1 2003. Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
No. 2: Walzenaufnahmen aus Peru 1910 – 1925/ Grabaciones en cilindro del Perú 1910 – 1925. Texts: Virginia Yep, Bernd Schmelz. Ed.: Susanne Ziegler. CD + 80 p. booklet (German/span.), transcriptions, photos. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz BPhA-WA 2 2003.

Sign In

Featured News