Ac­cess to wa­xes. Arab Col­lec­ti­ons of the Ber­lin Pho­no­gramm-Ar­chiv: Di­gi­ti­za­ti­on and On­line Pu­bli­ca­ti­on

Berlin, 02.-04.12.2021

Von Juana Zimmermann, Detmold, Lea Simon, Berlin und Hanna Judd, Boston – 22.07.2022 | A festive opening in the Einstein Hall of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) marked the beginning of the international and interdisciplinary workshop. The Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) held a three-days-event about the Arabian Phonographic Recordings in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv. After words of welcome and opening speeches, Matthias Pasdzierny (Berlin) and Ikram Hili (Sousse) presented their key lecture „Sur un Thème de L’Oasis Siwa“. The focus was set on the musicologist, composer, journalist, and pedagogue Brigitte Schiffer (1909-1986) and her ethnomusicological work. The Jewish Schiffer, raised in Germany and Egypt, spoke fluently both German and Arabian, her expertism of both cultures and raising and living between two cultures make her a person of special interest for musicology. For her PhD, Schiffer created sound recordings in the Oasis Siwa in 1932/33. Furthermore, the audience could take part in a demonstration of an old wax cylinder by Albrecht Wiedmann (Berlin). Inducement for the workshop was the digitization of the wax rolls Schiffer used for her recordings. For today’s musicology those old recordings are connected to many challenges like questions about colonization respectively decolonization. It was repeatedly urged by the different speakers. The recorded sounds also served as inspiration for Schiffer’s music piece Quatuor a Cordes, acting as the musical frame for the evening, played by the Mixis Quartet. (Juana Zimmermann)

The second day took place at the Humboldt-Forum Berlin- Klangwerkstatt. After the Welcome Address by Maurice Mengel and Matthias Pasdzierny, the chair of the first session, Susanne Ziegler (Berlin) gave an informative overview of the Arab collection of the Berlin Phonogram-Archive. The Arab collection represents only a small part of the 350 collections the phonogram-archive holds in total. Ten collections in Arab language were recorded between 1903 and 1915 by Paul Träger, Erich Hornbostel, Max von Oppenheim, Richard Karutz, Gotthelf Bergsträßer, Gottfried Buddensieg as well as by Georg Schünemann as a member of the Phonographic Comission. Apart from Erich von Hornbostel, none of them were musicologists. The biggest part of the Arab collection was recorded between 1919 and 1933 by ethnomusicologists like Robert Lachmann and Brigitte Schiffer. Between 1933 and 1945 only few Arab recording were made, for example by Fritz Neuhart, Ludwig Zöhrer or Marius Schneider. All in all it is important to note that most of the Arab collections were recorded in North Africa or during archeological excavations in the Middle East, but almost none of them on the Arab Peninsula. The researchers who made those recordings were mainly focused on folk music and religious music, whereas classical Arab music pieces were most likely too long to be record on wax cylinders.

The second speaker was Jean Lambert (Beirut), who spoke about „A Panorama of Yemeni Music in 1934: The First Recordings by Hans Helfritz“. Those recordings made 1934 or 1935 were the first recordings ever made in Yemen and could only be made by secret entry into Yemen. The reason was that the King of Yemen Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ad-Din did not allow any foreigners to enter Yemen. Some of the songs Helfritz recorded are still known today and songs by the same singer, but recorded in different regions, prove an active exchange within Yemen. Among the recordings are songs in Judeo-Arabic sung by Jewish Women at a funeral.

Tala Jarjour (London) spoke about „Syrian Chants in the Berlin Phonogramm Archive“ which are still practiced by some churches until today. In France monks of the Benedictine Order were interested in those chants and in Germany and Austria the musicologists Raphael Georg Kiesewetter and Johann Nicolaus Forkel. The topic of her lecture was the Intellectual connection between European Orientalism and religious chants and she argued against attempts at trying to find a system in Syriac Chants. Furthermore, she brought up aesthetic questions: What motivated Europeans to go to the East and how does music function?

Two lectures followed, both focusing on the ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann: Anas Ghrab (Sousse) presented „Robert Lachmann Discovering the Music in Tunisia: From Wünsdorf to Djerba“. Lachmann travelled to Tunisia twice during his life. First in 1921, when he made the recordings his PhD ist based upon. He recorded important Tunisian singers of the time like Yunus and Muhamad ben Muhamad Sala. During his second trip to North-Africa between 1927 and 1929 Lachmann spent time in Tunisia in 1929, but never stayed long at any place. He just made the recordings and left for another place. Anas Ghrab described Lachmann as a comparative systematic musicologist and is planning to translate some of his writings from German into French. The second lecture on Lachmann „The Lachmann Collections: A German-Jewish Ethnomusicologist’s Recording of Arab Music“ was given by Gila Flam (Jerusalem). Lachmann was a Music Librarian until his forced retirement as a Jew in 1933. In 1935 he fled from Germany to Mandatory Palestine with a phonograph, his collection and a personal library. From 1935 until 1939 he made recordings of religious Jewish, Christian and Muslim chants as well as secular Arab recordings. This diversity led to criticism from all sides. For those recordings Lachmann used metal discs because wax cylinders couldn’t be sent from Germany anymore. He established a classification of the recorded music according to social functions, the sex of the musicians etc. His classification is still in use at the Sound Archive of the National Library of Israel until today.

