We've been ogling over Kara Van Malssen's Silk Road audio project for a while now, so it's about time we interrogated this internationally recognized sound archivist once and for all. If you haven't heard, Kara and her team of adventurers will be driving from the UK to Mongolia this summer as part of the Mongol Rally, and she'll be collecting sounds from every country in their path that she'll then curate into a series of audio pieces. What's this year's hot jam in Almaty, Kazakhstan? TBA! In the meantime, say hello to Kara.
What does it mean exactly to be an audiovisual archivist?
In a nutshell, an audiovisual archivist preserves and makes accessible audiovisual content: film, video, audio, etc. You can find us in film archives, broadcasting organizations, movie studios, corporations, historical societies, museums, traditional archives, libraries, governmental organizations, and more!
While people come to the field from many different directions, I actually trained specifically in this profession, obtaining a Master of Arts in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation from NYU. I currently work as a consultant at a small firm called AudioVisual Preservation Solutions in New York City. We help organizations manage, preserve, and distribute their audiovisual collections. My focus is on digital preservation and digital asset management, and I work with some incredible organizations, including UN Women, NPR, WNET, and the Museum of Modern Art, just to name a few. I also do a lot of work internationally: I've been helping train caretakers of moving image and sound collections in Ghana for the past four years with NYU's Audiovisual Preservation Exchange program, and have a trainer with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property's (ICCROM) Safeguarding Sound and Image Collections (SOIMA) programme, an intensive course for professionals around the world, held every two years. In fact, the week before we depart on the Mongol Rally, I will be teaching for a week in Latvia and Lithuania for SOIMA!
When/how did you decide recording audio was your passion? Was there an inciting sound/event?
In my profession, I meet some incredible people doing incredible things with audiovisual content: creating, recording, remixing, discovering, re-discovering, preserving. I have ethnomusicologist colleagues who get out into the field and make some mindblowing recordings. People like my friend Samuel Franco, the founder and director of the Casa K'ojom in Antigua, Guatemala, who records, preserves, and disseminates traditional Mayan music and cultural practices.
Another influence was a project I heard about at an International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archivists conference called Soundscapes of Mexico, in which they were documenting the sounds of daily life in all regions of the country. (I later saw a fantastic interactive exhibition of this project at the Fonoteca Nacional in Mexico City.) There was another project that a collective in India was working on to preserve the disappearing sounds of the country as it modernizes and industrializes.
There are also awesome music-collecting projects that we are huge fans of: Awesome Tapes from Africa and Voodoo Funk in particular come to mind. We also get inspired by labels like Sublime Frequencies, which have (re)discovered all sorts of forgotten and unknown sounds from around the globe.Read more