The National Sound Archives (NSA) were established in 1964 by Israel Adler, founder and director of the Jewish Music Research Centre at the Hebrew University, as an integral part of the Music Department of the Jewish National and University Library.
The NSA strive to collect and preserve the musical heritage of Jewish communities in Israel and throughout the world, and of non-Jewish communities (Muslims, Christians, Samaritans, Druzes, Beduins, etc.) residing in Israel.Since their inception, the NSA have absorbed recordings from several extant sources, amongst which are: the Archive of Oriental Music of the Hebrew University founded in 1935 by Robert Lachmann, including recordings by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn; the Jacob Michael Collection of Jewish Music (New York); the Israel Institute for Sacred Music, whose director, Avigdor Herzog, presided as the NSA's first director; the private collections of pioneer Jewish ethnomusicologists such as Edith Gerson-Kiwi (who continued Lachmann's work following his death in 1939), Leo Levi and Johanna Spector.
Since 1964 the NSA have continuously expanded its holdings by promoting new recordings. Field work and recordings at the NSA studio are conducted in close cooperation with the research staff of the Jewish Music Research Centre. Likewise, the NSA take part in organizing extended field trips in collaboration with the Centre and Musicology Departments of Israeli universities. The Archives have also been enriched by purchases and donations of tapes and records from private and public resources. The holdings include analog and digital tapes, records, cassettes and videotapes.
The NSA serve a wide and varied audience of scholars, educators, performers, film and television producers and composers from Israel and around the globe. The holdings are open to public at the NSA listening room; selected copies of recordings can be obtained by institutions and individuals upon request.
To make recordings easily accessible, the holdings of the NSA are catalogued in meticulous detail. During the 1980s a computerized cataloguing system was devised which will enable the retrieval of individual items according to subject, title, opening lyrics, name of performers and collectors, ethnic affiliation and geographical location.
The NSA house hundreds of thousands of musical items. Any selection from such a rich collection is bound to be arbitrary and scarcely representative of the immense scope of musical styles found therein. This tape can only hope to open a small window upon the NSA universe of sound. In order to present a range of different styles, several of the items have of necessity been shortened.
The items in the present selection reveal features characteristic of both Jewish and Near Eastern musical cultures. Thus we find an emphasis on vocal music set to sacred texts, performers are largely male and many songs serve specific social and religious functions.
The NSA are essentially the "musical memory" of the Jewish people. Moreover, the peculiar location of Israel at the crossroads of East and West has permitted the formation of a phonographic collection eminently unique in content.