Five steps to a good “sound archive recipe”

It’s more than two years since the MMSH Sound Archives Team1 started to publish recipes on its scholarly blog Les carnets de la phonothèque from records in the field. At the beginning it was mostly a question of highlighting archives rarely used or unknown…

The MMSH Sound Archive Center ‘Phonothèque’2 It  holds more than 8000 hours of sound archives and more than 6000 hours have been digitized and are presented in an online catalogue3 ; around 3000 hours of sound recordings are directly accessible online. As we wished to highlight part of these collections, we choose to write posts about sound archives topics and of course, recipes was simple to choose: short playing, precise topic, organized with a beginning and an end. So, since November 2014, we publish (ed )every last Monday of the month a recipe linked to a field recording research by an anthropologist, a historian, a sociologist; 27 so far, so…

What is a good “sound archive recipe”?
Actually the recipes-madness has caught us! Each time a new archive collection is deposited at the MMSH Sound Archive Center, there is a question on all our minds: will there be a good sound archive recipe in it? By the way, the  Recipes Project prompts us to ask ourselves a challenging question: What is a good sound archive recipe? Here is the answer in 5 steps:

Firstly, it is important the recipe gives all the elements necessary to contextualize the archive. It is not only a list of ingredients we want to disseminate but a social sciences research, its background and purpose. So the context is really essential. For example, the recipe of bread baking explains how was organized a collective village oven: Who lights the oven? How many times in a month? What can you bring in it? Do the villagers put all together their breads in the oven or do they have to be baked in a precise order? How long does the bread dough takes to rise.  What kind of wood was used? Who then cleaned the oven at the end?

Secondly, the copyrights of the recipe recording must be free or cleared and all ethical and legal issues resolved before being made available on line. Sometimes we listen to a wonderful recipe but we don’t have the rights to disseminate it. Luckily, the traditional recipes circulate and there are several versions in our archives, it helps  For example, I listened to an interesting recipe from the Alps which explained how to conserve goat cheese in a pumpkin. When we ask the right holder(the daughter of the witness) an agreement, she refused her mother’s voice to be disseminated. We search this recipe in other interviews and found more which explained this way to preserve goat cheese and these witnesses authorized the MMSH Sound Archive Center to disseminate their interviews on line.

Thirdly, the witness has to explain clearly all the ingredients and the making process. It is sometimes difficult because the archive does not always come with good sound quality, witnesses are old and their voices are sometimes hard to understand. For example, the Provençal fish soup by a fisherman from Sormiou (a rocky inlet in the harbor of Marseille) is well explained in a very precise way, with tricks: the laurel breaks the taste of the fish, do not chuck the small fish or how to do the real “rouille”. Besides, the vernacular way of speaking of the fisherman deeply rooted in the Marseille slang and local storytelling way, gives us more insights from the southern French culture.

Fourthly, the MMSH Sound Archive’s Team likes recipes with ingredients linked to the witnesses’ local products or to their history. For example, the Sound Archive Center preserved interviews recorded with first and second generation refugees who arrived from Asia Minor in 1922 and settled on the Syros island. They learned pastry cooking in Smyrna and,  as refugees in Syros with not a penny in pocket, they began to cook and sold sweets: loukoums and kourabiedes are now a culinary specialty of the Island.

We like also when informants explain how they used plants and their ethnobotanical knowledge of the area, as in these recipes in Provence with borache and nettle, dandelion, chives and tarragon.

Fifthly, a good recipe in our sound archive must also have this little something that you can’t really express or define : something in the voice, feelings in the interaction between the witness and the researcher, silences, laughters and emotion,,… As in this interview, on the little Brusc’s harbor (Var, South of France), you will listen to this fisherman working and speaking with the ethnologist and you will know that eating salema porgy should give you bad dreams but also how in an interview, the sound of silence of the speaker is so much essential, being meaningful for the witness’s memory, helping him to live again the recipe in his mind.

The thing is, you never know what you will discover, listening to these records in the field! But for sure before writing posts, we cook and the MMSH Sound Archive Center team tastes every recipe… so at the very end it has to be good and tasty!

We organized an index on our scholarly blog where you can found all the ingredients and the recipes:

Current news from the MMSH Sound Archives Center are available on its website:


Credits: Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Clinton, Iowa, Delano, Jack,, photographer, 1939, Libray of Congress, No known copyright restrictions.

Citer ce billet
Véronique Ginouvès (2017, 15 juin). Five steps to a good “sound archive recipe” Archives de la recherche & Phonothèque. Consulté le 22 mai 2024, à l’adresse

  1. Mathilde Bresc, documentalist, suggests us every month a recipe picked up in  Ganoub, the sound archive database and editorialize it. []
  2. The Phonothèque is an archival research center, created at the end of the 1970’s by Philippe Joutard, a contemporary historian, and Jean-Claude Bouvier, a specialist in ethnic dialects, both wishing not only to preserve their recordings and to have field interviews published, but also seeked to make their sources available for the general public. When the sound archive center was integrated in the “Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme” (MMSH) in 1997 it opened to all the Humanities and Social Sciences with a focus on the Mediterranean area. []
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