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Alan Lomax's Massive Archive Goes Online

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  • A.J. Wright
    I did a search on Alabama and got 8 pages of results...A.J. Wright ********************** Alan Lomax s Massive Archive Goes Online by Joel Rose National
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 29, 2012

      I did a search on "Alabama" and got 8 pages of results...A.J. Wright


      Alan Lomax's Massive Archive Goes Online

      by Joel Rose
      National Public Radio
      March 28, 2012

      Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk
      music traditions from around the world. Now thousands of the
      songs and interviews he recorded are available for free
      online, many for the first time. It's part of what Lomax
      envisioned for the collection — long before the age of the


      Lomax recorded a staggering amount of folk music. He worked
      from the 1930s to the '90s, and traveled from the Deep South
      to the mountains of West Virginia, all the way to Europe,
      the Caribbean and Asia. When it came time to bring all of
      those hours of sound into the digital era, the people in
      charge of the Lomax archive weren't quite sure how to tackle
      the problem.

      "We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible,"
      says Don Fleming, executive director of the Association for
      Cultural Equity, the nonprofit organization Lomax founded in
      New York in the '80s. Fleming and a small staff made up
      mostly of volunteers have digitized and posted some 17,000
      sound recordings.

      "For the first time, everything that we've digitized of
      Alan's field recording trips are online, on our website,"
      says Fleming. "It's every take, all the way through. False
      takes, interviews, music."

      "Alan would have been thrilled to death. He would've just
      been so excited," says Anna Lomax Wood, Lomax's daughter and
      president of the Association for Cultural Equity. "He would
      try everything. Alan was a person who looked to all the
      gambits you could. But the goal was always the same."

      Throughout his career, Lomax was always using the latest
      technology to record folk music in the field and then share
      it with anyone who was interested. When he started working
      with his father, John Lomax, in the '30s, that meant
      recording on metal cylinders. Later, Alan Lomax hauled giant
      tape recorders powered by car batteries out to backwoods
      shacks and remote villages.

      Lomax wrote and hosted radio and TV shows, and he spent the
      last 20 years of his career experimenting with computers to
      create something he called the Global Jukebox. He had big
      plans for the project. In a 1991 interview with CBS, he
      said, "The modern computer with all its various gadgets and
      wonderful electronic facilities now makes it possible to
      preserve and reinvigorate all the cultural richness of

      He imagined a tool that would integrate thousands of sound
      recordings, films, videotapes and photographs made by
      himself and others. He hoped the Global Jukebox would make
      it easy to compare music across different cultures and
      continents using a complex analytical system he devised —
      kind of like Pandora for grad students. But the basic idea
      was simple: Make it all available to anyone, anywhere in the

      Lomax was forced to stop working when his health declined in
      the '90s, and he left the Global Jukebox unfinished. Now
      that his archives are online, the organization he founded is
      turning its attention to that job.

      The Association for Cultural Equity is housed in a rundown
      building near the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan. Most of
      Lomax's original recordings and notes are now stored at the
      Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But Fleming says the
      New York offices still exude the DIY vibe they had when
      Lomax was working there — right down to the collection of
      castoff chairs and desks, none of which seem to match.

      "There was never any money in it for Alan," says Fleming.
      "Alan scraped by the whole time, and left with no money. He
      did it out of the passion he had for it, and found ways to
      fund projects that were closest to his heart."

      Money is still tight. But that never stopped Alan Lomax, and
      it hasn't deterred Anna Lomax Wood, either.

      "He believed that all cultures should be looked at on an
      even playing field," she says. "Not that they're all alike.
      But they should be given the same dignity, or they had the
      same dignity and worth as any other."

      Almost 10 years after his death, his heirs are still trying
      to make his vision a reality — one recording at a time.

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