photography • field recordings • world music • subconscious
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Organizing Music Like Film

World music collection, one of a few things actually organized in this life.

Some elements in life are in states of disarray.

In the closet, shirts at times are hung between pants. Kitchen spice rack seems to keep most flavor makers tidy, however the cinnamon tends to goes astray. So does the thyme and bottle of Maggi. Tool room is a navigational hazzard. Don’t even ask about the sock drawer. When misplacing reading glasses (which happens all too often), they inevitably are tilted up upon the head.

What has been put under a decent state of organizational control is both the photography and audio archives.

Without these two vital factors in life proper organized, I’d be a mess.

A few years ago I took on the wrestling task of organizing the music CD collection, a vast majority being world music. Having begun collecting in a fevered state around 20 years ago, this section of the library is rather significant.

It became apparent early on that the music needed to be cataloged, no differently then photographic slides and negatives.

First thing required, a place to keep them so none could be damaged. While living in Indonesia, a fantastic carpenter created two wooden cases with glass doors made from old recycled teak wood, each to hold more CD’s then one could ever try carrying.

Next came the decision on how to organize the music.

Artist name?

With my name retention about as water tight as pasta strainer, I had to come up with a better solution.

Both my analogue film and digital archives are organized by country. Seemed to make sense for a continuum, organizing on the shelves first by region of the world, then by country. If there was a large collection by one artist — there are 40-50 CD’s just of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (I’m nutty for Nusrat), 10 or so of the amazing tabla player, Zakir Hussain, etc — they would receive a specific section within their country region, e.g., Pakistan for Nusrat, India for Zakir and so on.

Heavy stock paper with labels, a simple but effective way to catalogue music.

Then the plan hit a snag; Where do early and mid century recordings of traditional music go?

In the last seven or eight years I’ve become mesmerize by the origins of music. Vintage recordings of a culture, tribe, area, country, in an attempt to understand what they sounded like (musically) before being effected by the importation of foreign musical styles and instruments.

What does the original music of the Yi people in Yunnan sound like?

How much of Balinese gamelan has been altered (if at all) by pop music?

Not only are we loosing last speakers of language at an alarming rate (a language is lost ever two weeks), what musical traditions have we also lost but are able to be heard on period recordings?

When the arrival of tape recorder happened around 130 years ago, it was far too large to tote about as we do with digital recorders, like the Roland which fits in my shirt pocket.

By the 20′s and 30′s, recorders, just like computers, began to shrink — from chest of drawer sized units, down to scale which could at least fit comfortably on a table.

There were a number of pioneers in the ethnomusicology world who immediately realized the importance of recording traditional music, both for sharing to others but also as a means to document what was already traditional culture under stress due to colonialism, development and the growing ease of travel. By the 20′s and 30′s, musical influences would soon forever be alter from what took generations of natural and creative evolution, often in a somewhat isolated state due to geography.

Hugh Tracey was one of these ethnomusicologist.

Hugh and his wife, Ursula Campbell Tracey, moved from England to Rhodesia (now, Zimbabwe) in the 1920′s. Immediately he was enthralled by traditional African music. Hugh converted a truck into a mobile recording studio and headed across the central and southern part of the continent between the 1920′s until the 1970′s (his most prolific recording period was in the 1950′s), creating what is considered the most important collection of traditional African music ever recorded.

Hugh Tracey and his mobile recording caravan.

To learn more about the importance of Dr. Hugh Tracey’s audio legacy, you can click on the image above or here for more details.

In the CD library in the studio — having finally deciding a few years ago to have all recordings created before the 1970′s organized in their own sub-sections within each relevant country — there rests one of my favorite Tracey recordings.

The CD, At the Court of the Mwami, Rwanda, is an excellent example of the importance of such early recordings. Like vanishing languages, we’re also loosing certain forms of traditional music.

Why?

Unlike Mozart or Bach — whose musical compositions were often transposed to paper — most traditional music from around the world is oral, memorized to perfection and pass down from generation to generation. If there’s no one willing to learn the specific musical style or knows how to sing the words, the music, like a language, will vanish.

In 1962, the Republic of Rwanda was established and five centuries of rule by the Tutsi Banyiginya dynasty came to an end. King Mwami fled the country and the symbol of power, the royal drums, vanished. According to Hugh’s notes, this music, exclusive to this court, was never heard again other then in “a diluted form”. In 1952. Hugh Tracey was given permission to make what is truly some amazing recordings. They are still available through his International Library of African Music label as well as in the iTunes store. This album is a hardcore series of recordings. Not necessarily candlelight dinner music. A journey in time to a musical tradition which is no longer with us.

While writing I listened once more to this entire album. Whoooow. All tracks are excellent however the four Twa Women songs are stunning, and vocal style of track 15, Rukanga Rwamajana by singer Ntamakiriro, is over the top.

Every album in Tracey’s historic collection is brilliant — just buy any one or all. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way, not ever field recording Tracey made is available through iTunes. You can see most of Dr. Hugh Tracey’s complete archive through the International Library of African Music label which is affiliated with Rhodes University in South Africa.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

11 comments

1 K. Agung Patriadi { 05.11.11 at 12:43 }

Wow a great collection. Hi Mr. John if I remember correctly in Indonesia is very much music and musical instrument called the means of local music, like Kolintang, Angklung, Sasando, Gamelan, Suling Sunda and many other else. Thanks.

2 John Stanmeyer { 05.11.11 at 12:59 }

Indeed, Pak Agung. Many styles of traditional music throughout the entire archipelago. In the coming months I’ll share some of my own recordings from Indonesia as well as highlight CD reviews from the country, both present day music as well as pre-30′s recordings. Till then, visiting the Smithsonian Folkways website: http://www.folkways.si.edu/ . They have an amazing 10-12 CD collection of music from throughout Indonesia. The label is also available in Indonesia, as I’ve picked up a number of Indonesian imprinted Folkways CD’s at the music store in the Sarina shopping center in downtown Jakarta. Best, John

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