Library of Congress acquires life's work of sound recordist Jim Metzner Jim Metzner has traveled far and wide to record sounds of the world and share them with listeners. The Library of Congress will preserve thousands of tapes and other items dating back to the 1970s.

He spent decades recording soundscapes. Now they're going to the Library of Congress

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The Library of Congress recently acquired the life's work of this man.

JIM METZNER: Hi, I'm Jim Metzner. For the last 40-plus years, I've sort of been a listener.

FADEL: Metzner is an audio archivist. He's been traveling the world, recording the sounds around him.


We might take some of those sounds for granted, like a flock of birds on New York's Great Gull Island.


MARTIN: Other sounds are quite rare. This is from a Japanese village where artisans use massive devices to smash rocks and soil into clay to make pottery.


METZNER: They're called kara-usu - the size of telephone poles. They're powered by streams. They look like - you know, that bobbing bird toy? They sort of work kind of on the same principle. This cup fills with water and pulls down this giant seesaw fulcrum, and then it drains out and comes crashing down - day in, day out - wonderful creaking (vocalizing) sound.


FADEL: Metzner seems to have a story for each place he's been and the sounds he's recorded there.

METZNER: Oh, God. This is a great one. I was in Brazil - town called Feira de Santana. The scene was plains - rolling plains, farm country. And I see, oh, wow. There's a group of cowboys - the vaqueros. And I knew that they sang to their cattle when they were herding them. They - it's called the aboyo. But no one had ever recorded them, to the best of my knowledge. Man, I got to tell you; I was in sound man heaven.


UNIDENTIFIED COWBOYS: (Singing in Non-English language).

METZNER: The steer which they were herding were longhorn steer. And one of the steer saw me and sort of didn't like what he saw, lowers his head, charges at me full bore. I'm standing there with 14 pounds of equipment. And I'm going, I'm a dead man. I thought for a second, oh, my God; maybe I'll take this Nakamichi 550 and put it in front of me. And then I thought, no, I can't do that. I couldn't even bear the thought of my equipment getting gored. And at the last possible second, one of the cowboys comes nonchalantly trotting up to the cow. He's carrying a stick. And he just taps the steer, and the steer veers off. And, you know, then the cowboy sort of very cool - he's probably seen too many Marlboro Man ads - you know, he just tips his hat and runs off.


UNIDENTIFIED COWBOYS: (Singing in Non-English language).

METZNER: But I got a great recording. No one has ever gotten a recording like that.


UNIDENTIFIED COWBOYS: (Singing in Non-English language).

MARTIN: The Library of Congress now has Jim Metzner's entire archive. He estimates it's around 90,000 sound files, 2,000 cassettes, hundreds of minidiscs and other formats.

FADEL: So what happens to his work now?

METZNER: I don't want them to be buried in an archive. I want them to be heard. And I've talked to the library. Can we find ways of curating these sounds? You know, you could go to a museum and see Diane Arbus' photographs. You can see Rene Magritte's paintings. Why not soundscapes? They are every bit as much of an art form.

MARTIN: While we wait for the sounds to appear in the Library of Congress archives, you can also hear some of Jim Metzner's work at his radio show and podcast "Pulse Of The Planet."


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