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Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM) Sound Files Search and Discography.

Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM) Sound Files Search and Discography. King's College London, 2009. (Accessed 20 May 2013). [Requires a Web browser, an Internet connection (Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer 7, or Opera 10 or above recommended) and a media player (Winamp, Songbird, or VLC media player recommended).]


CHARM (Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music) Sound Files Search is an online audio archive that provides access to almost 5,000 classical music files that were digitized from a collection of 78 rpm discs located at the King's Sound Archive at King's College London, Initiated in 2004, funding for the project was made possible thanks to a five-year grant from the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Part of this funding was used to establish the CHARM Transfer Project in order to digitize, index, and archive the audio files online. The digitization project received additional funding in 2009 from Jisc (a UK-based charity that focuses on the intersections between higher education and digital technologies), which allowed digitization to continue, concentrating on recordings of British and Irish performers produced between 1900 and 1950. Although AHRC funding for the CHARM Transfer Project ran out in 2009, the CHARM Sound Files Search is still freely available online and hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London. (1)

The CHARM Transfer Project was part of a much larger research center concentrating on the musicological study of classical music sound recording in the first half of the 1900s that brought together researchers of several prominent academic institutions including Royal Holloway, University of London, King's College London, and the University of Sheffield. In addition to the online sound files, the CHARM Web site also presents a searchable discography, academic papers, and the findings of a series of research projects.

Information pertaining to organizational structure and acknowledgments for the project are readily available on the site. Access to the entire CHARM Web site--including research findings, much of the metadata, and audio files--is freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. Supported by a mandate that CHARM would act as .an advocate for the extension of fair dealing, for sound recordings, the project aims to provide openly available data and files whenever possible. For sound files that were not in the public domain, CHARM attempted to negotiate the rights to provide online access.

In 2009, CHARM researchers were awarded an additional five years of funding, but the project shifted focus to the musicological study of live performance as opposed to recorded performance. Although funding for the project has expired .and additional development of the Sound File Search has ceased, the site remains online and open to the public.


The recordings selected for inclusion in the Sound Files Search were digitized from the King's College London King's Sound Archive of over 145,000 78 rpm discs, representing a broad range of classical repertoire recorded and produced in the early-to mid-1900s. Many of these recordings were acquired through donation from the BBC Gramophone Library and used in London and regional UK BBC studio broadcasts from the early 1900s to 1960s. For more information on the history and holdings of the King's Sound Archive, visit (accessed 20 May 2013).

The files chosen for the CHARM Transfer Project attempt to avoid duplication by excluding repertoire that is already available in CD or online reissues. The site provides clear justification for the scope of the Sound Files collection. Within the collection there are several notable strengths including almost 500 recorded Schubert songs. The site also includes several sub-collections that hold unique and in mime cases rare recordings of famous individuals in the classical music performing and broadcasting scenes of the early 1900s. Among these are "Records on the Radio," a collection of radio transcripts and audio from BBC programs broadcast in the 1930s and 1940s. "House Conductors" provides access to biographical information and sound recordings of eight different European house conductors from the early 1900s. "Cortot Discoveries" includes historical information about the recording career of pianist Alfred Cortot, accompanied by select recordings and a table of matrix numbers of takes by Cortot for the Gramophone Company during the 1920s. "Musicians of Britain and Ireland" covers musicians who were British or Irish by birth or whose recording careers were largely based in London. Each sub-collection is presented on a separate Web page, found by navigating through the left-hand navigation menu.

Navigation, Searching, and Indexing

The CHARM Sound Files are accessible via a Web-based search tool. A link to the search form is available on the right-hand side of every page on the site, although having a search box on every page would improve access. The search page prominently features a faceted browsing tool that allows users first to narrow by a number of fields (Composer, Artist, Date, Conductor, Title. or Label) and then apply further filters by any of the previous fields plus Series, Catalogue Number, and Matrix Number. These fillers can be removed and added easily to broaden or narrow results.

The search interface allows only for limited field specific searches, by Matrix, Catalogue, or Side Number fields. Search results are updated and displayed below the search box and can be sorted using the indexed field headings: Composer, Date, Title, Artist, Label, Series, Catalogue Number, and Matrix Number. Results automatically display several of these fields (Composer, Date, Title, and Artist), but users can elect to display additional information using the "Customise Results" tool located at the top of every page.

