The Oldest Audiovisual Archive in the World

Archiv-Phonograph Type V

The Phonogrammarchiv was founded in 1899 and is the oldest audiovisual archive in the world.

The Wiener Archiv-Phonograph was developed in the Phonogrammarchiv, and put to test for the first time in 1901 during field research in Croatia, Brazil, and on the Isle of Lesbos.

The recording procedure of Edison's cylinder phonograph, the vertical cut technique, was applied to a wax disc, providing an average recording duration of between one and two minutes.

Phonogramm-discs and metal

The disc shape of the so-called Phonogramm permitted the easy production of a permanent metal negative - a vital factor for making access copies, thus preserving the original quality of the recordings.

Because of the heavy weight of the first phonograph (ca. 45 kg!) lighter-weight Reisephonographen (travel phonographs) for fieldwork were constructed. The last model, the Archivphonograph Type V from 1927, weighed only 9.5 kg and was used until 1931.

Famous Collections - Memory of the World

Numerous early collections, famous by now, were recorded with the Archiv-Phonograph, e.g.

Rudolf Pöch: Papua New Guinea 1904-1906, Kalahari 1908

Adolf Dirr: Caucasian languages (1909)

Rudolf Trebitsch: Greenland (1906), Celtic minorities in Europe (1907-1909), Basque (1913)

Abraham Z. Idelsohn: Various traditions and styles of Bible recitation in the Jewish diaspora (Jerusalem, 1911-1913)

"Songs of Russian Prisoners of War"
from World War I:

Early recordings of the various nations and ethnic groups of tsarist Russia

German Dialects of Austria

Voice Portraits:
Recordings of renowned personages such as Emperor Franz Joseph I, Arthur Schnitzler or Josef Weinheber. An early focus in the Phonogrammarchiv's work, now pursued by the Österreichische Mediathek since the latter's foundation in 1960.

In 1999 the Phonogrammarchiv's Historical Collections 1899-1950 were included into the world register of UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Programme. UNESCO thereby confirms the significance of documents of orally transmitted cultures to the heritage of mankind.

Fieldwork Equipment Then and Now

In the studio, the archive switched to the (originally still acousto-mechanical) gramophone technique in 1926.

The era of electric recording began in 1931 with the voice portraits of Anton Wildgans. The production of such recordings required a specifically trained technician. Moreover, the instruments were heavy and depended on electric power supply. Since it was very complicated and costly to make outdoor recordings with these instruments, very few field recordings were made during this period.

In 1951 the magnetic tape technique was introduced in the archive.

1958 marked the first use of portable tape recorders in field research. The availability of such battery-powered equipment led to a massive increase in field recordings held by the Phonogrammarchiv, reflecting the research priorities of Austrian scholars.

Since then Austrian researchers and institutions have appreciated the archive's support in recording projects. The Phonogrammarchiv provides methodological consulting and lends proven, adequate equipment. In return, the resulting field recordings are deposited in the archive.

The first digital recordings were made in 1985, since 1990, R-DAT has become the standard recording format in the studio and the field. In addition to audio matrial, the Phonogrammarchiv has been producing video research documents since 1991. Recently flash-memory and harddrive based recorders replaced R-DAT in the field.


The Phonogrammarchiv - The Austrian Research Video Archive

In the late 1990s, an evaluation team analysing the Phonogrammarchiv's medium-term research programme recommended that the archive's activities should be expanded into video archiving. A survey plus feasibility study conducted in 1998/99 revealed that in recent decades some 2100 hours of video research footage eligible for archiving have accumulated in Austrian research institutions; about half of these stocks were to form part of the new video archive. Upon recommendation of the Council for Research and Technological Development, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture eventually granted the Austrian Academy of Science subsidies to build up a video archive.

Subsequent to the adaptation of new premises and a period of acquiring and testing the necessary software and equipment (video workstation, tape machines, final storage media, etc.), the summer of 2003 eventually heralded the beginning of linear video file archiving at the Phonogrammarchiv.

Research Foci

Main areas of collecting since the 1950s:

Austrian Dialects
in collaboration with the Wörterbuchkanzlei - now: Institut für österreichische Dialekt- und Namenlexika - of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

Austrian Folk Music

Africa (music, languages, cultural documentation)

Roma People of Central and (South-)East Europe and Turkey
(music, language, cultural documentation)

Afghanistan (before the political unrest)

Tribal Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent

Wildlife Sounds from Amazonia, e.g. several sound-producing fishes

Oral Traditions in Spiti and Upper Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India
in collaboration with the FWF research focus "Cultural History of the Western Himalayas from the 10th to the 14th century" and the FWF project "Tradition and Modernity in Tibet and the Himalayas" (audio and video documentation)

Recording Projects conducted by the archive's staff

Systematic Survey of the Language of Austrian Emigrants (since 1990):
Eastern Europe (Romania, Ukraine) and South America

Music in Austrian Everyday Life
"Singen und Musizieren in Österreich" (Singing and Music-Making in Austria, 1978-1986)
"Der musizierende Mensch im ländlichen Raum" (Music-Making in Rural Areas, 1986-1989)
"Dokumentation aktueller Tendenzen in der Volks- und Popularmusikpraxis in Österreich" (since 2008)

Systematic Audio and Video Coverage of Mechanical Musical Instruments
focusing on instruments of Austrian origin

Documentation of Selected Cultural Activities in Vienna:
(since the mid-1980s; since 1996 also video documentation)
Music of various ethnic groups
"Hauskonzerte" - (Home Concerts)
"Jazzleben in Wien" - (Jazz Life in Vienna)
"Traditionelle Wienermusik" - (Traditional Viennese Music)
"Musik der Religionen" - (Music of the Religions)
"Musik der jüdischen Gemeinde" - (Music of the Jewish Community)
"Internationales Musikspektrum Wien"
"Kulturelle Aktivitäten bucharischer und georgischer Juden" - (Cultural activities of Bucharian and Georgian Jews)