Dra. Perla Olivia Rodríguez Reséndiz shares her insight in the preservation challenges that Latin America sound archives are facing.


Researcher in the Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliotecológicas y de la Información (IIBI) de la Universidad Autónoma de México, she is part of the National System of Researchers (SNI) in México. She designed and coordinated national and international training programs in sound and audiovisual archives. She proposed and coordinated, from 2001 to 2011, the Seminario Internacional de Archivos Sonoros y Audiovisuales in México. She coordinated the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sound Week in Mexico (2010-2012), and contributed to the organization of the 1st Sound Week in Colombia. She coordinated the work team which created of the Fonoteca Nacional de México. She wrote the book El archivo sonoro. Fundamentos para la creación de una Fonoteca Nacional.


Ten years ago it was estimated that there were over one hundred million sound recordings around the world. Recent research established that every decade 30% of the sound heritage will miss in Europe and 50% in Latin America. This article analyses the situation and challenges of preservation to ensure the conservation and access to sound archives’ contents in Latin America.

Mapa físico de Sudamérica, con nombres en español. CC BY-SA 3.0

Mapa físico de Sudamérica, con nombres en español. CC BY-SA 3.0


Latin America can be known through its sounds. In music there are diverse genres as huapango, tango, cachimbo, vals, son cubano, nueva trova, Andean music, huaynos yaravíes, gaita zuliana, joropo, vallenato; and concert music, among many others. Radio has produced informational, educational, cultural, social and entertainment programmes. Some native languages were recorded like nahuatl, maya, quiche, quechua, guaraní, aymara, mapuche, etc, also the voices of women and men who have constructed the contemporary history with their ideas. The soundscapes of Latin American are also an expression of our identity.

Since more than a century, only a part of the sounds recorded in Latin American has been preserved in sound archives, phonotecs, libraries, museums, documentation centres and private collections. Unfortunately many sound recordings have been stored without adequate conditions, so they have been damaged or lost their contents; others have been deleted, thrown away or destroyed.

The sound archives in Latin America are a not very known heritage. In 1980, UNESCO recognised the patrimonial value of audiovisual productions, in which included the sound. In 2004, it was estimated that there are over one hundred million sound recordings around the world (Wright, 2004). Recent research estimated that 30% to 50% of the sound heritage will miss every decade (Wright, 2011). Due to the unfavorable conditions in Latin America (lack of funds, lack of experience, insufficient public policies without continuity, poor storage conditions, climate of the region of high temperature and humidity) the probability of loss should be considered of 50% in Latin America. The highest estimated range by Richard Wright.

The situation of the sound files in the world is unequal. Archives in Europe and North America, started digitisation projects more than two decades ago. While in Latin America, the risk of loss of sound documents increases daily, due to ignorance of the amount of sound recordings, the absence of public policies and legislation for the protection of this heritage, low or no budgets; technological obsolescence, lack of infrastructure and technology for the preservation of sound collections in digital platforms; the lack of continuity in the staff working in the sound archives and the absence of qualified personnel. Also, the poor state of preservation and access of sound heritage, as described by UNESCO in 1992, is a consequence of war and social unrest. Therefore, important collections worldwide have suffered different fates. Much of the documentary heritage is lost forever and another important part is in danger (UNESCO, 2002). The problems for each country are diverse and are an expression of the social, political, economic and cultural factors from Latin America.

As an initial approach to the realities of the sound archives in Latin America, is presented an overview of the current conditions of sound archives, and of the work made in some countries of the region.



One of the oldest sound archive in Latin America is in the Brazilian National Archive. The archive preserves of over 18,000 sounds documents recorded from 1902’s. The sound collections are: Edison House in which recover the origins of Brazilian music industry, music discs edited by Odeon, RCA Victor and Columbia. Radio broadcasting programmes like Radio Mayrink Veiga y Radio Journal do Brasil. It also preserve sound documents from the Agencia Nacional including speeches by ex-presidents, state ministers, senators, congressmen and many other dignitaries with public functions. Official reports, news regarding World War II, radio plays against Nazi propaganda, among others. According to Mauro Domingues (2011) in 1980, began the documental process of sound documents. Before this date, the documents were stored without adequate furniture and environmental conditions. It was not until 1990, that the sound archive when moved to air-conditioned dome with the adequate conditions for preservation of sound collections (Domingues, 2011).

