2 Oct 2022

Global Music


A trip around the globe in music.

'The music is at times ethereal, achingly beautiful, moving, virtuosic, and just plain strange. The tracks have been sequenced well, and flow very nicely into each other; no small achievement with a collection as diverse as this.'

'Fantastic CD of recordings made between 1918 and 1955 assembled and annotated by Ian Nagoski. This compilation contains 24 tracks from Bali, Burma, Cameroon, China, England, Germany, Greece, India, Japan, Java, Laos, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia all newly transferred and mastered from 78 rpm discs. At least 18 tracks appear on compact disc for the first time with all but one never having been previously reissued in the U.S.'

"Overcome with delight or overcome with grief, a person howls. A child listens to the modulations and textures in her parent’s voice. Life is so good that one person is unable to keep from dancing, and another is unable to keep from joining them with clapping and stomping. Is music-making the enactment of a desire to return to those moments?" — Ian Nagoski from the liner notes 

'In the 21st century world of the Internet and digital downloads, the notion that recorded music can be an actual object as well as an auditory moment in time is rapidly becoming a quaint concept, and it changes to some extent the way recorded music travels through this world. These days, of course, it's stored on servers and portable handheld devices, gazillions of bytes of ones and zeros that are transferred mysteriously and sight unseen from one digital realm to another. But it wasn't always so. This wonderful, quirky, and fascinating anthology was compiled by Baltimore record shop owner Ian Nagoski from his personal collection of old 78s, brittle black discs made of ground stone, shellac and carbon that he found stacked and tucked away in countless thrift shops and attics. The 78s collected here were recorded all over the planet, from Bali to Scotland, and had somehow found their way into a stack of records in some dusty corner of a darkened attic, black mirrors, if you will, of their time in the world. That glorious feel of random and wondrous discovery is all over this set, and the music here is strange, beautiful, and rare in a way that will soon be impossible to replicate. Nagoski presents Syrian violinists, Balinese gamelan players and Chinese opera singers side by side, all of whom made recordings that then entered the world as actual objects and consequently traveled in simple and mysterious ways through that world until they came to rest in Nagoski's line of vision as he sifted through stacks of such objects, all of which also made their own journeys, touching lives at every leap in time and space. There's so much to marvel at here. Gong Belaloewana Bali's gamelan piece "Kebyar Ding, Pt. 1" sounds like a living and breathing music box fed through a giant bellows. Scottish Pipe Major Henry Forsyth's "Mallorca" is full of all the elegant sadness the human spirit can hold. The Paul Pendja Ensemble's zippy West African rhumba "Ngo Mebou Melane" is an explosion of joyous sound. Uilleann piper Patrick J. Touhey's "Drowsy Maggie" is nervous and vigorous, belying the tune's title. M. Nguyen makes his monochord dan bau sound like a gloriously demented slide guitar straight out of some Delta dream on "Nam Nhi-Tu," which was recorded in Saigon in the 1930s. Track after track on Black Mirror startles and delights, and the accumulation of all of it makes one wonder what other lost treasures, what other black mirrors of times and places and distant lives are stacked in the back of that old junk shop on the corner, for these pieces, in addition to being pleasures to listen to, are objects that have traveled and touched people along the way. That concept, that one can actually hand another a piece of music, a living, breathing piece of music created and captured in another time and place, and that that music can move from hand to hand and place to place until it is all but lost and half forgotten until someone like Nagoski rediscovers it, is fast slipping from our lives. Oh yeah, you can get on the web and do a virtual search, but this collection is for those who understand that virtual isn't exactly real. It is, by definition, only almost real. The selections on Black Mirror are real. They've traveled. They've been lost. They've been found. They live again and still as very real objects in this very real world.' -Steve Leggett

An enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s gathers folk songs, religious chants, classical pieces, and more from places including Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, and Turkey.

'Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music (1918-1955) is an enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s. The set was compiled by Ian Nagoski, who runs the respected True Vine record shop in Baltimore, Md. Nagoski-- a righteous bliss-drone musician whose own recorded output is worth hearing-- was once an intern for La Monte Young's long-running "Dream House" installation in New York. He's written about music for The Wire, and in the 1990s he was a contributing editor for the exceptional and sorely-missed 'zine Halana. Nagoski's been collecting 78s since he was in high school, intrepidly and often blindly looking for stuff that sounds cool, even if the labels were all in Russian and he had no idea what it was going to sound like. As you can guess from the title, this assemblage of material comes from long ago and far away, all over the globe: Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, Turkey, and a dozen more.

It's always a treat to be reminded of how much amazing music there is in the world that you've never heard. Seventy-five percent of this material has never been issued on CD, so both bushy-eyed world music newcomers and intrepid crate-combers will find an awful lot to dig in these 24 songs. In fact, only one track's ever been released on a CD in the States before. Black Mirror stacks performers of great renown (at the time) next to uncredited musicians performing folk musics that stretch back for centuries. All of them are obscure today, of course.

Most people associate 78s with inferior sound quality. The word "scratchy" seems quite nearly wedded to the numbers "78," in fact. However, nary a scratch, pop, or crackle is to be heard here. Great care has gone into transferring and mastering these tracks. And unlike a lot of digital processing done in the 90s (when this kind of technology first became affordable), it hasn't heavy-handedly lopped off entire frequencies in the process. Sure, there's a little background hiss in the back of Nino de Priego's gorgeous, flamenco-y "Envidia Yo No Tengo A Nadie", but whatever. There's far more hiss on a Sebadoh record.

It's tough to say what unites these recordings, aside from the fact that they weren't made for export and most represent a tradition in danger of extinction. Highly mannered female vocals flutter on top of string orchestras on a few tracks, while there's a delightful Cameroonian rumba and "Songs in Grief" from Japan (which lives up to its name). A monk rhythmically and effortlessly recites a prayer for what might be the millionth time; he's devoted his life to this particular chant. But some other kind of glue holds all these pieces together: the sequencing, the way the songs unfold, is a large part of the pleasure here. A woozy, melted-sounding "horizontal monochord" recording from Vietnam in 1930 segues perfectly into a passionate recording of Handel performed on a piano in Germany in 1931.

When a thing is done with absolute love, it tends to show. I'm not a huge fan of CDs myself; I have a lot of vinyl and more mp3s than I can count. But it's awfully hard to imagine these songs without the lovely 24-page booklet that comes with the set. The liner notes are lush with information about each track, as much as Nagoski could find anyway. He also brings the listener back to the very dawn of recorded sound by reproducing some of the earliest reactions to Edison's great invention, the phonograph. Nagoski writes with awe himself about finding a special, strange record in a dusty corner, and about how amazing it is that these round, brittle discs can transfer such absolute magic from one generation to another.

There are indeed magical possibilities when it comes to assembling and editing a collection such as this; it's no accident that alchemical symbols dot Harry Smith's liner notes to his celebrated urtext, the three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music. Nagoski also quotes from his own translation of the spiritual-minded, avant-garde poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, even borrowing the album's title from one of his works. All that places the material in a different context than one usually finds in globetrotting collections of ye olde records, which often suffer the post-colonial hangover of exoticism. Here's to hoping that Nagoski compiles at least a dozen more records like it. Black Mirror just might be the most remarkable collection of its sort since Pat Conte ceased his CD reissue series Secret Museum of Mankind in 1998.' -Mike McGonigal

Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics is a unique and wonderful CD collection of old, obscure recordings of musical performances from dif-ferent parts of Asia and Europe, plus one recording from Cameroon. These recordings were originally released on 78 rpm disks between 1918 and 1955 (with the exception of the final track, a Burmese recording taken from an acetate that may or may not have ever been released commercially). The result, painstakingly remastered so that music taken from ancient record grooves sounds bright and lively (but not distractingly over-enhanced), is nothing less than an ethnomusicological treasure trove, especially for those specialists with research interests in Europe (from which ten of the album’s 24 cuts are taken) and Southeast Asia (seven tracks total). Included in the collection are “Aayega Aanewaala,” Lata Mangeshkar’s first hit film song (1949) and a performance of “Kebyar Ding, I” from Walter Spies’s historic 1928 commercial recording session of Balinese gamelan (the earliest recording ses-sion of its kind known to have occurred), along with a performance by Pipe Major Forsyth, the English bagpipe virtuoso (ca. 1930s); a tune by Christer Falkenstrom, a ten-year-old Swedish singer of art-song accompanying himself on zither (1954); a prayer recitation by Sathoukhru Lukkhamkeow, a Laotian Buddhist monk (1928), and 19 other recordings equally rare and outstand-ing from Burma, Cameroon, China, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Spain, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.  

The extensive liner notes reveal a valiant effort by compiler and co-producer Ian Nagoski to locate information about performances that, until their inclusion in this collection, were identified only by the limited (and sometimes misspelled and inaccurate) information printed on their dusty record labels. A collector and record store owner, Nagoski’s prose has the Romantic excesses and breathless quality of the nonprofessional enthusiast, but his writing is not without substance, nor I would argue is it devoid of genuine insight. He writes:

''Groaning masses of records, the sediment and detritus of the record industry’s attempts to sell music to people almost everywhere on earth, sit stacked all over the world, black, inert, inscribed sound-stones, just as they did 50 or 100 years ago. A possessed listener, someone addicted to the wonder of exploring the sounds of elsewhere, thinks of them as containing galaxies and miasmas of beauty, each one potentially magically charged with the possibility for inward transportation and contact with humanity in extraordinarily elevated form.''

Incredibly, Nagoski claims that acquiring the records for the compilation did not involve more than a half-hour drive from his home in Baltimore or cost more than $125. “Possessed” ethnomusicologists will likely find their own favorite recordings in this compilation. I myself became fascinated by “Djanger,” an eerie a cappella song from Bali attributed to “The Representa-tives of the Democratic Youth of Indonesia,” and originally released around the time of Indonesian independence. This strange vocal genre, which uses gamelan tunings and percussive, kecak-style vocalizations, emerged in the early twentieth century and has undergone several revivals on the island since (p.c., David Harnish, 1 September 2008).  

Given the challenges of finding out about long-forgotten 78s, the pro-ducers do an admirable job of presenting anywhere from a few sentences to a whole page of relevant information about each track. This amount of documentation is impressive for a commercial CD with a limited audience, as such projects tend to have very little explanatory text at all. Particularly unusual for a nonacademic collector’s labor of love like this one (Nagoski’s aesthetic preferences were the sole criterion for song selection), the album’s researchers even draw upon the work of ethnomusicologists. Deborah Wong is consulted in the discussion of “Phleeng Khuk Phaat, Part 2” a Thai classi-cal pi phat ensemble piece (though unfortunately her name is misspelled in the text). The liner notes also quote from Sean Williams’s The Sound of the Ancestral Ship (2001) in reference to an old recording of tembang Sunda, fortunately getting her gender wrong, an error for which Nagoski later apologized profusely (p. c., Sean Williams, 24 January 2008). T. Viswanathan and Matthew Allen’s 2004 volume Music in South India is also quoted in a discussion of a recording of Tamil periya melam ritual music from the 1930s (unfortunately Viswanathan’s name is also misspelled).  

While the above errors are irksome, The Black Mirror remains a valuable collection for at least two reasons. First, despite insistent calls for research-ers to historicize traditional non-Western musics, old recordings of Balinese gamelan, pi phat, and so on, are rarely discussed in detail by ethnomusicolo-gists. The Black Mirror’s contents hint at the unexpected continuities and ruptures that such an undertaking might reveal. For instance, the enigmatic recording of Burmese dance music dating from the 1930s included as the final song on the album sounds remarkably similar to recent recordings of possession ritual music on the album Music of Nat Pwe (2007) except that the former recording lacks vocals.  

