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The archive as a living space: klezmer “revival” in the YIVO Sound Archive

Sun, December 13, 3:45 to 5:00pm


This paper aims at presenting the links between the establishment of The Max and Frieda Weinstein Archive of YIVO Sound Recordings – now housing over 20,000 sound recordings dating from 1901 to today – and the phenomenon of the klezmer music “revival” from the 1970s until today. Its thesis is that the establishment of the Sound Archive at YIVO in the early 1980s by a small group of activists composed of both musicians and scholars was completely integrated with the klezmer “revival”, and how these two events were almost two facets of a single event – the archive being approached as a living space and as a process, seen not only as a repository of sources but also as a somewhat cutting-edge center of creativity in a transnational community.

While placing this sound archive in the broader context of YIVO and of Yiddish scholarship (with its early emphasis on folklore as a key to both documenting a culture already perceived as at risk and to offering a ground for a Jewish identity based on language) we will question its spatiality and temporality. Taking the sound archive as a territory, we will consider the process of cataloging and describing it as the mapping of “mnesic traces” (Derrida) of:
• the actual space of the archive, which allow access to the materials;
• the heterotopic (Foucault) space of the sound recordings themselves, that beyond their materiality, in their texts and melodies, encapsulate and refer to other spaces and other times – “sono-chronotopes?” (Slobin, Bakhtin);
• artifacts of “postmemory”(Hirsch): what is the specificity of sound in the archive? Can these artifacts be compared to photographs in their spectrality (Barthes, Sterne, Derrida) or do they carry more life, in that their temporality cannot be dissociated to what they carry within them? What happens to the archival item when it is removed from its context?

Finally, we will consider the transposition of the archives into other contexts – for example on stage, on air or online – in a process of dislocation and relocation, into a “post-revival” phase of the music, which, to exist, needed the archives to thrive, and vice-versa.