Sound Recordings at LFK

When speaking about the Archives of Latvian Folklore (LFK), one tends to think of old and valuable manuscripts, especially the famous Dainu skapis or 'Cabinet of Folksongs' designed by Krisjanis Barons. Of course, the number of manuscripts is the greatest, they constitute the majority of LFK's holdings, most of the folklore items are contained in the manuscripts. But it would be a mistake to consider them as the only valuable material here. LFK holds a number of sound recordings and a significant number of pictorial representations in the form of both drawings and photographs. The number may seem not too great when compared to some of the world's (or even Latvia's) largest specialised archives, still it is important because of its particular purpose, namely collecting all the available material related to folklore.

The first sound recordings were made in 1920's. Two archive shelves are occupied by rigid cardboard boxes containing hollow cylinders (some 190 altogether.These are the first technical information carriers in our archives. According to the Inventory the first phonograph was bought in the spring of 1926. Altogether there were three such devices at the disposal of LFK staff, one of the original Edison system, two more Excelsior, made in Cologne. In 1998 our cylinders were re-recorded onto modern data carriers using an electronic playback device with the help of the Austrian Phonogrammarchiv(to whom we are grateful). You can find more about phonographs (especially modern) on this page.


Beginning with the year 1951 LFK has sound recordings on magnetic tape (there are no recordings using the technologies used in the period between these two). Magnetic tape in reels is not commonplace anymore, but it is not fully alien yet. There are some 200 reels of different lengths in the archives. Using this material in 1980's an anthology of Latvian folklore was published by the soviet record company "Melodiya" (two vinyl records), copies of the original tapes are available also at the National Sound Archive of the British Library. For all of the tapes there are listening copies in cassette format, most of them - also in computer readable format. (Feel free to make enquiries.)

In 2002 LFK submitted to UNESCO a project proposal entitled "Latvian Folklore on the Internet". The proposal was accepted and LFK received a grant for this digitising project.

Phonograph cylinders. The playback length of a cylinder is ca. 3 minutes, so phonographs were used to make it possible for a person without a musical education to capture a melody from a singer. The recording was made in the field and brought back to a specialist of music for transcription. Transcribing it the specialist also had the benefit of using the same variant repeatedly (instead of asking the singer to repeat and thus eventually listening to a changed version). Read more about the phonographs and cylinders here!

The first recording of Latvian folklore. There is a particular story about Eduards Millers; the first ever Latvian whose performance of folklore has been audio-recorded. Here are the details.
The first full documentation. Before sound recording became available, the only way to record melodies was writing down scores. In 1930 the same singers were photographed and recorded (in the form of a paper manuscript) by the outstanding ethnomusicologist Emilis Melngailis AND recorded (using a phonograph) by LFK. It is the first time in the history of LFK when such a comprehensive material was obtained.
The sound and the score. Here you will find another example of the relationship between notes and music.
Tape recordings. Since 1951, as mentioned above, the singers were recorded using magnetic tape. Read here about the early days of tape recording at LFK. Equipment we currently use for processing of recordings can be seen here.
Recordings of Livonian folklore. Not all of the recordings at LFK are in Latvian. There is some material also in the Livonian language.
Compiled sample CDs. From both the earliest and more recent material a number of selected programmes on CDs has been prepared, here is the list.

Since 1986 also VHS format videotapes are made. There are more than 70 cassettes (E-180) at the moment being. Still this story might seem less interesting, at least while the format itself is more common to us all.

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