Community, memory, and ethical access to music from The Ark and the African field

UMSI professor Paul Conway proposed this project to build and test a prototype content-management platform to digitize and preserve sound recordings of live musical performances. UMSI professor David Wallace will be working with Conway on this project, as will Kelly Askew, a professor in the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Start date: 11/28/2012
End date: 11/28/2014

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This project will build and test a prototype Web-based content management platform for delivering digitized and preserved sound recordings of live performances from 1969-85 at The Ark, a nationally-known nonprofit acoustic and folk music venue in Ann Arbor. The recordings are currently on magnetic tape and efforts are being made to digitize the collection. Once digitized, their use will still be hampered by the lack of metadata and copyright designations since there is no authoritative record of performers, song titles, song topics and cultural references, copyright licenses, or other relevant information.

Since the Ark is a valued local institution, it is hoped that the community can collaboratively create this metadata via the Web management platform that will allow interested users to contribute memories and relevant metadata about songs, performances, performers, and other information about The Ark.

The project will also incorporate live field recordings by Leo Sarkisian that were aired on Voice of America’s “Music Time in Africa” program between 1965 and 1980. The program featured many of the recordings Sarkisian made during his travels throughout Africa and delivered compositions from different regions of the African continent to listeners who had no other means to receive such music.

These rich and deeply evocative collections of sound recordings are preserved at the University of Michigan. This scalable project will digitize a sampling of performances from both sources and engage communities of musicians, music scholars, students, and fans of Americana and World music in describing songs and memories of performances at The Ark and in African communities using a common metadata model. The project will also experiment with intellectual property management for orphaned recordings and for musicians and songwriters who wish to release their recorded performances under Creative Commons licenses.

For more information on The Ark Preservation Project, view a PDF of the project plan


MCubed seed grant: Community, memory, and ethical access to music from The Ark and the African field, University of Michigan: $60,000


MCubed is a two-year seed-funding program designed to empower interdisciplinary teams of University of Michigan faculty to pursue new initiatives with major societal impact.