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Archive for Friday, January 26, 2007

Found sound

KU’s Music and Dance Library showcases recorded works

January 26, 2007

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One library on the Kansas University campus is as focused on sound as it is words.

As such, don't expect the librarians at the Thomas Gorton Music and Dance Library to go around shushing patrons for being too noisy ... that's part of the place's function.

"People are fairly amazed when they come here to see the range of music that we have and the things that are available to be checked out," says George Gibbs, head of the library.

Located in the south addition to Murphy Hall (Room 240), the Music and Dance Library opened in 2000, integrating materials previously housed at three other KU libraries.

Unlike some of the on-campus libraries that deal with hands-off rarities, everything in the Music and Dance Library is available to students.

"We want to have on hand what they need when they need it," Gibbs says.

"I figure we have around 130,000 bound scores and bound serials, monographs. In the archive of recorded sound, we have a collection of about 90,000 items. They're centered around two main collections: jazz and opera. But we also have other things like band music and AudioHouse recordings of local and regional performances - which I think is a unique treasure here."

EDISON CYLINDER PLAYER: "We've got two machines, and between the two of them we've probably got one that works," Gibbs says of the device that inventor Thomas Edison patented.

The library also possesses about 250 of the tube-shaped cylinders that were the precursors of modern record albums, many dating back to the late 1800s. Stylistically, they range from folk singers to opera soloists to famous vaudevillians.

"It's pretty tinny and scratchy," he says of the sound quality. "The needle is placed on the cylinder as it revolves. It plays through a horn that magnifies the sound.

Curious Collections: Murphy Hall

Thomas Gorton Music and Dance Library. Enlarge video

"This format eventually lost out to ones that played flat discs. It was the Betamax of its day."

PICTURE DISCS: Debuting in the 1930s, picture discs were created by introducing a thin decal at the pressing stage, which was molded onto the record's surface utilizing a transparent shellac. Occasionally, the images were such that they produced an optical illusion as the record rotated.

"They made them as a kind of gimmick. It was one of their marketing devices, particularly by the Vogue label in the '40s," he says.

CODEX FACSIMILE: As a learning tool to show students what the real thing looks like, detailed replicas are created of a musical codex - in this case one from a 14th or 15th century Spanish monastery.

"It is a true facsimile in that it tries to emulate completely things such as the bindings, the clasp that holds it together, the color reproductions. There are even partial pages, and there's one place where there was a mend to the tear where you can see the cross-stitchings."

AUDIOHOUSE: The local firm AudioHouse was well-known for on-location recordings of musical performances in the region. When they went out of business in the 1980s, the library inherited their collection.

Gibbs says, "I get more inquiries like, 'Do you have band camp recordings from 1973?' It may not be great music, but it is certainly of very great interest to people who were there and participated, and who remember they made an album but don't have it."

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