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Playlist of the Week | Field Recordings of High Holy Day Music from the National Sound Archives

This week, the National Sound Archives (est. 1964) of the National Library of Israel will be featured prominently in our conversations. So, here’s an excellent sampling of archival recordings made by ethnomusicologists in Israel and around the world.

Here is a slideshow for today’s class presentation by two students in Music in Israel. I look forward to post more students’ work for this semester.

My own personal version of paradise (a very musical one) is located in Jerusalem. It’s called National Sound Archives (NSA). These were founded in 1964 by Israel Adler (Berlin 1925-Jerusalem 2009), my beloved teacher and a veritable powerhouse. Israel Adler, who was also the founding director of The Jewish Music Research Center of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was into synergies, and thought that scholars and archivists should work hand-in-hand. The result is a fantabulous collection of hundreds of thousands of recordings, documenting music in Israel (including traditional music of many religious groups as well as the sound archives of the State of Israel), and Jewish music from around the world.

A peculiarity of the NSA is that many of the researchers who have conducted their work there have left their notes to accompany the field recordings they either made or studied. The result is that (if one knows how to ask), scholars working in this institutions not only have access to amazing musical treasures from around the world. They also have access to the scholarship of those who preceded them. Talk about collaborative projects. And talk about standing on the shoulders of giants

The current director of the NSA is dr. Gila Flam. She has spearheaded a massive process of digitization, which is now coming to fruition via the recently opened Music Center of the recently renamed National Library of Israel (it used to be called The Jewish National and University Library, or JNUL). Here she addresses the scope of her project (the style of the video is a bit too formal for my own taste, and not entirely in line with my own experience with the reality of this institution over the last several decades as a vibrant and somewhat unconventional place). We also get to see the Givat Ram (or Safra) Campus of The Hebrew University, its Library, and snippets of the amazing music performances organized under dr. Flam’s guidance. All good stuff.


This week, we will use a compilation of recordings from the NSA as a way to explore the diversity of traditional sounds found, collected and preserved in Israel by its leading sound archive. The compilation, Musical Traditions in Israel: Treasures of the National Sound Archives, has recently become available online, and you can listen to 24 different sound examples here. Unfortunately, most of the metadata for this playlist is in Hebrew, BUT you can find a copy of the booklet that accompanied the original CD release right here (read it carefully!).

In order to guide you in your listening work, and in preparing your first weekly written response, please refer to this week’s handout (and to the syllabus for my guidelines in completing this assignment):

View this document on Scribd

Documentary film-maker Julia Bacha articulates it so well.

“Most of you have probably never heard about” – she says – what the real reality of Israel and Palestine really is.

I’ve felt the very same way myself, reporting once a week about life and culture in Jerusalem during the “second intifada” for RAI (Italian National Radio) in 2002-2003. The sense that what the world knows about this part of the world is so different from what actually happens on the ground can be very dis-empowering. For everyone. Oftentimes, while researching a story in or around Jerusalem, and at the same time reading the headlines, I had the distinct sensation that I was living in a parallel universe.

This is why I like what Bacha says (even though I’m not exactly sure about the methodology she outlines in her outstanding TED Talk). She suggests that empowerment can come through paying attention. This has definitely something to do with our subject of study: the power of our attention (and attention is, primarily, listening: an activity supremely connected with sounds) is an essential key not only in understanding, but also in changing, reality. So, let’s become powerful listeners.

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