January 26, 2009
I’m very pleased to have cajoled another friend with a fine collection into producing an Excavated Shellac-only guest post. This week’s entry is from Rob Millis, co-producer of the museum-worthy Victrola Favorites release on the Dust-to-Digital label. Rob, along with his partner Jeffery Taylor, is also one-half of the experimental Climax Golden Twins (who have a new release on the Journal of Popular Noise). I’m excited that Rob chose to highlight a type of music I also find fascinating – if it is new to you, and I hope to most it will be, I believe you will find this special stuff. – JW
Recorded in May or June of 1908, this lovely piece is set in the kharahapriya rag with an 8 beat time cycle called athi. The performer is Brahma Sri Tiruchendur Appadurai Aiyengar (or Iyengar), a Carnatic (Southern) Indian classical musician of some renown in his time. Most likely recorded in Madras (present day Chennai), the performer was perhaps from – or employed in – the city of Tiruchendur, in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Telugu is one of the primary languages. Tamil Nadu is the heart of Dravidian culture, and simply one of the most ancient places on Earth.
The jaltharangam, often written jalatarang, is an oddity. Meaning “water waves,” the jalatarang consists of small – often porcelain – bowls filled with water and struck with small – often bamboo – sticks. The bowls are arranged in front of the player in a semi-circle not unlike the tuned drums and gongs of Southeast Asia. The amount of water in each bowl determines the tuning (you can try this at home, kids). The jalatarang is mentioned in a 17th century Indian text, and under a slightly different name in even earlier texts (including the Kamasutra), where its mastery was considered one of the essential 64 arts to be learnt by women. The other 63 arts probably get more attention these days, but Alexander the Great is said to have taken jalatarang players back to Macedonia after his subcontinent sojourns which make this simple little instrument potentially over two thousand years old. Some call it, along with the rudra vina, the very oldest South Indian instrument. Rarely recorded, not given much credence by the stalwarts of Indian classical music, it has a crystalline, delicate, shimmering tone, making it an utterly ridiculous instrument to record in 1910. This was the era of acoustic recordings, when mid-range, volume, and voices like Caruso carried the day by simply (and effectively) shouting into a horn. But record it they did, those plucky English Gramophone Company employees, and thank heaven. Classical Indian music is generally improvisational and long form – taking as much time as the performers need to fully explore the raga and beat cycle. But they did what they could in the 78rpm era to provide a taste of this form. And old records such as this are often the only examples of nearly forgotten styles, performers, and ragas.
A beat up ancient record, found in a forgotten junk store in Tamil Nadu last year, about which I can find almost nothing. Who owned it? Who played it? How did it survive? It is like a venerable, wizened old monk. You have to work at listening to recordings like these and fill in the gaps with imagination. Plenty of crackle and hiss like London fog adds to the mystery. The shruti box, barely heard in the background, the drum, possibly a Mridangam (clay pot drum) practically blending in with the crackles and pops, and an ethereal melody in danger of being swallowed, drifting over the top, seeming to come out of thin air or down from the heavens…inscribed in the grooves as though by an angel…which actually was the logo at this time for the Gramophone Company before it adopted the more familiar faithful dog of His Master’s Voice fame. The label is gorgeous too, and wears its history well, as old – relatively – as the instrument it captures.
– Rob Millis
Label: Gramophone Concert Record
Issue Number: G.C.-19455
Matrix Number: E 9274
January 19, 2009
I suppose it’s no secret that I’m drawn to Turkish music, particularly taksims on instruments such as the clarinet, kanun, oud, tambur, etc. But taksims on the keman, the violin – those immediately get my attention. I’m quite sure my fascination stems from hearing the çiftetelli – not in the sense that the word ‘çiftetelli’ is most commonly associated with, the belly dance (although the dance and rhythm are all part of what makes up the çiftetelli). But instead, the original Turkish meaning of the word çiftetelli itself, which is “with double strings.” Upon listening to this track, you will hear what I mean.
