New sound archive collates 100-year-old voices from India
New Delhi: Mahatma Gandhi`s speech caught on gramophone during his 1931 visit to England now shares space with classical music legend M S Subhalakshmi`s song, recorded when she was just nine, in a new virtual archive.
The Archive of Indian Music (AIM), set to be formally launched on July 30, is an online compilation of vintage gramaphonic records of speeches, songs, plays etc dating as far back as 1902.
"This is a private initiative, a non profit trust where we source oldest rarest gramophone records like old ghazals, speeches of leaders, theatre recordings, folk music etc and digitise it for free access by laymen," Vikram Sampath, founder AIM said.
Sampath, an engineer, historian, author and musician from Bangalore has till date digitised 1000 clips from a collection of 12,000 gramaphone recordings and a total of 200 artists on the site, a pilot project that began in May this year.
"We have an ambitious target of taking it up to one lakh clips in the next five years," says Sampath.
The archive includes digital version of first recording of Vande Matram clips, of Rabindranath Tagore reciting poetry as also recordings from early cinema, film songs by Mohammed Rafi and playback singers, folk music and devotional songs, ghazals, qawali as well as recordings of old plays etc.
"I first hit upon the idea while researching for a book he wrote on Gauhar Jaan, a singer from Kolkata, who was the first from India to record on gramophone in 1902," says Sampath.
He says he then started sourcing old gramophones from "chor bazaars, flea markets and raddiwaalas."
After landing a fellowship to Berlin in 2010, Sampath visited sound archives in Euope in places like Vienna, Berlin, and London and wanted to set up a similar one in India.
Assisted with a seed capital from T V Mohandas Pai, and collaboration with Manipal University, a registered office for the archive was set up in Bangalore.
Using imported machinery and hiring a dedicated technician, Sampath`s not-for-profit trust is now seeking to digitise and preserve for posterity valuable slices of India`s cultural history and musical heritage.
"We are now asking people to give us their old condemned forgotten records so that we can digitise it. It could also be just ordinary recordings but will give us a slice of life in those times," says Sampath.
The 33-year-old engineer had two months ago organised an "Audio-visual" exhibition in Bangalore when the archive`s pilot site was launched. The exhibition is set to travel to Kolkata and Delhi too.
"We need to keep scaling up given our target. I plan to set up kiosks at Bangalore`s airport and metro rail stations for people to listen to and other activities to disseminate the information," says Sampath.
Currently while the office of the archive has been set up in Mumbai, the AIM also plans to expand to areas like Kolkata.
"Archiving is a tremendous task. We need to undertake work on a war footing to achieve our ambitious target. We plan to establish parallel centres in Kolkata and other places where historically there has been a lot of recording," says Sampath.
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