Hello All,

I’m Rachel Colwell, a graduate student in Ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley and fellow student in “Music in Israel.” My research so far has explored Tunisian conceptions of musical and cultural “hybridity” and “authenticity” through a cluster of contemporary fusion musics. I am interested in studying how intentionally “hybrid” musical projects (fusion and some ma’luf) inform and are informed by Tunisian cultural histories, nationalist movements, and personal and group identities.

Professor Spagnolo asked that if I could speak a little to our recent (Tuesday, January 24th) Skype chat with Dr. Gila Flam, ethnomusicologist and Director at the National Sound Archive at the National Library of Israel. I am posting my reactions here in the form of a series of questions; our initial conversation with Flam opened up massive (and extremely interesting) “can of worms,” so to speak. As we began pulling apart today in class, archives, musical or otherwise, are manifestations and products of individual and group choices. Whether operating implicitly or explicitly, any amassed collection represents or seeks to carry out particular agendas and works within (or may challenge) ascribed or prescribed scopes, limits, and expectations. The Israeli National Sound Archive is, as we’ve seen, no exception.

As Flam explained, the National Archive originated in the imaginations of members of the “Zionist” diaspora, that is, groups of individuals who advocate (or advocated at that time) for the establishment of a Jewish sovereign state (Professor Spagnolo may have a different or more nuanced definitions for the class). The National/University Library was founded around 120 years ago, long before the state of Israel was founded in 1948 (the National Sound Archive officially established in 1964). Did these archive-founding Zionists, embedded in diverse societies and cultural systems, envision the creation of a Jewish National Archive or an Israeli one? As I’m sure we’ll delve much more deeply into soon enough, Diasporic Jews and Israelis so often conceptualize, rehearse, perform, and internalize “Jewish-ness” differently. And that’s not even beginning to suggest the innumerable ways of “being Jewish” for Israelis and other Jews alike. What would the differences in Israeli and Diasporic objectives for the archive sound like?

Similarly, what roles do Diasporic Jews and Israelis currently play in determining what falls within the archive’s scope for collection and what does not? How does the “outside” define the Israeli nation differently than the “inside,” who holds that authority, and how did they come to wield such powers? Further, do differing agendas/definitions (Israeli and Diasporic Jewish, for instance) dialogue, and if they do, how are hierarchies of defining authenticity and heritage come into play? Who funds the projects of the archive? How important are Zionist contributions to the archive today and how do shifting opinions (particularly among American Jews) affect the funding and agendas at the archive?

If the collection is meant to be representative of “Jewish memory,” as Flam put it, as “not necessarily aligned with geographical place,” how is “collective memory” or “national memory” being defined (not to mentioned “nation” as used in this context)? Archives create and fabricate memory as much as they preserve, protect, and share it. If “tradition” (however defined) is, in fact, the focus for preservation, how does one determine what is old or important enough to be considered “intangible heritage” (the terminology used by UNESCO (United nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and what more recently “invented traditions” do not need to be protected or shared through the archive (seems like that’s “popular music” and “folk music” as defined by Flam)? Who has the right to determine or pass judgment in regard to these culturally precarious questions: governments, private organizations, nationalist organizations, religious groups, and individuals? What say should scholars, lay people, music appreciators, foreigners, tourists, musicians, non-Israelis, and non Jews have in how and what becomes part of an archive? Can and should soundings be “owned” by individuals or a community? Certainly, as we’ve seen time and again, sounds can and are used as tools for any number of tasks.