Introduction: A Flooding Tide
The current rate of publication in Irish traditional music, especially of CDs, is unprecedented. Since the economic revival of the early 1990s, a tide of publication has mounted which now threatens to overwhelm even the most avid and completist.
LPs have disappeared during the period and have rendered a wealth of commercially recorded music inaccessible to the consumer; and cassettes are on the cusp of disappearance. But CDs, which in the early 1990s were exotic, unsupported by common technology, and very expensive, have long ago become the universal carrier. They are easy to produce, and cheap to manufacture, transport and distribute, although they are still indefensibly expensive to buy. Manufacturing runs can be small, involving small outlay of capital and enabling niche marketing and speedy recoupment of investment. No professional musicians can now be without at least one representative CD: their audiences will demand it. Non-professional musicians can reach out to audiences across continents by selling on the internet. Record companies are beginning to exploit the reissue potential of their back catalogues. Families issue recordings of their dead parents, music societies of dead local heroes; books carry CDs on their inside back covers. People who hardly know where Ireland is learn to perform its traditional music from recordings and in turn issue their own.
Nor is this tide of publication simply a matter of economics and cooperating technology and accessibility. The artist can now easily define himself or herself in sound, and no record company can crack a whip. There is now an unprecedented level of technical skill to be heard and admired on commercial recordings, and an unprecedented range of regional and specialist sub-genres available. This has increased the audience for Irish traditional music, an audience which is more and more knowledgeable, discriminating, and international. And it is an audience which relies less on radio and television access to the music; it desires publications to carry to its lair.
Publication in print follows more traditional paths than publication on sound recordings, but here too economic prosperity and access to technology have shown their effects. Massive publications of recent years, such as Fintan Vallely’s Companion to Irish Traditional Music, Aloys Fleischmann’s Sources of Irish Traditional Music c. 1600-1855, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín’s Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Colette Moloney’s Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting, and Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s Hidden Ulster, are all the result of long-term research projects that could once hardly have been carried out, much less published. Music collections immured in repositories since the nineteenth century are beginning to see the light of day: Hugh Shields’ Tunes of the Munster Pipers, drawn from the Goodman manuscripts in Trinity College Dublin, for instance; more are in preparation, as are print publications based on the explosion of recent academic research carried out in third-level institutions.
And even more change is on the way: the DVD is flexing its muscles, the internet may make the republication of everything feasible.
All this is by way of preamble to a new service, a navigational guide, that the Irish Traditional Music Archive is providing for readers of JMI: a listing in each issue of recent publications in Irish traditional music, starting with publications from 2004 so far in this current issue. The listing will be selective and focused on music and dance: as a scientific institute the Archive may acquire Essential Celtic Pub Ballads vol. 6, but it doubts that the readers of JMI will require direction to it; nor will it list items it acquires which form the contexts of the making of the music.
The presentation will be minimalist, aimed at providing only information that will enable the tracing of items, and will essentially follow the style of the Archive’s on-going large-scale discographical and bibliographical contributions to the journal Irish Folk Music Studies. Éigse Cheol Tíre (volumes 5-6 of which list publications to the end of 2001).
The items listed are based on the holdings of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. They will be available for reference listening, reading and viewing on the premises of the Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin (consult www.itma.ie for details or phone 01-6619699). They will of course only be a fraction of what the Archive also acquires daily for public reference: historical publications, ephemeral publications, and unpublished materials such as field recordings and manuscripts.
Published on 1 September 2004
Nicholas Carolan is Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.