The recording journeys

In March 1949 Matts Arnberg made his first recording journey to document the repertoire and tunes of folk musicians and singers who were still active. The journey was to Dalarna, and would be followed in the 1950’s and 60’s by many more in Sweden and abroad.

In 1947-48 Swedish Radio held a folk song competition for which listeners were encouraged to write down and send in old songs. The idea was to follow up the songs which came in by making recordings to be transmitted on the radio. When Matts Arnberg went to Dalarna in 1949, his task was to record those who hade sent in songs. But Matts Arnberg had recently become a folk music enthusiast, and thus he returned with much more material than his superiors had expected.

The recordings were made far from the comfort of the Swedish Radio headquarters in Stockholm. Kitchens and parlours in homes all over the country were used as recording studios – some recordings were even made outdoors, in summer pastures or a farm courtyard. This allowed those recorded to sing or play in a familiar environment. Most of them had never done a sound recording before.

During the first journeys, recordings were made on shellac discs – a cardboard disc coated with shellac. In the recording bus, a machine engraved the music directly onto discs with space for a maximum of four minutes. There was little room for re-takes, since it was possible to take along only a limited number of discs. The recordings were made easier when portable tape recorders emerged in the early 1950’s, though some problems remained. In the 1950’s and 60’s many homes still lacked electricity…

Arnberg’s Dalarna journey in 1949 was not the first of its kind. As early as 1938, radio legend Sven Jerring and the music researcher Carl-Allan Moberg travelled to the Estonian island Runö with the aim of recording traditional Swedish-language chorales. Several reporters with an interest in cultural history – such as Olof Forsén, Lars Madsén and Qvitt Holmgren – made reporting journeys to different parts of the country in which traditional musicians were recorded in order to better portray the milieu.

Arnberg’s recording journeys were however exceptional, with regard to both their extent and their purposeful focus on folk music. Folk music had not previously been been documented in the form of recordings to any great extent in Sweden. Pioneers, such as Yngve Laurell and Karl Tirén, did record folk music as early as the 1910’s – but most Swedish collectors of folk music noted down the tunes and were sceptical towards the modern recording technique. The long recording journeys are more akin to the field work of ethnomusicologists than to the programme productions of a radio company. Thus it was natural for Svenskt visarkiv to be commissioned by the State to methodically record folk songs and tunes for documentation purposes.

Read more about the journeys:

Dalarna 1949
Hälsingland and Gästrikland 1949
Jämtland 1951
Lappland 1953
Dalarna 1954
Bergslagen 1955 and Gotland 1956
1957 – the great year of recording (Småland, Bohuslän, Gästrikland, Medelpad, Dalsland)
Finland & Åland 1957–1958
The Faeroes 1959
Recording Trips in the 1960’s (Härjedalen, Hälsingland, Östergötland, Lappland, Ångermanland, Dalarna)

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