Last changed 26 March 2003

Laves' sound recordings

Laves made one of the earliest sound recordings of (mainland) Aboriginal speech. The recordings are in the AIATSIS sound collection, on archive tape 4068.

[Some Arrernte speech was recorded at Charlotte Waters by Spencer & Gillen 1901.  Other early recordings are by Radcliffe-Brown 1912, Fr. Bischofs 1910 (some songs but also some examples of Nyulnyul speech), and in 1911 Yngve Laurel recorded some Jawi songs on Sunday Island.  Thanks to William McGregor for assistance with references.]

The originals are eleven cylinder recordings of about 25 minutes of Karajarri speech and song made at La Grange in 1930. The cylinders are at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music. The long version of the Archives catalogue entry is:

 Title:          <Australia, West Australia, Karadjeri, 1930> <sound recording>
                   / collected by Gerhardt Laves.

 Description:     11 cylinders : 162 rpm, coarse groove ; 2 1/8 in. x 4 1/4 in.
                   + documentation

 Notes:          Performed by various native musicians.
                 Karadjeri songs, stories and speeches.
                 Accompanied by item description sheets ; listed in Indiana
                   University, Archives of Traditional Music, Early Field
                   Recordings (I.U. Press, 1987).
                 Deposited at the Archives of Traditional Music under Option
                 Recorded by Laves in La Grange, West Australia, in 1930 ;
                   sound quality fair to poor.
                 scy 0297--0307 / EC 10" 274.1--.11 ; 12-397--12-399 / EC 10"
                   655.1--.11 ; ATL (old copy) 1086

 Contents:       Songs from the Mirin cycle -- Dialogue: Bambida and Djabara,
                   the two rats -- Songs from stories (untitled) -- Timothy's
                   funeral oration on the death of his elder wife, Hamlet --
                   Song from centipede story -- Doctor's songs -- Corroboree
                   songs -- Numbered songs from various texts (location of
                   texts/transcriptions unknown)
 Subject headings:
                 Folk music--Australia.
                 Song cycles.
                 Speeches, addresses, etc., Karadjeri--Australia.
                 Funeral rites and ceremonies--Australia.
                 Karadjeri (Australian people)
                 Medicine songs, Karadjeri--Australia.
                 Folk-songs, Karadjeri--Australia.
                 Tales, Karadjeri (Australian people)--Australia.
 Other performers, works, etc.:
                 Laves, Gerhardt Kurt.
                 Indiana University, Bloomington. Archives of Traditional

 CALL NUMBER     54-077-F ATL 8697

Option 1 on the current (1998) contract reads as follows:
Depositor agrees to the unrestricted use of the materials deposited, at the discretion of the Director of the Archives of Traditional Music....
© Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music

How did Laves' cylinders get to be in Indiana?:

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 1998 12:08:33 -0500 (EST)
From: Archives of Traditional Music 
To: David Nash 
Subject: Re: Laves cylinders

Dear David Nash,

Thank you for your message. Although we cannot document each transfer of
the Laves cylinders, I think it is safe to say that Laves deposited them
with George Herzog at the Yale Institute of Human Relations in the early

Herzog, who was teaching there at the time, founded a small
small archives which promised to preserve original cylinders and extend
the time of their usefulness by copying them onto aluminum discs.  The
Laves cylinders were among those copied, and the disc copies are a part of
the collection now.  The archives did not become a permanent unit at Yale,
and a number of the cylinders were transferred to Columbia University when
Herzog accepted a teaching position there in 1936.  

Herzog organized another archives at Columbia, and added to the collection
the nearly 7,000 cylinders (and assorted discs) belonging to the American
Museum of Natural History. In 1948, Herzog was appointed to teach at
Indiana University, and in the winter of 1949, the entire archive that had
been at Columbia was shipped to him here in Bloomington--a pretty
remarkable event from our point of view, since the collection remains
here.  The countless legal questions about the ownership of the recordings 
were sorted out over a period of years.  In a letter written from Chicago
in 1956, Laves gave his eleven cylinders to the Archives, and it looks as
though we had no further correspondence with him.

End of story, I think!

The recordings were listed in Moyle, Alice M. 1966. A Handlist of field collections of recorded music in Australia and Torres Strait. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
Alice Moyle arranged for the recordings to be copied to the AIATSIS sound collection, as a single archive tape (4068).

"There was also a philologist from Philadelphia University, Gerard Laves, collecting blacks' languages on a gramophone, but the gramophone got badly water-logged, and the records curled up, and he lost heart, too." -- p.199 of Ernestine Hill. 1940. The great Australian loneliness. 2nd edition. Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens Limited.

Comments welcome

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© 1998