Phonogram archive

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Phonogram archive
founding April 27, 1899 as a scientific sound archive
Sponsorship Austrian Academy of Sciences
place Vienna , Austria
Head Kerstin Klenke
Employee approx. 16
Website (ex

The phonogram archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (acronym: PhA) is an institution of the Austrian Academy of Sciences based in Vienna . It was founded on April 27, 1899 as a scientific sound archive and is the oldest audiovisual archive in the world.

The scientific orientation and working method of the PhA has attracted international attention since its foundation, and so numerous sound archives have emerged that were created according to the PhA model or that the PhA contributed to the establishment of an advisory body.

1999, were Historical Collections (1899-1950) of the Phonogrammarchiv ( vocal portraits , ethnological collections Pöch, Dirr, Trebitsch, Idelsohn u. A.) In the World Register Memory of the World of UNESCO received (World Documentary Heritage).

The competence in dealing with historical sound carriers, their preservation, digitization and long-term preservation, which has grown out of the care of the collection, has made the PhA a recognized specialist institute for the playback of historical or damaged sound carriers, and video formats that have recently become obsolete, and brought the phonogram archive in 2007 the highest international award in the field of document preservation, the UNESCO Jikji Prize.

Since the PhA began recording and collecting, numerous publications have been published that present parts of the collections and various research results on the audio and video documents and their context.

Areas of responsibility

The central tasks of the Phonogram Archive (PhA), founded in 1899, consist of the production, collection, indexing, long-term preservation and the permanent availability of scientific sound and video recordings of all disciplines and without regional restrictions. Particular attention is paid to the source-critical indexing and annotation of the archived recordings, which creates the added value that allows further and as diverse an evaluation as possible.

The PhA increases its holdings through methodical and technical support for research projects, through the takeover of collections from Austrian researchers and through its own research projects that break new ground in terms of content and method.

Methodical and technical developments for the recording, playback and storage of audio and video recordings have always been promoted, which today is expressed in particular in a specialization in the playability, transmission and digitization of historical sound carriers.

The availability of the collections is promoted through publications and specific edition series (e.g. those of the historical holdings 1899–1950).

The activities of the PhA are thus characterized by the interlocking of the most varied of work areas, which is reflected in the interdisciplinary composition of its team (African studies, history, musicology, ethnomusicology, cultural and social anthropology, linguistics, audio and video technology and IT).

Analogous to the designated areas of activity, the phonogram archive is both a research institute and an archive dedicated to the specific sciences and the regional and global public interest in general, which contributes significantly to the documentation and preservation of the cultural heritage.


The establishment of the Phonogram Archive Commission by the Imperial Academy of Sciences on April 27, 1899 is considered the foundation of the Phonogram Archive. Among others, the physiologist Siegmund Exner-Ewarten , who also became the first chairman of the Phonogram Archive Commission, was involved in the foundation .

With the establishment of the Phonogram Archive (PhA) in 1899, the then imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna pursued the intention of making the new technology of sound recording usable for science. With the production and collection of sound recordings, research into the most varied languages, dialects and musical traditions should be promoted, if not made possible in the first place.

In addition, the recording of important personalities, the “voice portraits”, was seen as an essential addition to the documentation with the aspect of the acoustic dimension. In the early days, this original work program was expanded to include recordings from the fields of zoology and medicine as well as "soundscape recordings" (noises).

Initially, however, the focus was on coping with the problem of loss-free duplication and long-term storage of the sound recordings for later use, which was solved by constructing a special archive phonograph: Thomas Alva used Edison's recording technology, but wrote on wax plates, of which then metal matrices were made in a galvanoplastic process.

Several and increasingly lighter versions of the archive phonograph were constructed until gramophone technology was introduced into the PhA in 1927.

It was replaced by recording on magnetic tape in 1951, but it was not until 1958 that the PhA also made portable tape recorders available for field research. The first digital recordings were made in 1985, and with the introduction of R-DAT devices in 1990, the digital format finally established itself. In 2002 the OeAW decided to expand the phonogram archive to include a video department that works according to the principles of the audio sector.

Since it was founded, the phonogram archive has been collecting both voice recordings (voice portraits) and pieces of music in accordance with its intended purpose by the Academy. Extensive documentation is particularly important. Each recording is usually supplemented by a detailed log, which contains information about the persons recorded, the circumstances surrounding the recording and technical details.

Initially, a main focus seems to have been on non-European collections, although Austria had no colonies. Austrian folk music is at least not the only focus of the collection. So it came about a. to the following early collections:

  • the botanist Richard Wettstein took pictures of the Guarani Indians in 1901
  • the meteorologist Felix Maria von Exner-Ewarten , son of the first chairman of the phonogram archive commission Siegmund Exner-Ewarten, made recordings in India from 1904–05
  • the doctor and anthropologist Rudolf Pöch took pictures in 1904-06 in New Guinea and in 1908 with the Khoisan in the Kalahari, then known as the Bushmen
  • Furthermore, in 1909 the linguist and ethnologist Adolf Dirr in the Caucasus and the linguist (Finno-Ugrist) Gustaf John Ramstedt (1873–1950) and the missionary Father Joseph van Oost in Mongolia, in the same year the cantor and musicologist Abraham Zvi made Idelsohn Recordings of Hebrew liturgical chants
  • from Rudolf Trebitsch derived recordings from Greenland (1906), of the Celtic minorities of Europe (1907 to 1909), the Basque (1913)

Another core of the early holdings is the collection of voice portraits , which is continued by the Austrian Media Library (founded in 1960). These include the well-known recordings of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The foundation of the phonogram archive coincides with the beginning of comparative musicology in Austria. In 1886 Richard Wallaschek published Aesthetics and Music and then went to London, where he dealt with various musical problems. There he published Primitive Music in 1893 .

Eduard Hanslick received his habilitation in Austria in 1856. He had been an associate professor since 1861 and a full professor since 1870. In 1895 Hanslick retired, his chair was taken over by Guido Adler , who received his habilitation in 1882 with a study on harmony at the University of Vienna . Wallaschek returned to Vienna and received his habilitation there in 1896 in musicology (music aesthetics), i.e. in the field of Hanslick. This year is therefore also considered to be the beginning of comparative musicology in Austria.

Right from the start, emphasis was placed on the technical and content-related description and annotation of the recordings as detailed as possible in order to guarantee their further evaluation.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Early collections - Memory of the World: The oldest audiovisual archive in the world ( Memento of the original from July 8, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ,
  2. The Historical Collections (1899-1950) of the Vienna Phonogrammarchiv , List of registered heritage
  3. Mission Statement, s.; Jennifer Post (with David A. Threasher): Sound archives . §7: Europe: Austria , Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy, accessed 04-05-2008
  4. ^ Walter Graf: The comparative musicology in Austria since 1896. In: Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council , Vol. 6, 1974, pp. 15-43.
  5. The examples are given by Walter Graf, 1974, p. 24. The New Grove , ed. S. Sadie.
  6. ^ Walter Graf, 1974, p. 16.