What can you make with the audio in a library’s collection? This post explores this question through one audio collection within Concordia’s Library, and the audio work linked in this post functions as a demonstration of how sound-based research can be one way of re-situating archival collections in sonic proximity to each other.
Listening to Collections
What is an audio collection? An audio collection is a group of recordings – recordings that have a connection to each other, either through the content (a collection of a type of audio recording), or the circumstances of their recording (e.g. part of a reading series), or their association with an individual (e.g. a writer, community, or a person who recorded/saved the audio). Audio collections can be held by libraries, museums, archives, and other places where recordings are stored. The SSHRC-funded partnership project of SpokenWeb is a digital project involving audio collections and the sound-based research generated through these collections, among others, and the exploration of critical methods of literary listening. SpokenWeb researchers reactivate audio collections through digitization, pedagogy, research, performance, podcasts and more. Find a list here of the many audio collections currently being processed by SpokenWeb’s partner institutions across Canada.
Within Concordia’s Library, there are multiple audio collections. One of these audio collections was the starting place for SpokenWeb, and that collection of recordings is called the Sir George Williams Poetry Series collection. Since this was a poetry series held at Concordia (then called Sir George Williams University), the original recordings are held by Concordia’s Records Management and Archives. Then, the digitized versions of these recordings are available online at SpokenWeb Montreal SGW Poetry Series. But there are also copies of the recordings, still in analogue, available through the Webster Library.
Or, at least it was my hunch that they were copies of the recordings. The catalogue descriptions did not say much about where the recording was from, so I wasn’t completely sure until I was able to listen to the tape. Upon hearing the first sounds, I knew that, yes, it was a copy of the Muriel Rukeyser reading from 1969 that is part of the SGW Poetry Series collection.
Making New Audio as Re-Situating Sound
What can you do with a recording? One approach is to make new audio with that audio – and, in this case, you can make new audio that is audio-based literary criticism. The one recording that you see above – and as heard in all of its media formats – inspired the making of three ‘minisodes’ of ShortCuts, a monthly series that I produce for The SpokenWeb Podcast.
Making this audio led to a hearing of the Rukeyser recording in the context of both this collection and the collection of Rukeyser’s archival materials, as represented through the digital project Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive. Recordings in a collection are always in relation to each other, but sometimes it can be hard to hear that relationality when listening to one recording on its own.
Listen to find out how one recording leads to connections among researchers and among archives – all through listening.
Through connections made as a result of re-playing and re-framing the Rukeyser recording on ShortCuts, I was invited to write a piece for Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive for the symposium Revisiting Rukeyser’s Elegies and I share the link to that post here – Every elegy is the present”: Listening to Muriel Rukeyser – as an extension of the the sounds found in the library.
How is the library, for you, a space of making? Check out Concordia Library’s Technology Sandbox for digital tools to get started making in the library.
Camlot, Jason, Al Filreis, and Steve Evans. “Literary Archives in the 21st Century.” Amodern 4 (March 2015), https://amodern.net/article/beyond-text/.
Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive, http://murielrukeyser.emuenglish.org/.
—. “Muriel Rukeyser at SGWU, 1969” (audio recording from the Sir George Williams Poetry Series. SpokenWeb, 24 January 1969), https://montreal.spokenweb.ca/sgw-poetry-readings/muriel-rukeyser-at-sgwu-1969
McLeod, Katherine. “Connections.” ShortCuts 2.5 (Feburary 2021), https://spokenweb.ca/podcast/shortcuts/.
—. “The Poem Among Us.” ShortCuts 2.2(November 2020), https://spokenweb.ca/podcast/episodes/the-poem-among-us/.
—. “You Are Here.” ShortCuts 2.4 (January 2021), https://spokenweb.ca/podcast/episodes/you-are-here/.
“SGW Poetry Series” SpokenWeb Montreal, https://montreal.spokenweb.ca/sgw-poetry-readings/.
“Stories of SpokenWeb.” Producers Cheryl Gladue and Katherine McLeod. The SpokenWeb Podcast Ep. 1 (3 Oct 2019), https://spokenweb.ca/podcast/episodes/stories-of-spokenweb/