Idelsohn Society Digital Archive: From Vinyl to Viral

[This is the second in a nine-part series describing the projects of the 2011-2012 Jewish New Media Innovation Fund Award Recipients.]

We at the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation are thrilled at having received the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund. This grant will allow us to evolve our mission in a way that we couldn’t have imagined when we formed the society over six years ago.

It initially started as a simple idea that played into our personal passion of finding lost gems by digging through crates, attics, yard sales, swap meets, and thrift stores to re-release lost and forgotten music from past generations. But it quickly evolved when we met Irving Fields, a 94-year-old pianist who still plays six nights a week in New York and arguably invented the mash-up mixing Cole Porter, Hava Nagila and the sound of Cuba back in the 50’s. He was our first muse. We got to know him and helped bring his music to a new generation. We knew we needed to do more.

The music was a part of it – but only a part. We would focus on the artists – their history, stories, cultural background – and create a lane to connect and re-connect them to audiences. We expanded our initial mission and started doing live performances both of the artists we re-discovered and a current generation interpreting this lost music. We embraced the web, launching a wiki, a blog, mixes and remixes on a recurrent basis. We began to capture more content beyond the licensed recordings – including video, essays, images and so much more.

We developed museum exhibitions around our record collection called Jews on Vinyl, which was compiled in the book And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl, and most recently around our recent project Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations, which we developed into an iphone application that served as a centerpiece to the exhibition and inspired us to apply for Jewish New Media Innovation Fund grant.

Our goal will be to build on the promise of what we developed and push the envelope on content and context. The future applications will provide a depth of content around a specific artist or theme and allow us to publish and update in real-time to keep the content fresh and, most importantly, allow people to join the conversation, add perspective and commentary, and contribute to the content pool, ultimately creating a future leaning archive that lives on multiple and connected platforms.

We will be developing for the open mobile web, iPhone and Android, and we will focus on simple user experiences that allows the content and conversation to take center stage. Look out for the launch of our first project in the fourth quarter of 2011!

The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation is a critically acclaimed all-volunteer non-profit organization. We are a small but dedicated team from the music industry and academia who passionately believe Jewish history is best told by the music we have loved and lost. In order to incite a new conversation about the present, we must begin by listening anew to the past.

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