Saturday 22 January 2022

Archive Fever


This blog is often concerned with radio archive. But in this post I’m looking at an archive programme that doesn’t contain archive material. Moreover it was broadcast with the express intention of not being repeated and not being available to ‘Listen Again’.  Like the radio of old this was radio of the moment, never to be heard again. Until now that is.

Archive Fever is an edition of Radio 4’s Archive on 4 broadcast live in April 2017. Presented by cultural historian Matthew Sweet in what was billed as an attempt “to live in the moment and evade posterity as he pieces together an edition of Archive on 4 without the use of any archive whatsoever - and in a valiant attempt at auto-destructive radio, tries to remove all trace of this very programme from the world”.

The programme considers some of the practical and philosophical questions about archiving.  Are we over burdened by ‘stuff’? Should we keep everything? Or anything? How do we decide what to keep? What is important now and will it be in the future? Can we synthesise what we have into something new or interesting? If we lost our archive would we cease to exist?

Archive Fever takes its title from the 1995 book from French philosopher Jacques Derrida. He suggested that we are all archivists, though we are not necessarily any good at it - ask any trained archivist or librarian.  In the digital world ‘archive’ is all around us in call logs, web pages visited, Instagram photos, cloud storage and the like. But how do we make sense of it or use it?

In this documentary Matthew Sweet is live in the studio but the programme includes five pre-recorded sequences or interviews. At the end he rips up his script and destroys the recordings, held on memory cards, by taking a hammer to them.   Of course we know the BBC will have kept a copy, if only in the short term, for legal and compliance reasons. And of course I, as an amateur radio archivist kept it. After the passage of nearly five years perhaps its time to bring it back to life. Judge for yourself.

Archive on 4: Archive Fever was broadcast on Saturday 15 April 2017. There are contributions from William Basinski, Mike Figgis, Christopher Frayling, Aleks Krotoski, Hanif Kureishi, Andy Martin, Joanna Norledge, Caroline Shenton and Carolyn Steedman. The producer is Martin Williams.

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