Looking for a Place to Happen: the Archival Practices of Music Bootlegging Communities

Alan Galey


This talk explores a kind of archiving in the wild, in the form of the online communities who digitally curate bootleg musical recordings, known colloquially as ROIOs (or Recordings of Indeterminate Origin). The word “Indeterminate” in this abbreviation fails to do justice to the remarkable work of provenance research that ROIO enthusiasts sometimes perform in their curation of musical recordings, whether live concert recordings, studio out-takes, or other material that might otherwise be lost to cultural memory. Scholars of digital culture have tended to fixate on illegal file-sharing of published albums, but this talk deals mainly with recordings that have never been released commercially, though their copyright status is often a grey area. The communities that share these recordings walk a fine line between copyright infringement and the curation of what they regard as cultural heritage. Like the amateur book collectors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (some of whose collections gave us the great research libraries of today), ROIO bloggers range from the casual to the detail-obsessed, but the best ones have created online resources that rival many scholarly and institutional initiatives for the preservation of recordings.
As examples of the “‘rogue’ memory workers” that Abigail De Kosnik identifies in her book Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom (MIT Press, 2016), digital bootleggers and ROIO bloggers serve as a mirror for professional archivists and textual scholars. Piracy, provenance, ephemera, format, collation, stemmatics, textual criticism, critical editing—all of these concepts from archival and textual scholarship show up as practices among serious digital bootleggers, even if they usually go unrecognized as such. This talk will ask what we can learn from the archival practices of these communities, and will consider what it means to study bootleg recordings as cultural artifacts.


Alan Galey is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, where he also teaches in the collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture, and serves as Director of the Master of Information graduate program. His research and teaching are located at the intersection of textual studies, the history of books and reading, and the digital humanities. His first monograph book, The Shakespearean Archive: Experiments in New Media from the Renaissance to Postmodernity, was published in 2014 by Cambridge University Press, and he has published articles in several edited collections and in journals such as Book History, Shakespeare Quarterly, Literary and Linguistic Computing, and Archival Science. His article “The Enkindling Reciter: E-Books in the Bibliographical Imagination,” published in Book History in 2012, was awarded the Fredson Bowers Prize by the Society for Textual Scholarship. His current book project, The Veil of Code: Studies in Born-Digital Bibliography, extends bibliographical questions and methods to several case-studies of born-digital textual artifacts, from e-books, to web browsers, to digitally circulated music, to videogames and other forms.