Those lectures were followed by the Round-Table „Travelling Sounds and Knowledge Change. Music Topographies between Production, Recording and Archiving“ chaired by Mitchell Ash (Berlin). The other participants were Dörte Schmidt (Berlin), and Gideon Reuveni (Sussex). Among the topics discussed was the tension between “Cosmopolitan” and National “Arab”.

In the Afternoon there was a Panel on “sensitive” collections: „Sensitive Collections- What does that Mean? Cultural Studies Views“ which was chaired by Albrecht Wiedmann. Three more speakers presented their topics: Irene Hilden (Berlin) discussed in her lecture „Anthropology and the Sound of History on the Lautarchiv at the Humboldt University“ the relations between anthropology and phonography based on theories by the visual and historical anthropologist Elisabeth Edwards. At the centre of her presentation was a photograph which shows the ethnomusicologist Hans Helfritz playing a recording on a phonograph to a young boy which is shown as part of new presentation of the ethnological collections in the Humboldt Forum Berlin. According to Irene Hilden this photo raises many questions and doesn’t give a lot of answers.

Britta Lange (Berlin) spoke next about „Arabic Spoken by a Tatar, Methodological Questions in dealing with prisoner-of-war recordings“. Her lecture dealt with collections recorded at prisoners-of-War Camps in Germany during the first world war. Between 1916 and 1918 1650 gramophone recordings were stored at the Lautarchiv, 1060 of which contain songs. Recently those have been transferred to the Humboldt-Forum. Lange argued that this creation of media should be qualified as “sensitive” or “precarious”. The German Empire wanted to show to other nations how Muslim friendly they were which is why they even built a wooden mosque at the Prisoners of War Camp in Wünsdorf. A famous example is a muezzin call in Arabic sung by a Tatar which is in high demand by filmmakers. In films it is often combined with pictures of the wooden mosque which creates an “orientalistic” image without mentioning under which circumstances these recordings were made or who the singer is.

The last speaker on the panel was Méhéza Kalibani (Tübingen), who spoke about „On the Aprioris of Phonographix Recordings from German Colonies and their Meaning in a (Post)Colonial Context“. First he discussed the fact that those who made recordings in German colonies wanted to define the cultural level of that person through the singing. And secondly, he argued that colonial violence allowed the raise of phonographic collections. Karl Weule, for example, described how he held on to a blind singer tight so he would sing into the phonograph. Furthermore some of the cultural contexts in Togo were misinterpreted and mistranslated. Kalibani criticized that people from Togo have no access to those collections and advocated for more cooperation between German and Togolese institutions. (Lea Simon)

The third and final day opened at the Humboldt Forum. Participants gathered in the morning to watch Albrecht Wiedmann’s demonstration of the process of making wax cylinders and their playback, including playing one of the cylinders in the Schiffer collection. After the demonstration, Anne Rasmussen (Williamsburg) presented on her early research in late 1990’s with Arab-Americans. She referenced the website Midwest Mahjar and the use of other online tools like city directories, newspapers, and to build biography around each disc that is collected, as well as the attempts to embody the archive in modern musicians performances of the songs and other uses of archival material in the modern day. Following this, Maurice Mengel and Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco (both Lisboa) discussed the care that must be taken around sharing material from sensitive collections and what constitutes a sensitive sound collection, and Christian Czychowski (Potsdam), Souheir Nadde-Phlix (Beirut), and Tobias Schmiegel (Berlin) discussed the legal aspects of publishing heritage recordings, including the obligations to name the performers and the copyright and related rights projects that applied, as well as the differences in legal frameworks between the Arab world and Germany. The final panel discussion of the day looked at similar collections and projects occurring elsewhere. Lisa Urkevich (Kuwait) compared the toolboxes offered by historical musicology and ethnomusicology in the projects of preservation on the Arab Peninsula. Peter Laurence (Harvard) offered insights on Harvard University’s commercial shellac recordings of Arab music and the steps the library had undergone to both increase and organize the collection. Lastly, Gerda and Franz Lechleitner (Vienna) presented on the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the digitizing process undertaken with the wax cylinder collections as well as continuing work in Vienna.

The final discussion of the day looked at the work already undertaken by the Phonogramm-Archiv as well as charting next steps forward for the institution: pragmatic and theoretical concerns for increasing access to the waxes and information around them. This was an inspiring gathering for the possibilities of the collection to ethnomusicologists, historians, and music lovers of all kinds. (Hannah Judd)