Listen to 40 years of art & artists from the Arnolfini archive

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

by David, Sam and Philippa, from the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project

The first collection held by Bristol Archives that Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) digitised was from Arnolfini, Bristol’s contemporary arts centre.

40 years of artists’ talks, performances and more has come to life through their efforts.

This blog is the behind-the-scenes view from the team alongside some clips from this spectacular collection.

To read more about the artists in these clips, visit the Arnolfini website.

Audio clip one

Michael Craig Martin on his relationship to painting. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/6/1

Supertape brand blue and silver audio tape boxDavid Brookfield, Audio Digitisation Engineer – Holding the cassette, I imagine the last person to touch it, 40 years ago. As I examine the shell for damage and information, I imagine it brand new, being unwrapped and going into a 1970s tape recorder.

The needles bounce as the recording wakes from its long hibernation. There’s hiss and hum from recording circuitry long junked. In this 21st century room the voices have a smoky quality of age and culture.

I focus on the quality of the upper frequencies; I make a tiny adjustment to one of the screws that holds the playback head, adjusting the angle by a fraction. The voices now sound bright and immediate, their information current, their meanings timeless.

Audio clip two

Mouse Katz discusses presenting feminist art in the establishment art world. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/63/1

Sam Bates, Audio Digitisation Engineer – Long before I became an audio engineer, I studied art and design. I was hugely excited to learn we were to digitise the Arnolfini archive! Ranging from the late 1960s to the early 2000s, and with many different formats to get stuck into – ¼” analogue tape, cassettes, CDs and minidiscs – it was the perfect way to develop our ways of working as a team.

Audio clip three

Jolyon Laycock’s ‘wordscape with music’, Bladud, performed by Bathhampton Primary School. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/71/1

We had to concentrate to capture each recording with the best possible sound quality. There were many technical challenges; often, items were poorly labelled or contained many different recordings.  We also encountered ‘Sticky Shed Syndrome’, where the plastic formulation that makes up the tape has begun to degrade. These tapes needed to be ‘baked’ in a food dehydrator for several hours before playback was possible.

Audio clip four

Interview with African American women’s dance company Urban Bush Women. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/106/2

Hearing some of the most important artists of the 20th century speak was a wonderful way to get me engaged with the project.

Audio clip five

Craig Richardson talks to passers-by about his art installation outside M Shed. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/63/1

Philippa Lewis, Project Cataloguer – As project cataloguer, once the recordings have been digitised, I work with them to make them accessible for people. To do this, I work out the relevant cataloguing information; how should I describe it in the catalogue so future researchers can find it?

Audio clip six

Derek Jarman talks about the influence of Hollywood on the UK film industry. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/63/1

Many of the recordings were recorded on multiple tapes which often had little or no labelling. This created a unique cataloguing challenge. It required detective work to piece the parts together and establish key information such as performers and dates. Fortunately, Arnolfini’s online ‘programme archive’ was a huge help. This was a great first collection to work on due to the range of the material and the challenges it posed. Through this I developed a deeper understanding of audio cataloguing.

Audio clip seven

Music from Keith Khan’s Flying Costume’s, Floating Tombs performed in Lloyds Amphitheatre. Bristol Archives, Arnolfini collection; 43371/Dept/Ed/4/63/1

You’ll soon be able to listen to this exciting collection (reference #43371) in our searchroom.

UOSH is a national project led by the British Library and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Find out more about Bristol Archives online content policy.

Arnolfini image: © Hannah Atkinson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.