With the British Music Collection fast approaching the big 50, I think it’s fair to say that we are feeling particularly kindly towards it, proud of how far it has come over a life with as many up and downs as anybody else (including a few years ensconced in a storage facility somewhere near Southend…).
The British Music Collection consists ‘IRL’of over 60,000 scores and recordings, based in state-of-the-art archive centre Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield – Huddersfield having a rich history of new and experimental music, thanks in part to its annual festival. In 2014 the archive opened its doors once more to the public and for the first time in its history finds itself completely cleaned and catalogued thanks to a generous HLF grant and brilliant, dedicated archivists. No mean feat!
Online, it exists as a discovery platform for UK art-music (that is to say, music without a commercial focus – many composers will quite rightly make a living from the works within, but you probably won’t find Ed Sheeran…) with a focus on drawing out the contents of the collection to as wide a global audience of composers and curious listeners as possible. We are doing lots more work on how to better articulate, or even illustrate, the relationship between the digital and physical – something the forthcoming Digital Marketing Academy experiments have been designed to help with.
It is a fascinating time for the collection. The online content grows and grows, becoming more and more varied in subject and form, which in turn spurs us on to become more adventurous curatorially. Our focus for the future is firmly on diversity (if the collection was a person, it would no doubt be a 50 year old white male). This is an opportunity to expose the lack of diversity, to prise apart and shine a light into the cracks, using them as a space for play, provocation and experimentation. In doing so we can communicate what needs to change, at the same time as taking the first few decisive steps along that path.
For International Women’s Day 2017, we created an online campaign asking women composers to add their work to the British Music Collection, actively redressing the gender balance. A key part of the campaign was an online intervention whereby we ‘hacked’ (okay, with full permission and a professional web developer) the site so to turn the names of male composers white on a white background – rendering them temporarily invisible. This is exactly the kind of thing we can do at this point in time (in advance of a planned, large scale redevelopment). Perhaps it is in some ways akin to an online form of direct action – a slicker, more commercialised platform may be less able to pull this off.
I am incredibly lucky to have the inspiring Owen Valentine Pringle as my mentor. Our two sessions so far have really helped to further my thinking (as well as imparting heaps of knowledge!) in terms of strategic planning for the project – supporting me to think at a more zoomed out level, which feels like a perfect and timely approach in terms of suitably celebrating this big, brilliant whole.
Image courtesy of Sadler’s Wells © Hugo Glendinning Gravity Fatigue by Hussein Chalayan