Audio Archives

Fellow appraiser Joette Pierce sent me this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal on the growing interest in audio archives. Archives in the past have been mostly books and documents, but is now growing into audio catalogs, such as music as well as video.

The Wall Street Journal reports
Glenn Horowitz has sold the archives of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez. But he waxes wistful over a collection that exists only in his dreams: tapes of Queen Victoria. The British sovereign left “not three seconds of her voice being recorded,” Mr. Horowitz said. “And I can’t help but believe that if there were simply five or six sentences…it would probably change…the way that we experience her as a three-dimensional historical figure.”

That has Mr. Horowitz, a New York-based dealer of archives and rare books, looking beyond the traditional paper trail to posterity.

“One of the next really big fields of interest of study is going to be audio,” Mr. Horowitz said. In the past decade “as technology has in some ways begun to make the traditional paper archive obsolete, it has given a life to archives that are audio and visual” in part because such material can be digitized quickly and inexpensively.

He is working with singer-songwriters Paul Simon and David Byrne to find homes for their collections. Last year he handled the sale of Bob Dylan’s archive to the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa in a deal valued at $15 million to $20 million. He placed the archives of music manager and writer Danny Fields with Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Traditional archives are where Mr. Horowitz made his name, handling the collections of Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike and other authors. In 2003, he sold the Watergate papers of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for $5 million. Two years later, he sold Norman Mailer’s archives to the Ransom Center for $2.5 million. He has handled the archives of photographers and filmmakers as well as publications.

The dealer, whose owlish spectacles and shock of hair bring to mind the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, is something of an impresario himself. First, he has to approach and sometimes coddle artists, assess their holdings and persuade them to part with the material. Then, he has to ferret out an appropriate repository to buy the archive.

The task involves being more than a matchmaker between individuals and institutions. Often, Mr. Horowitz said, he has to encourage a museum or library into “a leap of faith or a leap of the imagination” that an acquisition that initially might seem an improbable fit is in fact a felicitous one. For example, he cited the papers of psychedelic adventurer Timothy Leary, which he placed with the New York Public Library in 2011. Mr. Leary’s jottings, videotapes and manila folders with scrawled labels such as “LSD-Random” and “Marijuana Alters Consciousness” have become one of the Library’s most heavily used archives, Mr. Horowitz said.

Most deals entail months of back-and-forth with acquiring institutions. “I can only push them so far and so hard before they’re finally going to say to me, ‘Take a hike!’ ” Mr. Horowitz said.

E.C. Schroeder, director of the Beinecke, which bought Mr. Fields’s unorthodox haul of cassettes, posters, papers and other ephemera, said one of Mr. Horowitz’s strengths is thinking creatively about how an archive can fit into an institution. One of his drawbacks, Mr. Schroeder said, is “he can be sort of relentless.”

Mr. Horowitz likes taking on collections that flex his creativity and salesmanship. “I’m looking for projects that everyone says no to,” he said.

To appraise an archive, he and his colleagues don’t sort through every email, snapshot and fan letter—a process that could take years, given the pack-rat habits of many creators. Recalling Norman Mailer’s “truckload of material,” Mr. Horowitz said, “If you sat down and started valuing all of what was there in a sort of atomistic matter and said this draft of ‘The Naked and the Dead’ would trade for this, and this draft of ‘Ancient Evenings’ would trade for this, and these 37 letters from James Jones would trade for this, by the time you got done…you’d have a figure that was so punitively large” no-one could afford the archive.

Instead, he gets a broad handle on the material and prepares “a document that the acquisitions curator can study and say, ‘Gee, if we acquire this from Glenn Horowitz Bookseller we fundamentally know what we are buying,’ ” Mr. Horowitz said. Commissions range between 15% and 25%, Mr. Horowitz estimates, and can shrink on large deals and expand on smaller ones.

He started out selling rare books and still spends about half his time on that side of the business. In airy offices in midtown Manhattan, he works at a desk not far from shelves of first editions and rare volumes.

“I’ll know that I’ve really achieved my ambition of dealing in really rare books,” he says, “when there are very few books in the office.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

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