Each audio file can be accessed either by streaming an MP3 or downloading a FLAG tile, located under the "Actions" heading. The playback options for streaming MP3 files are very basic. There is no substantial media player aside from a simple play/pause button within each record. Additional functions--such as the ability to navigate forwards or backwards in the track, a timeline, and volume control--would greatly improve the MP3 playback experience. Streaming playback for MP3 files is almost instantaneous and there seem to be no lags or glitches in the playback process. The alternative to streaming audio is downloadable 16-bit/44.1 kHz FLAC audio files, which are also available for each record. In order to play these files, users are required to have a FLAC media player installed on their device. This can be done relatively easily and for no cost, but still adds an extra step to the playback process since most devices are .not automatically equipped with this type of media player. The site advises an average wait time of ten seconds for a typical 1.0 MB FLAG file, although this can take up to a minute depending on the Internet connection. For records where a piece occupies more than two sides of a disc, there is an option to download a file containing a set of FLAG files for all the sides containing one composition. Each record also includes a downloadable JPEG image file of the disc imprint and a downloadable XML. file of all associated metadata.

A link to a detailed "Sound Files Search Help" page is located in the left-hand drop clown menu; this page contains comprehensive information about best practices for using search functions, limiters, and results. For those who are inexperienced with using the FLAG format, detailed technical information on the .attributes of lossless audio files and free media players is especially useful. A report containing information about the digitization process and justification for standards used is available from Andrew Halifax, the Recorded Music Transfer Technician on the CHARM Transfer Project. (2) The report is a useful resource for those attempting to implement a similar project at their own institution.

CHARM Discography

In addition to the Sound Files Search the site also includes an extensive searchable discography. which includes the recording sessions of the 'Gramophone Company from 1898 to the 1930s and a variety of Companies including American, French, Italian, and UK Columbia, Decca, early Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, Polydor, Telefunken, and early Victor. The discography also includes the contents of The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music. (3) More detailed information about the discographical content is located on the CHARM Web site. (4)

In addition to providing extensive searchable information on recordings of the early 1900s, the CHARM Discography provides an alternative access point to the same records found in the Sound Files Search. There are several search options provided by this tool. "Simple Search" allows for searching by Composer, Work, or Performer. The "Free Text Search" offers keyword searching functionality and use of Boolean operators including AND, OR, NOT, truncation (*), and wildcard (?). The "Advanced Search" page allows users to combine up to four search terms in various fields including Composer, Work, Performer, Voice, Instrument, Recording Location, Date, Label, Catalog Number, Matrix Number, and Recording Engineer. In addition, results can be filtered by discography catalog or date. Every search page also allows users to limit to those records with an audio file.

The Discography comes with its own detailed information about search strategies, results, and how to download search results in Excel format. Search functions within the Discography are more advanced than the Sound Files Search and users may prefer to use this tool to conduct more detailed searches for their research. A drawback of the Discography search results is that they lack some of the features of the Sound Files Search. Audio files are only presented in FLAG format, and it is not possible to view MP3, JPG, and XML files for each record.


Although the funding to continue to the CHARM Sound Files Search project has ended, this collection of sound recordings still remains a valuable resource for the study of classical music performance practices during the early- to mid-1900s. The CHARM Transfer Project has endeavoured to provide unprecedented access to unique content. The assistive information on how to access this digital audio content, search functionality, and technical background on the project is greatly appreciated in order to make the best use of this search tool. Access to both streaming and download-able sound files is a convenient feature that offers some flexibility to the user. While both the Discography and Sound Files Search are useful tools individually, searching and navigating could be simplified if the two were combined to include some of the unique downloadable options of the Sound Files Search, with the increased search functionality of the Discography. Despite several somewhat confusing navigation choices, CHARM Sound Files Search proves to be a useful tool for research and discovery of early 20th-century classical recordings.


(1.) "Royal Holloway, University of London," accessed 20 May 2013,

(2.) "Making transfers from 78 rpm sources--the CHARM Engineer's Approach," accessed 20 May 2013,

(3.) Francis F. Clough and G. J. Cuming, eds.. The World's Encyclopedia 4 Recorded Music (London: Sidgwick & Jackson Limited, in association with the Decca Record Company Limited and the London Gramophone Corporation, 1952).

(4.) "Discography Introduction," accessed 20 May 2013,

(5.) Mitchell Brodsky, e-mail message to author. 29 May

(6.) "Rights and Permissions," accessed

(7.) New York Philharmonic, "The Digital Archives: A Vision for the Future," accessed 29 May 2013,


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Title Annotation:Digital Media Reviews;
Author:Shelley, Anne
Article Type:Website overview
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 29, 2013
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