Tour de CLARIN: the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences as a CLARIN Knowledge Centre

Submitted by Jakob Lenardič on 19 February 2020

Blog post written by Kerstin Klenke, Christiane Fennesz-Juhasz, Katharina Thenius-Wilscher, Christian Liebl, Nadja Wallaszkovits, and Johannes Spitzbart; illustrations provided by Bernhard Graf, Clemens Gütl, and Nadja Wallaszkovits; edited by Darja Fišer, Elisa Gorgaini, and Jakob Lenardič

Magnetic tape before regaining playability [photo: Bernhard Graf]

The Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences is a research archive which houses large collections of sound and video recordings from all across the world. Founded in 1899 at the then Imperial Academy of Sciences, the Phonogrammarchiv was set up as a multi-disciplinary institution right from its beginning. The Phonogrammarchiv became a CLARIN Knowledge Centre in 2015 and is part of the Austrian CLARIN group within the CLARIAH-AT Consortium. It has built up – and continues to enlarge – its collections through:

  • the technical and methodological support of researchers whose recordings are subsequently archived and catalogued;
  • research projects conducted by the archive’s own staff;
  • the acquisition of already existing research collections (e.g. scholarly estates).

Research by Austrian scholars and by scholars working in Austria is at the focus of the Phonogrammarchiv’s collections. The majority of the recordings originate from studies in social and cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology and linguistics, but disciplines such as medicine and zoology, among others, are also represented.The activities of the Phonogrammarchiv centre upon the following goals:

  • long-term preservation of its collections (audio and video recordings plus accompanying materials), their contextualisation and annotation as well as their accessibility (online/onsite and through publications) for scholars, communities of origin/communities of practice as well as the general public;
  • advancement of audio and audio-visual research through developments in technology (digitisation/re-recording, restoration, long-term storage strategies) as well as methodology (social sciences and humanities);
  • critical reflexion of the premises and predicaments of audio and video archiving – past and present.

As a CLARIN Knowledge Centre, the Phonogrammarchiv offers various services. It disseminates knowledge by providing access to data and metadata resources, through individual advice, group trainings and workshops, internships, practical assistance and institutional cooperations.

Digitising historic sound and video carriers is one of the Phonogrammarchiv’s areas of expertise [photo: Clemens Gütl]

The Phonogrammarchiv offers the following access points for its services:

  • Online: A continually expanding online catalogue offers two modes of access (full text and expert search) to about 85% of the collections, which encompass 71,000 items or 12,500 hours of audio recordings and 5,900 items or 1,800 hours of video recordings. Catalogue entries include information about the year and place of recording, the person who made the recording, archive number, content, duration, language of the recording, ethnic/national/cultural group whom the recorded people belong to, collection name, musical instruments, etc. Through about 1,000 catalogue entries the respective sound files (complete or in part) can be accessed.
  • Onsite and remote access: Due to legal and ethical restrictions, only an excerpt of the Phonogrammarchiv’s comprehensive database can be displayed in the form of the online catalogue; for the same reasons, access to the actual recordings and accompanying materials is provided onsite on the Phonogrammarchiv’s premises, or on request. Remote access to full-length recordings and/or documentation and accompanying materials requires usage authorisation by the archive.
  • Usage Authorisation: The Phonogrammarchiv provides users with copies of recordings and other material on the basis of written agreements – if legal and ethical aspects as well as the envisaged usage allow. Usage authorisation is mostly granted to scholars and communities of origin/communities of practice, but also to museums and media, or for educational and artistic purposes.

The Phonogrammarchiv’s staff advise scholars – individually or in group settings – in the technical aspects of sound and audiovisual recording as well as in research methodology in the social sciences and humanities, including broad knowledge in tailoring recording techniques to specific research settings. Scholars are supported with audio and audiovisual equipment for research purposes. Research advice is also given with regard to using the collections for academic or other purposes. Due to its wide expertise in all matters of audio and video archiving, the Phonogrammarchiv’s staff offer support to individuals and institutions on a broad range of technical topics, starting from physical restoration, digitisation and re-recording, through format obsolescence and migration to long-term preservation and storage. The Phonogrammarchiv engages in cooperations with archives abroad in the field of digitisation, metadata structures and cataloguing and provides support concerning a broad variety of archival topics.

Monitoring the video digitisation process [photo: Bernhard Graf]​

As a CLARIN Knowledge Centre, the Phonogrammarchiv can build on its decade-long experience in the field of training and disseminates its expertise in various formats.  In 2018, for example, the Phonogrammarchiv participated in the international training event “10 anos preservando la memoria sonora para el future” at the Fonoteca Nacional in Mexico City, which was attended by 200 participants from Mexico, other Latin American countries as well as experts from Europe and Australia. At this event, the Phonogrammarchiv was represented with lectures and hands-on workshops, as well as a training program especially tailored to the demands of the Fonoteca Nacional. For instance, Nadja Wallaszkovits, who is a musicologist and audio engineer at the Phonogrammarchiv, offered workshop units on the topics “Sound Heritage Restoration” and “Preservation of Sound Heritage”.

Another training format by the Phonogrammarchiv is internships. Again in 2018, for example, the Phonogrammarchiv offered a three-month internship to a student of the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin with training in the following fields: recording and documenting the condition of records for conservation and long-term preservation; cleaning, parameter optimisation and digitisation of historical sound carriers; preparation of the digitised material for long-term archiving and use, including technical documentation and database entries.

Participants from Taiwan at an international training course at the Phonogrammarchiv [photo: Nadja Wallaszovits]

The Phonogrammarchiv also succesfully cooperates internationally with a great variety of institutions, among them the following:

In February 2020, the Phonogrammarchiv is hosting Associate Professor Dr. Silvia Calamai (University of Siena, Italy) as a CLARIN Mobility Grant Scholar.

Click here to read more about Tour de CLARIN