The Columbia Records imprint had been in Turkey since at least the 1920s. By 1936 or so, because of a steep import tax put in place by the Turkish government, a Turkish pressing plant had been established by HMV/EMI (of which Columbia was a part). The pressings from that plant are, in my experience, of exceptional quality if found in clean condition. I have no idea how many records were recorded by the great Kemanî Amâ Recep, whose name means “Recep, The Blind Fiddler.” I have found two on Turkish Columbia, and they are both masterful performances, all of them taksims. I believe a few of Recep’s compositions were popular enough to even be released much later as 45s, believe it or not. This, a slowly played çiftetelli, is performed with a small group of players, including clarinet, percussion, and qanun….but the piece itself is all about the blind fiddler. It was recorded in Istanbul, between April and July 1939. Res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.
Issue Number: RT 17856
Matrix Number: CTZ 6205
The Resources page lists a number of CDs featuring music from vintage Turkish 78s, but I would particularly recommend the Masters of Turkish Music CD series on Rounder, put together by Dick Spottswood and others.
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for discographical information.
January 12, 2009
My friend Dave at Haji Maji posts the best vintage Chinese opera in town, but I thought I’d present another from my own collection. Before I prepped this track, of course I went to Dave and his helpful translators for assistance, and they came through with even more information than I had hoped for.
There are always some barriers when trying to find out information on old records besides what might seem the most obvious barrier: language. There is no giant resource in a library somewhere that contains everything you’d need to know about record label activity in all the continents, dates of releases, or perhaps more importantly, the style and history of some of the music itself. A huge portion is a secret history. In the case of the rich and long history of Chinese opera, about which I know only a smattering, I am grateful for any information anyone can give me, or directions to be pointed in.
This is an example of Wai Jiang Opera (also known as Gua Gang, or Goa-Kang as it’s spelled on the label), which is related to Teochew Opera, popular in Southeastern China. Wai Jiang was popular with elites apparently, and generally tends to be about heroes, battles, and the like. This piece seems to be Part 1 of a finale in a 13-part opera translated as “The Execution of Wei Hu.” The Wei Hu of the story is the second brother-in-law of the famed Tang Dynasty general Xue Ren Gui. In short, Wei Hu tried to sabotage his brother-in-law’s rule, and this excerpt is the confrontation and subsequent killing of Wei Hu, at the hands of Xue Ren Gui.
It’s a wild and wonderful piece, apparently typical of Wai Jiang opera, with classic examples of blood-curdling screams, the everpresent clashing gongs, and soft, delicate interludes. Thanks to reader ChrisZ, we know it was recorded ca. 1926-1927 by engineer Max Birckhahn, likely in Singapore. Xin Tian Cai Ban, the troupe performing the opera, was from Chaozhou (aka Teochew) in Guangdong Province, and was popular during the very early part of the 20th century.
Many thanks to Dave Murray and Ms. Javier Li Yong-En of the Thau Yong Amatuer Musical Society.
Issue Number: 17-1 (6)
Matrix Number: 26371
January 5, 2009
I’ve been planning to upload a track by the Rotorua Maori Choir since April of 2008, when I posted a song by a Lithuanian choir. Besides the fact that I truly enjoy today’s piece, it brings up a number of issues which, while I can claim no expertise in discussing, I feel obliged to address nonetheless. So, the ruminations in this post are sort of a continuation of April’s thoughts.
There was very little so-called “ethnic” music recorded in either Australia or New Zealand during the 78rpm era. I know of a set of ethnographic recordings of Australian Aboriginal music made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, but I’ve not once seen a copy. It may have been pressed as a limited edition. As for commercial releases, there were several sessions of Maori music from New Zealand dating from the late 1920s/early 1930s, on Parlophone and Columbia. The first recordings were by the singer Ms. Ana Hato and her cousin Deane Waretini. While ostensibly traditional Maori songs, they had a distinct Western bent. Both were trained as singers by westerners, and the songs they recorded were accompanied by piano – some were written by non-Maori songwriters. Despite this, Ana Hato had said that they sang “as Maori, not pakeha” – the latter being the Maori term for New Zealanders of European ancestry. Their recordings brought Maori culture and music to a larger audience, making the duo legendary and their music beloved.
