‘It is an invention of the devil’, the audio collection of the Meertens Institute.

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


‘It is an invention of the devil’, the audio collection of the Meertens Institute
Suddenly you find yourself sitting at a kitchen table in the 1970s, being witness to a casual conversation between old friends, where a good story is told or a local song is sung, while the clock ticks and coffee is poured. The only thing missing is the smell of tobacco smoke. Welcome to the audio collection of the Meertens Institute. Between 1998 and 2018 the entire audio collection of the KNAW Meertens Institute has been carefully digitised (converted from analogue sources such as wax rolls form the 1930s, records, and magnetic tapes to digital standard formats) by now-retired audio technician Kees Grijpink.
A total of 6,382 hours of digitised audio is ready for further exploration. The recordings are numerous and diverse. It contains, for example, songs and stories recorded during fieldwork all across the Netherlands, Flanders and even the United States. These and other sub-collections, like the archive of pioneering researcher Louise Kaiser from the early and mid-twentieth century, hold a wealth of information. Specific parts of the collection, such as the Dutch Dialect Database, have already been made available through the website of the Meertens Institute. Through well-preserved and sometimes startling pristine audio, the collections provide access to endearing, private, and surprising moments in time.

These vast collections are not only the workplace for archivists and of interest for scholars studying linguistics and ethnology. They can also be seen as a rich playground for artists. For example: one current emerging crossover is the ‘Instituut voor Huisgeluid’. Founder and artist Elise ‘t Hart is interested in studying and preserving the sounds of squeaky floors, tinkling cups and vibrating phones of the Meertens Institute sound recordings. Sounds that, in the ears of the scholars traditionally working with the collections, interfere with their primary goals. The Meertens Institute is interested in collaborating with artists to find new perspectives and new ways of working with the audio collection.
link: https://www.meertens.knaw.nl/cms/nl/collecties (externe link)
link: https://www.elisethart.com/#/instituut-voor-huisgeluid (externe link)
Period04 Oct 2018
Event titleWho’s Afraid of the Archive? Interdisciplinary meetup for artists, scholars and archivists
Event typeSeminar
LocationAmsterdam, NetherlandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Meertens Instituut
  • Collections
  • audio and video
  • Art, history and linguistics
  • art science
  • Art