Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Archives, your archives, our arkives; Decoding and Precoding the Afrosonics Collection

As a Special Collection, the archive of Afro and Astro/Sonics and/or Jazz Poetry at Columbia University’s Music Library will feature rare and often out-of-print lps, tapes, cds, and related texts and ephemera, by and related to such writers as Langston Hughes; Amiri Baraka; Joseph Jarman; Jayne Cortez; William ‘Smiley’ Winter, Michael  S. Harper, Jeanee Lee, William Parker, the list goes on. This collection will be highly curated, as among its primary aims is the gathering of material that occupies and defines a specific and often repudiated aesthetic register, an expanse of tone science all its own, with the belief that the aggregate, the critical mass of recordings and related materials that define this vast expanse of tone and technique, all assembled in one place as it never before has been, will lead to a deeper and more lucid understanding of this body and type of work. This collection reveals Afrosonics as a form unto itself; an omni-poetics that exists in the interstices between genres, goes beyond the commonly perceived scope of oral tradition, and is an enactment of the Black Aesthetic and often the Black Avant Garde and Black Radical Tradition, that responds, by mobilizing the powers of sound to alter perception/destiny, and enhance comprehension— to the neglect , invisibility, fragmentation and fetishization, that characterize the treatment of black artforms on every level of Western society from the Academic sphere to Popular Culture to Religion to Folk Arts to Politics.
If there is a militant aspect to this project, it is unique in that the most militant component to this work is the act of doing it at all.  To compile this material in a thorough and loving manner before it goes out of print or dissolves into pure lore and myth and oral history, and can no longer be accessed en masse as collectors lose track of original recordings, etc—to present these endangered recordings in one place is an act of rebellion against the complacency and academic politics and whatever other learned or de-ritualized behavior has prevented such an archive from being built and made available on the University level (or any level in the public sphere/commons) before now. In addition, this archive will undoubtedly draw scholars from all levels of research and art practice to the University, and create the space for the formulation of new pedagogy around both archival and art practice. The collection will likely fuel alliances with scholars at nearby universities like NYU, BARD, and CUNY as the academic community as a whole is inundated with interest in Digital Humanities and this archive offers a robust point of entry into that ecosystem while it is delicate and relatively young. 
The optimal functioning of the Collection relies on three key, interdependent qualities:
* The assembly of a critical mass of albums and sounds recorded by writers and musicians that include but are not limited to, recitations of poetry and poetic material, speeches, wordless vocals, etc., either with or without musical accompaniment. We will begin with about 30 such Albums and the collection will grow therefrom as we continue to locate original copies of the works we plan to include.
** The presentation of the materials in a manner that allows active engagement with them including access to liner notes and related reading, as well as equipment that allows for on-the-spot mixing of spoken albums with instrumental ones so as to make clear that use of the archive as a form or art practice or praxis is not only possible but in some way imperative to genuine understanding of its aesthetic and purpose and continued relevance to and application in, forms like djing and mixing music as well as more traditional Jazz and Black Classical forms. It needs to be noted that in the absence of traditional archives and arts training Black music and musicians have taken to turning so-called archival materials (jazz, blues, and soul records from the parent’s collections for example) into instruments in order to both make new music and learn about what predates it in the same gesture. Hip Hop and electronic music forms are based in this and written forms can also work in this way, grammar itself can work in this way.
***The recording and release of new albums in this tradition by living writers, musicians, thinkers, etc., also to be included in the collection, (including materials assembled by way of the Beautiful Voices Project). These new albums will feature liner notes and sometimes books and essays to accompany them. At times the new lps will be devoted to out-of-print books by such beloved authors as Gwendolyn Brooks, at other times they will respond to in-print books that lend themselves to oration and easily bloom into music, such as any title by Clarice Lispector. This continuation of the legacy that the Afrosonics Collection highlights will allow for courses and seminars on both theory and practice of the symbiosis of: writing literature, poetry, and theory/criticism, lyric essays, etc.; recording music; and archiving, that we are positing and proving by way of the archive itself. These courses will examine the relationship between collective improvisation, devotion, archival practice, and the so-called black aesthetic as it manifests in all forms of writing, listening, and music. We will also examine listening as a form of its own, one that gives agility to other artforms, as much of this collection will address the importance of listening to scholarship, to the arts in general, to the human heart/spirit/soul.
∞We plan to inaugurate the collection with a listening party and live dj/ ensemble event at a local jazz venue