Archival Sound Documents

Project Title

Assemblages of Historical Sound Recordings: Digitizing, Researching and Repatriating a Collection of Songs and Dance Chants from the Pacific State of Kiribati




The purpose of this project is to explore a largely unresearched collection of more than 200 sound recordings which Dr. Gerd and Sigrid Koch compiled in the Southern Gilbert archipelago (today Kiribati) between 1963 and 1964. For many decades, this collection of songs and dance chants from Kiribati, archived in Germany on audio tapes (BASF LGS 52, mono, 9.5 cm/sec), remained untouched, unexplored, unheard, and difficult to access. The main goal of the project is to make the music recordings accessible to the I-Kiribati.

The songs and dance songs of Dr. Koch’s collection were recorded on the islands of Tabiteuea, Nonouti, and Onotoa. There are 43–45 audio documents from Tabiteuea, about 80 from Nonouti, and about 90 from Onotoa. About 25 songs and dance songs in the Koch Collection were recorded on Tabiteuea, Nonouti and Onotoa, but come from other islands in Kiribati (mentioned are Abemama, Beru, Butaritari, Marakei, Maiana, Tarawa, “the northern Gilberts”). Dr. Koch’s ethnographic film documents, which were already returned to Kiribati in 2010 and 2011, are integrated into the research work. With regard to the film documents, the main focus is on the dance films published in the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica (E915 – E920).

The project combines theoretical and methodological perspectives from studies on the repatriation of digitized sound recordings, on the one hand, and recent approaches to the conceptualization of ethnographic collections and museums as assemblages, on the other. The assemblage perspective helps us to understand what influence the distributed agency of researchers and indigenous actors had on the formation of the collection. Prior to final publication and repatriation, indigenous assemblages and interpretations of the sound recordings from collaborative research with the source communities will help to generate in-depth knowledge about the historical and sociocultural significance of the songs and dance chants.

The research and repatriation of the digitized sound recordings is in response to the statement of the Kiribati Government as stipulated in Kiribati 20-Year Vision, 2016–2036 “…to safeguard, revive and promote tangible and intangible cultural and historical heritages evident across the chants, music, dance and craft heritage sectors…” (see (External Link)).

Project Members

Project management: Dr. Wolfgang Kempf
Ethnomusicology: Prof. Dr. Mary Lawson Burke (USA)
Project consultation: Prof. Dr. Elfriede Hermann


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Project number: 428888038)