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King's Sound Archive

History of the King's Sound Archive


In 2001 the BBC Gramophone Library gave King's College London 145,000 of their duplicate 78rpm discs, retaining one copy themselves. The discs had been used by the BBC for broadcast from both London and regional studios, and multiple copies were usually bought to guard against breakage, wear and loss. Most sleeves are annotated with the dated initials of producers who borrowed them from the Gramophone Library, and all discs have labels asking that they be returned. A curious result of wear and tear is that the most popular discs tend to be missing, all copies having been worn out or broken. Yet it is just these items that tend to make up the private collections we are frequently offered. Consequently, thanks to the generosity of many donors, we have been able to fill a lot of obvious gaps. A magnificent gift of some 2500 acoustic vocals has recently brought the total number of additions to around 5700 discs.

Recent History

In accepting the original donation, the College expected that the archive would be used for research and teaching, and would be developed through research and other income. An AHRC Innovation Award in 2002-3 set up a transfer studio and enabled the transfer of ca. 100 recordings of Schubert songs. They, along with a further 400 Schubert songs and 2,250 other tracks of a wide range of music recorded between ca. 1900 and ca. 1955, are available via the CHARM sound file archive, together with 2,350 transfers made under the MBI project (see below).

CHARM, the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, funded an upgrade to the studio, giving us a professional-level facility for transferring recordings between most common formats, and, together with the JISC-funded 'Musicians of Britain and Ireland, 1900-1950' project, it provided posts (2007-2009) for two transfer engineers, Andrew Hallifax, and Martin Haskell. Their task was to provide both archive copies and downloadable files (using lossless compression) of 78rpm recordings from the collection selected with a view to supporting the CHARM research projects and also providing a conspectus of the recordings bought and enjoyed by UK listeners during the heyday of the 78 era. As well as Schubert songs, Chopin mazurkas, the National Gramophonic Society label, and recordings from ca. 1925-32, Andrew transferred representative samples of the HMV plum labels (especially Series C), supported with selections from other HMV, Columbia (UK) and Decca series, among others. Martin focused on British and Irish musicians who formed the backbone of the catalogues until the creation of EMI in 1931 led to a new focus on international stars. In general we aimed to provide recordings not easily available in commercially available CD transfers, although the very different approach to transfer taken by CHARM/MBI, using original side breaks and only as much noise reduction as will leave the musical signal completely intact, means that where there is duplication the CHARM sound will be significantly different, closer to the original experience of playing a 78 (but better!).

CHARM also made an online discography of 78rpm recordings, based on generous donations of data from Alan Kelly (his unparalleled transcriptions of the Gramophone Company catalogue and matrix series registers), Michael Gray (especially data on Columbia and Decca series) and other discographers including data from WERM. This huge task was carried out principally by the CHARM web project manager, Francis Knights.


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