Rock the Archive/Archive the Rock

I am attending a conversation about new ways of archiving with more community focus, interpretation, performance. John Vallier UW Archivist, raised some fascinating questions about how to leverage university libraries for community archiving, working with existing collections. Tara MacPherson shared great information about the online archives most likely to persist where people can upload digital collections: Internet Archive and Critical Commons. Sheila Jackson told us how she has created an on-line community that connects black women rock musicians and their fans. We talked about ethics of access–lots to think about. John wants to facilitate conversations between community archivists about what is needed and what libraries can promise. After we discussed all these issues, we segued into what John called, “How to bring performance into the archive, how to use archive to create new works.” We played instruments while listening to records–speeches by Angela Davis and Martin Luther King –while a silent film played on the wall. Bringing together the archival materials into jam session felt like a different kind of respect and care. We touched and used the materials not as artifacts or “information,” but for the other uses from their pre-artifact existence, only now in a new moment. They can still be used in creative ways.


5 thoughts on “Rock the Archive/Archive the Rock

  1. Sherrie: Your own comments during the session about how we need to attend to open-ness (and preservation) with care were so important. I like to think not about open vs. closed (too much a binary!) but about degrees of open-ness and access.

    • Thank you, Tara. Having the opportunity to hear you talk about access and technology this weekend has been truly inspiring and has helped me to re-think the oppositional stance I keep finding myself taking vis-a-vis “oven vs. closed” access. I love the “degrees” move. I am going to try to position myself more in that way as I continue to grapple with the conversations. I want to respect intellectual property rights, labor, and right to privacy, but certainly not at the expense of access–simply restricting access to those with access to the hallowed vaults of prestigious institutions is not the answer. I admire your work so much and am very grateful.

  2. I’m intrigued by how you felt that jamming with the materials afforded you the opportunity to perform respect for them in another way.

    • Yeah, you know, I think “respect” might not be the word for what I felt. We also played them in ways that could be considered disrespectful. I think what I felt was more of a kind of humility, in terms of what kinds of relationships academics form with material objects. I played an instrument that looked like a string of organic material of some kind (bones?) that shook like a rattle. I enjoyed their sound, I felt uncomfortable knowing nothing about them, but then I felt comfortable with them the more I enjoyed the sound. Maybe what “rocking the archive” does as a practice is a sensual approach to not knowing that remakes the subject-object relationship in some way. I left feeling a closeness to the objects, and to my fellow archive-rockers, and a sense of wonder and unmastery over what it was we had done by touching and using the objects in this way.

  3. Thank you all for attending, participating, and “rocking” this session! I really had no idea how it would flow, so I very much appreciated all of your questions, experiences, and points of conversational departure: from talking about new roles for the academic archive (e.g., a kind of portal or mediated skin for services provided by Internet Archive or similar orgs) and iterative documentation (e.g., video-taping scholars as they move through a collection they are familiar with), to questions of rights/ethics, openess/closedness, archiving the output of online communities, and expressing an archive’s extra-linguistic meanings via performance. So much came up.

    The jam session (more rock in spirit than in volume) felt like a gentle opening salvo to something that could become more. For example, Sherrie, your comments about feeling uncomfortable and edging towards closeness through performing makes me wonder if the act of playing on/with archival objects asks something different of us as researchers. Tara, hearing your DJing of a Morse Code and then Martin Luther King Jr. LP added layers of meaning (and with Morse, polyrhythms) to our live accompaniment of Griffith’s film. I wonder about the purely improvisatory nature of our performance vs something more rehearsed: what does each offer or negate? What about introducing recitation into the mix? Would this in a sense overshadow the sounds and draw us back toward logocentricism? What meanings do the instruments and performance practices we choose have and say about who we are?

    I would love to continue exploring these issues (perhaps via, and rock them into traditional music venues (I can see the 2013 Performative Archival Roadshow t-shirts now).

    And Sherrie, the instrument you were playing consisted of goat hooves

    Thank you all for your open-minded and thoughtful participation.


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