Others sound collections in Brazil are at the Museo da imagen e do son in Sao Paolo, Radio MEC, the first public broadcaster of the Brazilian government and FM Radio Culture in Sao Paolo. Also as product of the scientific activity in Brazil, were established sound archives that preserve field recordings. Like the neotropical sound archive in UNICAMP Universidad Estadual of Campinas. In this archive more than 25,000 recordings of animals from various regions of Brazil are preserve. All recordings are cataloged. This archive was created by Jacques Vielliard, doctor in ecology of the Sorbonne. In addition, in the Universidade Federal of Rio de Janeiro there is a sound archive from the Bioacoustics Laboratory where bird species of the Atlantic Forest of Rio de Janeiro are represented with 5,000 recordings. At the Universidade Luis dos Anjos in Londrina, there is archive of bird sounds with recordings of Parana state, created with the Laboratory of Ornithology and Bioacoustics with 5,000 sound recordings.

Stabilization process of sound documents

Stabilisation process of sound documents in Mexico


The varied sound and diversity of the native languages ​​of Latin America is another feature that determines the type of audio archives in the region. Many of these languages ​​are in danger of being lost. In this sense in 2001, Ruben Choque expressed at the First International Seminar of Sound Archives, that “it was not until 1997 that the first sound archive was created with eleven thousand documents that retain the radio productions in native and indigenous languages​​” (Choque, 2001). Choque told “we are optimistic, even if we don’t have money, technology, physical spaces, we know that the heritage of humanity is recorded in the sound archives”.

Meanwhile, Patricia Suarez noted that in Bolivia, sound recordings come from the radio productions, from mining radios and record production. In the absence of institutions dedicated to safeguarding the musical heritage in this country, she recognised the work of Simon I. Patiño Foundation in preservation of sound recordings. This sound archives in this institution was created in 2003 (Suárez, 2003).



In recent years, Colombia has been working in the recognition of the patrimonial value of its sound heritage. The sound heritage safeguarded in Colombia came from radio station, music libraries, research centres and universities. Some of the most important radio archives were created by Radio Cadena Nacional (RCN), Radio Toledar and Radio Caracol.

Another one of the oldest archive is the cultural radio station HJCK created by Alvaro Castaño. The HJCK preserved music and testimonies from Colombian and Latin American writers from five decades. In March 2014, this sound archive was delivered to the Public Media System in Colombia for safeguarding as a sound patrimony.

On the other hand, since 2005 the Archivo General de la Nación became interested in sound archives and therefore applied a survey to stablish the state of the sound archives in the country. The aim of the survey was to establish a first contact with those who had sound collections of traditional communities, but also urban and institutional sound archives. According to Casilimas “with this experience and the funding and the cooperation of ADAI (Latin American Development Support Archives), we are currently anticipating the project to recover oral recordings of languages in risk​​”. Currently, the General Archive of Colombia holds meetings with experts to establish public policies for the recognition and valuation of acoustic heritage.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Señal Memoria public radio, from 2010 to 2013, made an important work led by Dora Brausin in cooperation with the Fonoteca Nacional de Mexico. Señal Memoria ran projects of preservation, courses and tutorials of sound archives. In other hand, the Archivo de Bogotá, one of the best equipped in the region, has begun the creation of the Fonoteca de Bogotá in recent dates. The Archivo de Bogotá is adapting the conditions and the infrastructure of the printed documentary to the needs of the sound archives.

Rescue of the sound documents

Rescue of sound documents in Mexico

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, with the advice of the Fonoteca Nacional de Mexico, in 2010 began works for the creation of their Fonoteca Nacional. The Fonoteca Nacional of Costa Rica was created as part of the 2011-2014 National Development Plan. The Fonoteca Nacional of Costa Rica is one of the youngest institutions to safeguard the sound heritage in Latin America. This institution was incorporated in the heart of the National Library of Costa Rica and since May 2014, opened its doors as a venue dedicated to safeguarding the sound heritage. The initial sound collection has 1,887 documents of music. Those sound documents were digitised and offered as a public service. One of the goals of this new institution is to create sound collections by incorporating radio productions, indigenous languages, soundscape recordings, voices of literature, among others. They noted “one of our goals is to make a call to the Costa Rican population, to contribute with their sound materials, because we know that our country contains invaluable pieces, and with the grant or loan of those sound collections the Sound Heritage of Costa Rica would be getting larger background “.



Cuba has a collection amounting to 569 thousand sound documents from public broadcasters of the island. The conservation status of the sound collections, according Pedro Arturo Perez Rosabal, of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television “is poor, do not have adequate shelving, storage is inadequate, lacking of analog playback equipment; although when there is political interest and state plans to rescue the musical heritage.”

