Saturday, 12 July 2014

Presentation on affective archiving and collective collecting at Edinburgh conference

The last two days have been spent in Edinburgh at the conference "On Collecting: Music, Materiality and Ownership" held at the National Museum of Scotland. 

Organisers Tami Gadar, Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, Tom Western and Sarah Wordens are to be congratulated on bringing together an eclectic mix of speakers, with presentations on everything from the music books of Georgiana McCrae c. 1827-28 and collecting in light of streaming services to the contemporary appeal of cassettes and the curation of ethnographic sound galleries. 

Particularly interesting was the roundtable on the Friday afternoon which looked at "Collecting, Listening and Thingness" and brought together Kyle Devine, Marion Leonard, Frederick Moehn, Jenny Nex and Laura Tunbridge as discussants. Being a roundtable, none of the speakers were able to go into much depth about their topics but the Chair of the session, sociologist Professor Simon Frith, provided an excellent stitching together of the key issues. One question from the floor concerning the disappearance of community was comprehensively rebutted by Frith who believes "the communal aspect of music is flourishing ... and continues in a great number of ways". I would contend that the prevalence of DIY music archives is an example of this. Frith also noted that "collections of music are not really collections of 'music', they are collections of the materials of music".

Within that broad mix of topics and approaches I gave a paper that builds on presentations delivered at conferences in Rotterdam and Brisbane in 2013, further developing ideas around the affective dimensions of DIY institutions by considering the collective form of collecting that takes place in the archives and museums of my research. Titled "Affective archiving and collective collecting in do-it-yourself popular music museums and archives" the paper outlined five of the ways in which collecting is a collective enterprise in volunteer-run DIY institutions.

The abstract for the paper can be found in an earlier post here.

In the paper I drew on examples from five institutions that have participated in my research to illustrate how collective collecting can be seen to operate in DIY archives and museums in ways that contribute to the cultural, social and affective dimensions of these places. 

(1) I used the Sound Preservation Society of Tasmania (Australia) to demonstrate how DIY archives often begin with enthusiasts bringing together their private collections. 

(2) The case of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (USA) showed how collecting collectively can happen even when there is not yet a central location to hold a collection and so purposefully adding to a private collection is done with the collective in mind. 

(3) The story of one interviewee at the Heart Of Texas Country Music Museum (USA) illustrated how volunteers sometimes seek out special artefacts to buy with the purpose of donating or loaning it to the place at which they volunteer, thus adding to the collection.

(4) Museum RockArt (Netherlands) provided a great example of a collective intelligence strategy for building a collection in which a network of people throughout the Netherlands act as something akin to 'outposts for collecting'.

(5) The Victorian Jazz Archive (Australia), now known as the Australian Jazz Museum, demonstrated how in larger DIY archives collective collecting can be a central part of operations, with volunteers assigned to a collections team in which decisions related to the process of sorting, arranging and organising aspects of the collection are made collectively.

My overall argument is that all of these activities around collective collecting contribute to the affective atmosphere and archival ecologies of DIY archives and museums, enabling these to be places where affective archiving flourishes as volunteers work together to create collections of value. This is not just about the value of the objects being collected but about the value of the activity of collecting to individual volunteers and the volunteer community in their role as custodians of music heritage. This point was brought home with the example of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, an archive and museum which demonstrates how mutual engagement in cooperative labouring activity becomes a significant source of meaning in the lives of volunteers.