Bringing the past to life

In launching the Gramophone Online project, Neumann House sought to make available and promote early audio documents of Hungarian popular culture that are preserved in a now outdated format.

The Internet then and now

When the word “gramophone” is mentioned, the sounds of crackling records and gloomy melodies come to mind. Seen from the twenty-first century, early twentieth century entertainment seems much less diverse than it actually was. In fact, gramophone records and newsreels were the Internet of the pre-radio era. Using media that were modern and stylish, they defined taste, helped organise communities, and were sources of both culture and entertainment. The soldier songs, dance music, vaudeville tunes, solo comedy performances, melancholic poems, religious songs and folk-style music of the era show us how the journeymen, soldiers, townspeople and fine ladies under the Monarchy amused themselves and whiled away the hours. Tears, mischievousness, dance, piety, historical tragedies and frivolous romances – they all come to life through these black discs.

Béla Vikár started to collect Hungarian folk music traditions about the same time that the entertainment industry replaced traditional folk culture. Ironically, he used the phonograph – a novelty which eventually brought “self-sufficient” community entertainment to an end – to preserve the sounds of the tradition. Nowadays, as the traditions recorded on gramophone records are also disappearing, it is time for a new form of media to step in. In 2010, the Internet makes it possible for everyone to see and experience the past.

A new model and a new project

In Hungary, no public collection has attempted yet to collect gramophone records. So far only private collections have found, preserved and filed these (historical) documents of the popular culture of bygone years. The new collection of the Neumann House also introduces an innovative model in Hungary: collectors’ archives. Our goal is to build a bottom-up collection in which private collectors make their gramophone recordings public and share their knowledge with other collectors and with the public. Everybody can access and rate the items in the collectors’ archives – the community has both the right and the obligation to develop the collection and the knowledge base.

Gramophone Online collects and processes recordings on 78 rpm gramophone discs produced and issued in Hungary from 1906 – when such recordings were first made in Hungary – onwards. Our goal is to make every recording on the site available for listening without any restrictions, and to keep them there. The real success of our initiative will come when the audio recordings of the first half of the last century come to life again: when we start to reclaim, use and reshape the traditions preserved by gramophone records.

David Kitzinger
David Kitzinger
Neumann Nonprofit Kft

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