Second, while one might object that the 78 rpm disks from which these tracks were taken (not to mention the CD itself) are nothing more than radi-cally decontexualized commodity fetishes, I would counter that it is precisely the processes of objectification and commodification and the fate of musical artifacts (as non-ephemeral things in the world) long after their initial release that need to be better understood when analyzing world music in our own or any time. Therefore we need to take seriously this collection of record-ings, not only because it contains beautiful and rarely heard performances in diverse musical traditions, but because of what it can tell us about exoticism, collecting, and the sonic artifact in the period of emergence and initial expan-sion of the recording industry—a time when “[o]ld modes of apprehending Others and representing them . . . found themselves reused, recycled, and updated”. (Taylor 2007:211). --Jeremy Wallach  Bowling Green State University

Taylor, Timothy D. 2007. Beyond Exoticism: Western Music  and the World. Durham: Duke University Press.

Music of Nat Pwe. 2007. Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma), vol. 3. Sublime Frequencies SF035.

Viswanathan, T., and Matthew Harp Allen. 2004. Music in South India: The Karnatak Con-cert Tradition and Beyond: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Sean. 2001. The Sound of the Ancestral Ship: Highland Music of West Java. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ian Nagoski

Various – Black Mirror: Reflections In Global Musics (1918-1955)

Label: Dust-to-Digital – DTD-10
Format: CD, Compilation
Country: US
Released: 2007
Style: Traditional Folk Music

1. Naim Karakand - Kamanagah (Syria) 3:21
2. Thewaprasit Ensemble - Phleeng Khuk Phaat, Part 2 (Thailand) 3:12
3. Gong Belaloewana Bali - Kebyar Ding, I (Bali) 3:06
4. Pipe Major Forsyth - Mallorca (Northumbria-England) 2:44
5. Thiruvazhimilalai Subramanian Bros. & Needamangalam Meenakshisundaram Pillai - Manasa Sri Ramachandra (India) 2:58
6. Paul Pendja Ensemble - Ngo Mebou Melane (Cameroun) 3:55
7. Cyganska Orchestra Stefana - Cyganske Vesilia, Part 4 (Lekmo-Poland) 3:29
8. Zhehongyi With Nendi Zhaoguan - Mother's Uproar (Fouzhou-China) 3:18
9. Patrick J. Touhey - Drowsy Maggie (Ireland) 3:07
10. Hutzl Ukrainian Ensemble - Welsisni Melodyi (Hutsul-Ukraine) 2:17
11. Neriman Altindag - Soyledi Yok Yok (Turkey) 3:05
12. Lata Mangeshkar - Aayega Aanewaala (India) 3:16
13. M. Nguyen Van Minh-Con - Nam Nhi-Tu (Vietnam) 3:08
14. Edwin Fischer - Handel's Chaconne, Teil I (Switzerland / Germany) 2:50
15. Marika Papagika - Smyrneiko Minore (Greece) 3:29
16. Petar Perunovic-Perun - Narodne Saljive Pjesme (Serbia) 2:59
17. Nji R. Hadji Djoeaehn - Tjimploengan (Sunda-Java) 3:10
18. Niño De Priego - Envidia Yo No Tengo A Nadie (Spain) 3:18
19. Prof. Lucas Junot - Fado De Passarinhos (Portugal) 2:51
20. Sathoukhru Lukkhamkeow - Nakhone Prayer (Laos) 3:21
21. Christer Falkenstrom - Baklandets Vackra Maja (Sweden) 2:44
22. Representatives Of The Democratic Youth Of Indonesia - Djanger (Bali) 2:17
23. Sinkou Son & Kouran Kin - Songs In Grief (Japan) 2:40
24. Burmese Musicians - Yein pwe (Myanmar) 3:05