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Anker Kirkeby (1884-1957) was a Danish journalist, a journalist with all his heart. He was able to cover all kind of topics, reporting from the Balkan Wars or making investigative studies of the socially deprived. He both interviewed statesmen and he worked undercover among the poorest in society.

Anker Kirkeby

Anker Kirkeby, Royal Library, Copenhagen, public domain

Besides short engagements in Norway and Sweden among others, Kirkeby’s whole work life was carried out at the Danish newspaper Politiken.

Kirkeby was a far-seeing man; actually he was a pioneer in the field of audio cultural heritage. Perhaps due to his interest in the theater – he once dreamt of becoming an actor and he even studied at a theatre school for a couple of years – he was convinced that the new invention, the gramophone, would be useful for something. He wanted to establish a sound archive where the voices of famous men and women of their time would be recorded and preserved for posterity.

Kirkeby managed to persuade King Christian X to repeat his proclamation speech from May 1912 in front of the gramophone in September 1913. The king’s involvement in the project created goodwill among the 50 men and women from politics, cultural life and higher society, who had been selected for voice recordings. Only a few of them refused to have their voices preserved for posterity this way.

To Kirkeby it seemed important that the recorded voices in his archive were well articulated and of a certain elocution, in other words the voice itself and the linguistic quality of the recording were more important than the content itself. Kirkeby handpicked the individuals he wanted to record. All his voice portraits came from speakers from the upper society who were assumed to speak a well-formed language. Many of the participants made short speeches, but a significant number of the recordings are re-used texts. Actors would recite parts of his or her favorite monologues, for example.

Kirkeby carried out his work in depth. Along with the recorded voices, he kept a written protocol of all spoken texts in six copies in a folio book.

Emma Gad

Emma Gad, Royal Library, Copenhagen, public domain

Obviously, speaking to future generations must have seemed strange to some of the speakers, for example to Emma Gad (1852-1921), a Danish author primarily known for her book “Takt og Tone”, a guide book on good manners, still often referred to. However, she also wrote theatre plays and interfered in the debate on social welfare and society.

Miss Gad introduced her speech with these words: “With the help of this weird invention, one generation can address the next generation personally …” And she ends her speech in the same spirit by saying: A wish for future generations, besides an ongoing development of present-day prosperity, would be that people will find peace of mind, that they will understand that indulgence and happiness are not identical and that true happiness is based on inner as well as external values.

The Danish author Johannes V. Jensen (1873-1950) began his professional career in medical studies. He made his debut as a writer with a number of novels in a weekly magazine. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1944. Jensen opened his speech with the words: “I was offered three minutes to address the future”. He also mentioned, that he was really happy to experience the era of technology.

Johannes V. Jensen

Johannes V. Jensen, Royal Library, Copenhagen, public domain

All the recordings were made in 1913. Kirkeby’s voice collection has been housed at several Danish cultural institutions. Since 1989 it has been part of the audiovisual collections at Statsbiblioteket. They soon will be available on Europeana Collections.

by Sabine Schostag, Statsbiblioteket