Audio Field Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

reelsReel-to-reel recordings in the Pitt Rivers Museum sound collectionsThe Pitt Rivers Museum has collected sound recordings for one hundred years, the first collection being the Diamond Jenness collection of wax cylinders recorded in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands off Papua New Guinea during 1911–12.

The technological possibility of recording language and music meant that some early anthropologists went to great lengths to take the bulky equipment to remote locations. Despite these efforts, the use of sound recordings within the Museum and in anthropological research remained limited. Although there were periodic attempts to revive interest in them, such as by curator T. K. Penniman in the 1940s, and the gradual acquisition of further material alongside artefact donations, field recordings remained difficult to use in the Museum and in research.

The Real 2 Reel project marks the first concerted effort to shed light on these sound archives in the history of the Pitt Rivers Museum. The aim of the project is to analyse these collections, to archive and digitize their contents, and to raise the profile of the collection and grant access to the collection to the general public. The digitization of early formats of sound recordings now means that everyone can listen to these unique field collections, and their potential as illuminating cultural documents can at last be revealed. This section contains introductions to all of our main collections of field recordings, including information about the collectors and playlists to introduce the music and sounds collected.


Sound Galleries

Musical torchlit trails at the Pitt Rivers Museum

On Friday November 23rd 2012, the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum were plunged into evening darkness and bathed in Bayaka music and sound from the Central African Republic. Visitors were given torches to explore the galleries that were transformed into a rich forest soundscape with sung fables, snatches of laughter, beautiful variations on harps and flutes, and the stunning polyphonic singing of Bayaka women. Hidden surprises included mini projections from the rainforests and a visualiser designed by Nathaniel Mann, the PRM's Embedded Composer in Residence. The evening was filmed By Mike Day of Intrepid Cinema as part of the Reel to Real project, and complemented the Oxford City-wide Christmas Light Night organised by Oxford Inspires. A four hour playlist of Bayaka music from the PRM's sound collections, originally recorded by Louis Sarno, was curated on the evening by Nathaniel Mann and Dr Noel Lobley. The event was streamed online, and was watched live in the Central African Republic by Louis Sarno and some of the Bayaka community.





Copyright 2012 The Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford