|Jonathan Grimes writes about the CMC/RTÉ Archive Transfer Project.
This article was originally published in New Music News, May 1998.
Copyright ©1998 Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland.
A History in Sound
AS many people have found to their disappointment, recordings of works by
Irish composers are hard to come by, not necessarily because those works have never been recorded, but because the recordings are not available to the public.
Most performers, when contemplating learning a new twentieth-century work, would welcome the opportunity to listen to it first. Because the amount of Irish music recorded commercially is still so small, however, this can be an insuperable problem. The Contemporary Music Centre therefore sought permission from RTÉ to make copies of recordings of Irish contemporary music held in the RTÉ sound archive and in 1996 this was granted.
The RTÉ sound archive is a marvellous resource: a virtual history in words and music of the nation in the twentieth century. Indeed, in the absence of any other provision, it is de facto our National Sound Archive. But of course RTÉ is a broadcasting station, not a public facility, and while staff have always to the best of their ability facilitated requests for access it would be impossible to make all the material available for public reference.
The Archive Transfer Project
Following in the footsteps of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, which initiated a similar project to transfer Irish traditional material some years ago, CMC embarked upon a major project to identify, copy and catalogue any recordings by, or relating to, Irish classical music. RTÉ generously provided co-funding for a two-year period in return for back-up copies of all works on DAT, plus the cataloguing record (containing much information not available to RTÉ) for each piece of music. Thus the project has the twin objectives of digitally preserving the collection in RTÉ, while allowing public access through the cassette copies lodged in CMC.
To give some idea of the scale of the project, there are about 1500 tapes of contemporary Irish music in the RTÉ sound archive containing some 2500 works: probably about 700 hours of music. To date, some 900 cassettes have been added to the CMC collection, totalling more than 1300 compositions. Most of these are either live recordings made at concerts or studio recordings, but there is a significant and very interesting body of interviews and talks.
The benefits of the project, when completed, will be enormous. The scarcity of recordings of contemporary Irish music will be addressed by providing public access to material never previously available. The existence of a parallel, back-up collection will ease the fears of those who have, down the years, heard scare stories about lack of due value being accorded to the sound archive by the authorities in RTÉ.
The detailed computer cataloguing in CMC will allow examination of the data in many different ways and is already throwing up some fascinating angles for researchers: the apparent popularity -- or otherwise -- of certain composers and styles; the vast variations in interpretation that there can be in performances of the same work by different conductors; the producers who were most involved in contemporary music programming; and the periods in the seventy-year life of the station when there seemed to be an upsurge or a die-back in commitment to Irish composers.
The transfer process
The process by which each recording is transferred happens in several stages. Batches of reel-to-reel quarter-inch tapes are brought to CMC from RTÉ for preliminary cataloguing, then sent out to a freelance sound engineer for copying onto DAT and cassette. On their return, they are checked, labelled and final details (such as exact duration) are confirmed for the computer database. Information such as the recording date, the transmission date and the producer are noted, in addition to such obvious facts as the composer/work title and the programme and series titles. If there is a spoken introduction -- either by the composer or by a continuity
announcer -- this is noted, as well as information on the performers and any other snippits that may help to build the 'big picture' as the material accumulates. Once this process is completed, the cassettes (two copies of each) are added to the CMC sound archive and the DATs and reels returned to RTÉ. When the project eventually reaches its end, a copy of all the cataloguing records will be given to RTÉ in digital form to input into
their own computer system. It should be pointed out that strict copyright control is exercised at all stages: those wishing to access the collection can do so only by coming to the Centre in person. Recordings may not be taken out and further copies may not be made for any reason whatsoever.
Among the literally hundreds of works by Irish composers spanning the period since the foundation of the station in in 1926 are many rare recordings. For instance, the complete 1954 recording of Padraic Fallon's play, The Wooing of Etain, with music by Brian Boydell, and the premiere recording of James Wilson's opera, Twelfth Night, performed at the Wexford Festival in 1969. Gerard Victory's prolific output is also reflected with, in the material accessioned to date, some 150 separate recordings of his works made between 1954 and 1991.
The series, Sixty Years of Irish Radio, included a number of programmes on Irish composers presented by Brian Boydell. Recorded in 1986, these -- now that we are on the verge of the new millennium -- provide an excellent overview of the development of music in Ireland during the earlier part of the century, a picture that the current Thomas Davis lecture series will update, we hope. The Dublin Festival of Twentieth Century Music is another rich source: so far we have tapes of over 140 works recorded between 1969 and 1984, many of them first performances of pieces that have since become the bedrock of the twentieth-century repertoire. And that's just the Irish music! The Festival's concerts of music by young composers mark the emergence of many names that are now well-known: Frank Corcoran, Raymond
Deane, Paul Hayes and Fergus Johnston among others. Interval talks and interviews are another fruitful hunting-ground: the Composers in
Conversation series made by Dermott Rattigan in 1987-88 and the intriguing 1964 series, Dr Larchet and Musical Dublin, in particular.
As the promoter of contemporary music in Ireland, we hope to encourage members of the public, whether specialist or non-specialist, to use this resource. Discover music new to you and re-appraise those works you put on one side years ago. The collection is available to you, so please contact the Centre and arrange a visit.
The CMC/RTÉ Archive Transfer Project has been made possible through the support and co-operation of many people, in particular Don Kennedy and Majella Breen of the RTÉ Sound Library; Séamus Crimmins of RTÉ FM3 Music; Kevin Healy and Kieran Dempsey, RTÉ. The initial cataloguing and set-up of the project was undertaken by Róisín Maher while she was CMC's Information Officer. Aidan McGovern is the sound engineer and the project is currently in the hands of Jonathan Grimes, CMC's Information and Outreach Manager.