Although the production of RILM Abstracts has always heavily relied on computing technology, the computers of the 1960s and 1970s were not able to support the complexities of its multilingual and multicultural mission. Even the most powerful IBM mainframe System/370, used in the production of RILM Abstracts from 1970 to 1988, had limited possibilities for rendering different fonts, writing systems, and diacritical signs. For RILM, displaying names and terms in their most accurate representations—including rendering them in their original writing systems—was an imperative since its inception in 1967.
RILM’s Soviet national committee, headed in the 1960s and 1970s by Grigorij Mihajlovič Šneerson (1901–82) and Ûrij Vsevolodovič Keldyš (1907–95), was prolific, contributing a large number of records for publications issued in the Russian language. As the S/370 was unable to render their authors and titles in Russian Cyrillic, early RILM editors used another, much simpler IBM machine: the Selectric typewriter. The Selectric’s changeable typeball made possible it to render different fonts and scripts. For RILM editors it was like an automated transliteration machine, since its typeball with Cyrillic letters enabled printing Russian texts by typing on a standard roman-letter keyboard.
IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter on 31 July 1961, 60 years ago today!
From the time of his earliest proposal for creating RILM, Barry S. Brook (above) had a vision that “scholars working on specific research projects will eventually be able to request a bibliographic search by the computer of its stored information and to receive an automatically printed-out reply.”
RILM was too small to implement this task alone, so in 1979—long before the Internet was commercialized in the 1990s—it made an agreement with Lockheed Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, a division of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, for the distribution of its data through the telephone lines.
In August 1979, the first month when RILM was available on the Lockheed platform, the database was searched 176 times by 24 users, earning $84.94 (see inset; click to enlarge).
Today, on the 40th anniversary of its Lockheed connection, RILM’s databases are searched online 16.5 million times per month.
Below, an introduction to RILM’s current offerings.
The reviewer, Raymond Ericson, noted that the volume “looks, hopefully, like the first permanent attempt to describe regularly what is being written about in the world’s significant literature on music” and that it “obviously fills a great need in musicological circles.” He also included summaries of six of the volume’s 497 entries.
Below, something else that happened a couple of days later.
Before RILM set up online forms for sending us citations and abstracts, all submissions were made by writing or typing on forms like the one pictured above. We had forms in all necessary languages, color-coded for sorting. As was the case with most manual typewriters, corrections and diacritics all had to be added by hand. After we received completed forms, everything had to be retyped into the database (and, for non-English titles and abstracts, translated into English) at the International Center.
Over the years, countless volunteers have made such contributions to RILM, including some very distinguished figures in musicology and ethnomusicology. The example above was submitted by the preeminent Spanish musicologist José López-Calo (b.1922) for the retrospective project undertaken by RILM’s founder Barry S. Brook in the 1970s—a project that finally reached fruition with the publication of Speaking of Music: Music conferences, 1835–1966 in 2004. (Click on the image, or here, to see a larger reproduction.)
When we commenced work on our Festschriften retrospective project (the first volume, Liber amicorum, was recently published) we began with what was then the gold-standard reference work, Walter Gerboth’s An index to musical Festschriften and similar publications.
The Head Librarian of the Brooklyn College music library that now bears his name, Gerboth amassed a large collection of music Festschriften during the compilation of his book, and he bequeathed this collection to the library; Marguerite Iskenderian, a Music Cataloguer there, kindly shared these books with us so we could write abstracts for the essays therein. She also shared with us his collected notes—his Nachlaß—which he had also left to the library.
Like any good librarian of his time, Gerboth kept obsolete catalogue cards for scratch paper; his notes are all on the back of such cards, some neatly typed, some hastily handwritten. Most of these notes were citations for music-related articles in Festschriften with nonmusical dedicatees, articles that he had discovered in bibliographies or other sources; many were noted after his book had gone to press, for inclusion in a second edition that never materialized.
Among these cards were notes from his friends and associates with further citations or suggestions. One of the latter, reproduced below, includes the question “Who he?”—a humorous catch-phrase from a bygone era, perhaps originating in an old radio comedy.
From 4 to 8 October 2021, The Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation hosts the virtual conference Responses in Music to Climate Change. The event brings together scholars, performers, composers, and activists, with the goal of exchanging … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →
In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its … Continue reading →
The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752). An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted … Continue reading →