Alan Lomax, Sovietologist

April 3rd, 2012

The entire recording archives of Alan Lomax went online recently. An ethnomusicologist, Lomax travelled the length and breadth of America recording music that we might call ‘folk’, ‘traditional’, or other similar labels. He was one of those rare obsessive heroes who believed that his mission to preserve changing and dying traditions was an important public good, and that his field recordings should be owned by all of us.

Not only did he travel across the United States, he travelled the world, and in 1964 he visited the Soviet Union to attend the International Anthropological and Ethnological Congress in Moscow. While there, ethnomusicologist Anna Rudneva helped Lomax access Soviet archives in Leningrad and Moscow, where he made copies of recordings from various Soviet nationalities and ethnic groups. He brought these recordings back and added them to his incredible collection, now public property. It’s a shame he didn’t get to travel to many of regions he archived, but perhaps the Cold War was so frosty that the KGB might have suspected he was on a spy mission.

Still, it probably stands as an interesting example of US-USSR co-operation during the Cold War. A sharing of cultural resources across metaphorical and literal walls in the name of common understanding.