Voices from Beyond  |  A Collection of Iranian Music on Wax Cylinders


Iran as a multidimensional country is the home of different people with multicultural music and oral heritages. The so-called official music has been recognized by the rise of the Radif attributed to Mirza Abdollah including the seven Dastgah and five related Avaz in the late of 19th century. However there are other musical cultures such as ethnic and ritual music beyond the official music. One can spot the significant lack of written resources and materials concerning the study of these areas, in particular lack of music materials.

During the same period after the invention of the phonograph recorder by Edison, and in the beginning of the 20th century, the wave of recording of music treasury flooded the Middle East and India as well as the European countries. These phonographs are nowadays found in many places, however the archives available in Germany and Iran have one of the most valuable and somewhat oldest sound collections in the world, and are held in many phonographs consisting of old recordings of Iranian music such as Radif performances and ethnical music.

Hence, this project strives to discover, conserve, reconstruct and finally digitalize a series of the Iranian music collections based on wax cylinder records available in Germany and Iran over a period of two years in collaboration with other experts from this field. The study of these phonographs can contribute to filling the gaps in our knowledge of the history of Iranian music and thereby lead to the compilation of a possibly new history of music in Iran.

// Project Start: 01.06.2015
// Project Ending: 31.12.2016
// Project Manager: Dr. Soraya Adambakan

// Project Partners:

– Ethnologisches Museum zu Berlin
Music Museum of Iran
Mahoor Institute of Culture & Art 
Jam-e Mehr Documentary Film Production
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

This Project was funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Deutsches Auswärtiges Amt)

Project Report and Results Achieved


This project had started with the aim of digitizing five audio collections of phonograph cylinders, consisting of Iranian traditional-ethnical music, in June 2015 with the financial support of the German Foreign Ministry (through the kind assistance of the cultural department at German Embassy in Tehran) and was successfully concluded in December 2016. Out of the five collections digitized, three of the collections belonged to the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the other two were of the unheard private collection of Mr. Mohammadreza Sharayeli who kindly allowed us access to this valuable assets.

It is important to remember that the significance of this project is not only in its realization, through the documentation and digitization process of a series of historical audio documents, nor only for the preservation of an invaluable source of Iranian intangible heritage and bringing them back to the country of its origin, but mostly due to the recognition of an urgency and deliberate timing for launching such a discrete project. Disregarding the fact, that the cylinders even when fostered under the best conditions are not everlasting, yet the time, and in actual fact the cultural gap, between the original music performances and the time by which they are now listened to has become ever more distant. Thus, it was essential to get these documents audible and available for the interested public and professionals during this specific time and generation; still when concerned receivers with an association to this kind of musical culture are in existence, and especially for those who could possibly recollect or better still fully understand them. Study of such rare sound recordings could thus further contribute to filling the gaps in our knowledge of the history of Iranian music and thereby lead to the compilation of a possibly new narrative for the music of Iran.

In pursuit of the above mentioned objectives the following outcomes were achieved accordingly:

  • Digitization of five phonogram cylinder collections as endangered intangible cultural heritage;
  • Organization and implementation of two educational workshops at Mahoor Institute of Culture and Art and the Music Museum of Tehran with the aim of introducing the Phonograms as well as the digitization process of the cylinders;
  • Organization and implementation of a specialized symposium at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts with the aim of introducing the project at large, displaying the digitized audio samples and expert exchange of knowledge on the significance of the achieved results;
  • Production of a short documentary film covering the whole procedure of the project;
  • Composing two scientific articles entitled “Remarks on the Recordings of This Collection” written by Dr. Sasan Fatemi and Arman Goharinasab as well as “In Search of Iranian Music: A glance at the Iranian collections of the Berlin phonogram archive” written by Mr. Alireza Shalviri;
  • Publication of two CDs of the refined audio files with an attached booklet (to be published soon);

During the execution of the project we also had a chance to access and digitize other audio collections including:

  • A large collection of Iranian ethnical music and other audio performances between years 1950 to 1990 recorded on large tapes (Tonbands) which were archived at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin;
  • Kazemi Private collection of Ta’zyeh, the Iranian ritual dramatic art, including audio as well as visual and scriptural documents from Qajar up to the end of Pahlavi period. This collection was digitized with the collaboration of Mr. Seifollah Shokri.

The inclusion of the Ta’zyeh collection in this project was further due to its significant role played for the future survival of Iranian ritual music.

The digitized files are archived by OHWB e. V. here in Berlin and could be accessible to everyone who is interested in this regard. A copy of the whole collection is also available at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.