The same can be said of the Rotorua Maori Choir, who formed in the early 20th century and recorded at least 30 songs for Columbia in April of 1930. The recordings were engineered by Reg Southey, and the music was conducted and directed by Gil Dech, a music director for Columbia. It took an entire three months on the Columbia docket for Dech to learn the Maori songs, rehearse the choir of about 30 members, record the wax masters, and wrap up the sessions. Nearly all the tracks are solely choir, without piano. The group rehearsed in the Tamatekapua meeting house at Ohinemutu, often until 2AM, when they would make a recording. According to an article in Te Ao Hou, a magazine published by the Maori Affairs Department in New Zealand, Dech would let the choir harmonize naturally…except when he felt the need to step in, as when the group were singing in unison. The recordings remained in print for years, eventually making it onto LP almost three decades letter. None are in print now.
I must admit that it’s a little difficult to read accounts of a white man dutifully instructing a group of Maori on the finer points of western harmony, or the accounts of Dech becoming frustrated that he had to drag “choir members out of mud pools” in order to get them to rehearsal. But at the same time, when it comes to early Maori music on 78, this is what we have and little else. Further, these recordings are proudly held as an important part of Maori history and as examples of outstanding Maori music – yes, with the exception of two English hymns, it is their songs, their music, their lyrics, their poetry. And, to offer a comparison, what about the African-American “jubilee quartets” as we had here in the States, who sang a formal gospel style based on European/Western harmonies? As difficult as it is for me to reconcile direct interference such as this on a recording – whether from missionaries or simply hired guns from a record company – it’s just as difficult for me to judge these fine recordings as being simply “inauthentic.” Collectors of old music have the reputation for searching out only the raw, the plaintive, the music that stems from rural, poor cultures cut off from urban civilization or industrialization – and believe me, all of that makes me salivate too, with this website being living proof. But again, who am I to judge? In 1931, even the Rotorua Maori Choir’s hymns were strange to western ears, as a review in the April 1931 issue of Music & Letters states: “The singing is harsh, though that may be a national characteristic.”
So, I give you the Rotorua Maori Choir with E Hara Te Waea, or “Love Never Dies” – as good a sentiment as any to kick off 2009.
Issue Number: DO.57
Matrix Number: T.910
January 5, 2009
With the advent of Google Street View starting to move beyond the U.S. (creepiness in tow), we can now investigate some of the forgotten locations that long ago were once gramophone record shops, dealers, or labels. Unlike the street views in New York City, Google snapped fairly crisp images on their jaunt through Paris. Here are some present-day locations that once played an important part in the dissemination of folkloric music on 78s throughout Europe. Click on the images for full-sized photos and locations via Google.
Left: 26 Rue des Talliandieres, the former hardware shop and home of Le Soleil records, active from the late 1920s through the mid-1930s and owned by Martin Cayla. Le Soleil pressed hundreds of authentic recordings of French folk music from the Auvergne region, played on accordion, cabrette, banjo, and hurdy-gurdy.
Middle: 133 Boulevard Raspail, the former home of the Boîte Á Musique label, who pressed South American guitar music, African ethnographic recordings, and mainly lots of classical 78s.
Right: 30 Rue Beaujon, the home of Decca Records and Le Chant du Monde, among others. (This building might be new.) Decca was huge, of course – and instrumental in recording early West African music, as was Le Chant du Monde.
Left: 34 Rue des Rosiers, the former home of the gramophone shop of one Léon Speiser. Speiser was definitely active at least from ca. 1930-1940, and sold discs of early Algerian and Moroccan 78s. It is now rather fittingly a falafel shop!
Middle: 50 Avenue Montaigne, the former home of Philips. Philips was tireless in competing with the major labels by recording all across West and North Africa in the late-40s/early-50s, producing some amazing recordings.
Right: 48 Rue Pouchet, the humble (in comparison to Philips) former home of the tiny Africa Vox label. Africa Vox and it’s owner’s home were probably one in the same – they recorded and released a number of beautiful ethnographic recordings in rural parts of Western Africa.
Left: 251-253 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, the location where the French Pathé label and the French offices of Columbia Records used to reside.
Middle: 28 Rue Lesage, the former gramophone shop of H. Artinian, a one-time dealer in “Disques Armeniens, Grecs & Turcs.”
Right: 72 Cours de Vincennes, the former home of Charles Pathé’s first gramophone shop, opened ca. 1895, about a year before he opened the Pathé Frères company with his three brothers.