Beyond the Written Word: the use of audio files
How can a conventional journal like the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society include audio material in the papers it publishes?
One of the papers read to a symposium on the theme of ‘Edges of Europe: Frontiers in Context’ at the University of Lancaster and co-sponsored by the Society in 2011 was by Michael Beckerman, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at NYU, and entitled ‘Auditory Snapshots from the Edges of Europe’. It made extensive use of audio material, presenting thirty ‘auditory snapshots’ from a wide variety of geographical locations and contexts, ranging from the liturgy of Ugandan Jews to reggae-infused Polish mountain songs, and from the sounds of Mozart’s Black contemporary Saint-Georges to ‘Silent Night’ on the Southern Seas. The paper made several points. First, to demonstrate that the study of history cannot be separated from the study of sound, whether in the form of ‘soundscapes’ or pieces of music. Second, to show that considerations of ‘edges’, into which are enfolded such things as provinces, peripheries and frontiers, can be greatly enriched by looking at a broad range of musical phenomena. Finally, drawing on certain ideas from James Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, the paper argued that paradoxically, in music, the middle often has unusual properties. In other words, musical structure mimics the ongoing battle between those in positions of authority and those who wish to evade that authority. Beginnings and endings, then, tend to be sites of power and convention, while middles attempt to subvert it. While culturally and geographically we may contrast centers and peripheries, in music the centre is often the edge.
The recordings were intrinsic to the lecture which would make little sense without them. Electronic publication offered us a way of enriching the print version of the paper. Although it was not possible to embed the links to the audio files in the electronic version of the paper, we were able to provide a space within CJO in which readers could listen to the files.
Among the other papers in the same volume of Transactions are the scintillating Presidential Address by Colin Jones, ‘The Smile of the Tiger’, focusing on the allegedly tiger-like character attributed to Maximilien Robespierre, and exploring the borders between the human and the animal, and the prize-winning essay by Richard Huzzey on the ambivalences of British anti-slavery rhetoric and action in the early nineteenth century.
The above past has been written by Dr Ian W. Archer ([email protected]).