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Arthur Russell's Archives Have Found a Home at the New York Public Library

The archives will be made available to the public after they have been processed.
Photo courtesy of Audika records

Arthur Russell fans and scholars alike will soon be able to get unprecedented access to the composer's work—the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has acquired Russell's archives with plans to make them public.

In a New York Times article by music writer Ben Ratliff, the library "acquired the archive from Russell's estate, which is shepherded by Tom Lee, Russell's partner. It includes a thousand-or-so reels, cassettes, DATs, Beta and VHS tapes with hundreds of hours of unreleased and probably unreleasable material, representing how Russell made his work — laying down individual tracks, or practicing, or jamming…. One example in the collection, recorded on a TDK-90 cassette tape over remixes of Salsoul-label disco by Walter Gibbons, contains a version of Russell's song 'My Tiger My Timing' sung with Jennifer Warnes."

The archives also gathers Russell's written work, including, as Ratliff points out: "notebooks, scores, personal correspondence, grant proposals, gig fliers and lyrics to hundreds of songs. Among those are some from World of Echo, which are hardest to decipher — including the extraordinary 'Soon to Be Innocent Fun/Let's See,' as well as 'Answers Me,' the song Kanye West used [in '30 Hours']. The handwritten material shows Russell as a mixture of things: abstracted, articulate, ambitious, very serious and very funny. Next to the notes about presentation and packaging, he wrote: 'send nude photos to critics.'"

"All the tapes will be digitized and cataloged as well," writes Ratliff, "a process that may take as long as a year, according to Jonathan Hiam, the library's curator for the project — but then will be available for onsite listening."