The National Sound Archives, a space devoted to memory
The elegant house known as al-Qubba al-Bīḍāʾ the White dome, served as the palace watchtower. This ancillary building houses the National Sound Archives since 1994, one of the departments of the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean music. Like the museum, the permanent exhibition of musical instruments or the musical instrument workshop, this archive is devoted to music and is attended by musicians, music lovers and researchers.
The National Sound Archive provides the CAMM with an essential dimension which is the protection of the phonographic heritage. Indeed, this department pursues several missions aimed at preserving this heritage: collection, cataloguing and restoration of audio recordings and above all, protection and conservation by means of the phonographic legal deposit.
With the National Sound Library, devoted to memory, the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music fulfils one of its fundamental objectives and acts as a polyvalent institution working through a multidisciplinary approach for the promotion of music.
The National Sound Archivey’s mission is to collect, catalogue, conserve, restore, enhance and disseminate the Tunisian phonographic heritage as a whole.
This is the most important means of collecting recordings. Through legal deposit the conservation and preservation of the phonographic memory for the future can be achieved. Indeed, the updated law on legal deposit provides for the deposit of a copy of each audio production released for public use.
So that the legal deposit can fulfil its mission and can effectively become the memory of audio production it must be in a position to observe the publication process to collect this heritage when it is first released, whatever its genre, format or purpose may be.
A unit belonging to the National Sound Archive is responsible for overseeing research projects and collection operations over the country from the technical and scientific point of view. The country is systematically covered so that priorities and emergencies may be identified. The aim is to undertake an exhaustive campaign in order to establish a collection of recordings and related publications.
The National Sound Archive also seeks, as far as possible, to take over phonographic collections held by national institutions (the Tunisian Radio and Television Broadcasting Company) or foreign institutions involved in the conservation of audio recordings. The same approach is followed in the case of private collectors.
The exchange of original documents or simply of copies fills the possible gaps in our phonographic collections. The exchange policy completes the range of tools and means available to add to the encyclopaedic phonographic collection of the Tunisian National Sound Archive.
The phonographic collection is subject to a standardized cataloguing system. A scientific indexing system provides multiple accesses to each document. Cataloguing, indexing, and search operations are fully computerized for optimum efficiency and speed. Thanks to the National Sound Archive’s database it is possible to obtain an accurate picture of the Tunisian phonographic heritage at a glimpse.
Sound documents are conserved under optimum climatic and safety conditions. The policy for their long-term conservation involves ensuring the preservation of both a traditional analogical and a digital recording, the latter being used for consultation.
The National Sound Archive’s restoration workshop resorts to the most recent techniques (in particular with respect to digital sound) to restore deteriorated sound documents and to intervene with great precisions on degraded documents. The fact that both an analogical and a digital recording is conserved means that they are protected from decay over time and that they are easy to consult and to release or re-release .
Use and dissemination
Recovering and conserving phonographic documents cannot be an end in itself. The Tunisian National Sound Archive ensures that copyright relative to literary, artistic and mechanical reproduction of phonographic documents is respected, but it also ensures the revival of this heritage while respecting copyright. The enhancement of the value of this heritage passes through the release of sound recordings in reliable formats and through the consultation of sound documents on the premises along with a publication programme.
The reading room
Listening booths in the Tunisian National Sound Library’s reading room facilitates research work and the study of musicologists and music historians. With the help of specialized audio-librarians and a computer, researchers can rediscover, revisit and revive the Tunisian musical heritage.
The release and re-release of sound recordings
The release and re-release of the Tunisian phonographic heritage in modern formats figures amongst the fundamental missions of the Tunisian National Sound Library. Yet it must be pointed out that the vocation of this national institution is not a commercial one. These missions are solely and exclusively directed towards academic and scientific purposes.
The enhancement of the Tunisian phonographic heritage is not restricted to releasing or re-releasing sound recordings. Indeed, a great variety of concomitant releases (national sound recordings, anthologies) complete this area of work by placing it in its historical context, clarifying its scope and its heritage dimension.