In 1998 began efforts to digitise sound collections of Cuba. Four years later, in 2002, began the digitisation of some sound materials. However, Perez Rosabal acknowledged that they “were difficult years” and, due to lack of investments, the digitalisation stopped. It was not until 2004 that the digitisation of archives resumed.

In February 2014, the Recordings and Musical Editions Company (EGREM) from Cuba received a support of $20,000 American dollars from the Regional Office of UNESCO for the rescue and preservation of their archive (Juventud Rebelde, 2014). The background is estimated in 70,000 sound documents of Cuban musical heritage.



In Chile the conservation status of sound recordings is only partially known. Antonieta Palma from the National Library of Chile told “from the 90s researchers collected sound materials and began to feel the need to be partner in a group related to sound archives”. In 1992, during the Festival Internacional de Viña del Mar, the producers of radio and television spoke about the need to form a group or association for setting policies for sound archives. “Since then, the main Chilean institutions are concerned to preserve sound recordings” (Palma, 2004). However, Antonieta Palma (2004) recognises that “due to the lack of resources of government institutions this task has started slowly, but is worry the lack of awareness about the evanescence of these carriers and the urgency of preserving them.”

In 2002, MINGACO (Corporation of Audiovisual and Film Heritage) was formed in Chile as a network of sound archives to assist in the development, organisation, preservation and promotion of sound, audiovisual and film heritage. One of the main activities of MINGACO was to conduct a census of the sound archives of the country, however, the results of this survey were not published.


El Salvador

In El Salvador there is evidence of conservation work carried out by the Museum of Word and Image (MUPI) institution that conserves printed documents, manuscripts, paintings, prints, photographs, films and audio recording of the history of the country. The highlights of the sound collections include transmissions of Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Martí, among other sound documents.



Violence and armed conflict have caused that sound collections be forgotten and undervalued. An example of this is what happened in Guatemala. This country went through an armed conflict for over 36 years, 1960-1996. Social instability and the impact of political violence caused the neglect of the sound archives. However, clandestinely some sound collections were preserved. Some collections even went abroad and, with the effort of recovering the historical memory of Guatemalans, begin to return home (Fion, 2002).

In Guatemala to recover and to reconstruct their historical memory have been recorded testimonies of the victims of violence. An example of these sound archives is the Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) developed by the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala. Sound recordings of REMHI were use by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) in the Peace Accords. The REHMI created an audio archive with over 60 thousand audiocassettes that collected 5,465 testimonies of victims of armed conflict.



From Mexico was promoted since 2001 the creation of a forum around audio and audiovisual heritage: the Seminario Internacional de Archivos Sonoros y Audiovisuales, which gathered Mexican, Latin American, European and Asian experts to know the current and prospective situation of collections worldwide. This seminar has had the participation of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), the International Federation of Television Archives (FIAT) and the International Association of Film Archives (FIAF).

Thanks to this seminar it was possible to disseminate ideas, knowledge and experiences that were crucial to safeguarding sound heritages in Mexico.

Of all the projects in favor of sound heritage, the most important was the creation of the Fonoteca Nacional de Mexico, as the institution to preserve the sound memory. Should be noted that, due to the field of sound archives was practically unknown in Mexico, international cooperation was fundamental in the creation of the Fonoteca Nacional. In this sense, it must be noted the support of the International Association of Sound Archives (IASA) and the National Sound Archive in Switzerland. Without the knowledge and experience accumulated by these institutions the establishment of a new institution it would not have been possible. The accumulated experience the Fonoteca Nacional de Mexico has enabled techniques and working methods being spread in the preservation of sound to countries in the region, among them Colombia and Costa Rica. Recently the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México started to make research projects in digital sound preservation at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliotecológicas y de la Información, in order to develop projects to protect the sound archives via digital preservation.



Since more than a decade have begun the first steps to safeguard the acoustic heritage of our peoples. However there is still much work to do to stop the permanent loss of sound archives.

Therefore sound archives in Latin America face a number challenges. Of these, the first is to develop studies and research to find out which institutions or individuals have sound archives and in which storage conditions are located.

The knowledge of the actual conditions of sound heritage is the basis for the development of digitisation projects and strategies, as well the creation of platforms for digital preservation of sound collections.

Cooperation between countries at institutional and geographical levels is an alternative. Consequently, the accumulated knowledge and experience of IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives) is an option for the preservation of sound collections. The situation of the sound archives in some of the Latin American countries is critical. If  research and collaboration plans are not carried out in the following decades, thousands of sound files will be lost. The loss of a part of the sound heritage of Latin America represents a loss of the heritage of humanity.




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