Dear Readers

April 20, 2009

I have to level with you, wonderful readers of this blog, and confess to you: I am tired.

Since the site’s inception two years ago, I have transferred, cleaned-up, written about and researched 113 individual 78s from my collection, week after week with only an occasional interruption. There have been 5 guest posts from collector friends. I am not trying to toot my own horn here – this has been something I excitedly look forward to every week! But, like many other bloggers before me, I find myself suffering burnout, the onset of which began well over a year ago. The constraints of my day job, grad school classes at night, and attempting to lead a diverse and active life while juggling the myriad of side projects I am involved with have taken their toll. I can no longer keep up this pace!

So, as you may have guessed, I will have to decrease the amount of posts on Excavated Shellac to 1 or 2 a month. That way, I will still be able to deliver a piece of music as well as writing/research that means something to me, and hopefully to you too. I feel I’ve earned it with the regularity, uniqueness, and quality of what I’ve provided so far, but I do feel guilt. That said, it has never been my intention to upload my entire collection – just a small snapshot, or a gallery. It is, after all, free for the asking, and there’s only so far I can go with this aesthetic – I feel a little like a parent whose child got straight A’s in college and now needs to move out of the house.

There is more to this, however. Quite happily, I have become involved as a curator with WFMU’s Free Music Archive project, which has been in the works for some time. I am working with the folks there to restore my old tracks that have been taken down, as well as all the text and images for each post. An announcement about this will be forthcoming – much sooner rather than later. Over time, I will upload all of Excavated Shellac’s content onto the WFMU servers where the tracks will each have their own page, and where they will remain in perpetuity as an Excavated Shellac product (for lack of a better word) – at which point the Excavated Shellac site will more or less become duplicative. It could be that Excavated Shellac will discontinue, and I will continue to post only with WFMU – I haven’t decided, as there’s time yet.

But, let’s not get maudlin – I’m not going anywhere yet and already have a bunch of posts that are in the works, and while the WFMU project might sound strange to those not familiar to it (more here), I think it represents a real step in bringing a diverse collection of music to people, for free. You might even see a familiar name or two involved (Ian Nagoski, David Seubert).

So, this is a new step – moving onward and upward. I just wanted to be honest with you, as many of you out there have been with the site since the beginning – something I can’t tell you how much I appreciate. And if you are concerned when to check the blog for future posts here, I recommend subscribing to the RSS.

Meanwhile, let’s listen to something fun…

iramaI thought that, coupled with the previous post of today, I’d post something languid and tranquil, something somewhat relaxed. So, I brought out another classic Indonesian krontjong piece from the mid-20th century, on the local Irama label. “Irama” actually means “rhythm” in English – thus the title of the piece as well as the name of the record label are explained.

I posted a krontjong tune of the same vintage, and on another independent Indonesian label (Dendang), back in May of 2007. This one is similar – it’s the style of krontjong that I quite enjoy, featuring the walking guitar and fiddle player trading runs in between smooth vocals. Krontjong itself is a relatively new type of urban folk music, developing in Indonesian urban areas a little over 100 years ago, with Batavian, Portuguese, Malay, and even African influence. Krontjong had changed dramatically since it was first recorded ca. 1904, and when this record was released (probably the late 1940s or so). The instrumentation was bare bones at first, featuring trios and the like. I’ve heard 1920s krontjong that sounds influenced by Stamboel theater, with a slightly more operatic sound, showing further influences at work. By the 1940s, krontjong was a rage, with whole orchestras and popular singers getting into the act…yet, to me this music is not easily explained. Indonesian-Hawaiian-guitar-and-fiddle-ballads?

As for the singer and band – I’m afraid these are muddy waters. I am mostly sure that “Moh.” stands for Mohammed, and “Kr.” stands for krontjong, but at the risk of being incorrect, I will let the original label stand as the official record.

Moh. Sjah & Orkes Kerontjong M. Sagi – Kr. Irama

Technical Notes
Label: Irama
Issue Number: IRK. 186-145
Matrix Number: imco 233 (on label); JMC 233-1 (on shellac)

mirza-zelliIran is the first of several upcoming countries and regions that are new to Excavated Shellac, and today’s post, for those who might be unfamiliar, is a fine example of Persian Musiqi-e assil, or Persian classical music. I realize it might come as a shock to some regular followers of this site to actually hear the refined sounds of a modern piano, but the musical and vocal traditions in Persian classical music are positively ancient. Not only that, but the hammered strings of a piano seem an almost logical progression from the traditional hammered dulcimer of Persia, the santur. This recording was made in June of 1933 by engineer Horace Frank Chown, and released in Iran on a 12″ disc – it was the last time a gramophone company would record in Tehran until after World War II.

I can claim no expertise in Persian classical music, but I’ll attempt a humble and basic rundown, particularly as it pertains to today’s track. The body of traditional melodies in Persian music is known as the radīf. The radīf, which some say was developed between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE, is organized into a musical framework called the dastgāh – in fact, quite literally, as dastgāh itself means ‘system’ or ‘framework’ in English. Radīf is memorized entirely by ear, with a student learning the repetoire of his teacher, the ostād. The twelve dastgāh structure organizes the radīf into groups of individual pieces, and those pieces are known as gūshe. The gūshe are modal progressions by which the singer can build his improvisation around, in a similar fashion to the maqam in Arabic music, or the raga in India.  The rhythms are often based on poetry – the rhythm of the human voice. And the human voice, in Persian music, is most often metaphorically linked to the nightingale. This piece is performed in the Chāhār Gāh dastgāh, and as the title implies, it features two gūshe, Hesar and Mokhalef.

Rezagholi Mirza Zelli was born in 1906 and was considered a masterful singer during his career, which ended with his early death in 1945. His teacher was the famous singer and poet Abolqassem Aref Ghazvini (1882-1934). Moshir Homayoon, the pianist, accompanies him.

Rezagholi Mirza Zelli and Moshir Homayoon Shahrdar – Hesar Mokhalef

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: G.P.X. 5
Matrix Number: WOX-26-2

Thank you to Martik Martirossian for help with translation and to Amir Mansour for information.

rivera1Here is something I’ve been swooning over lately – the sound of early Bolivian music.

Felipe V. Rivera was born in 1896 in Suipacha, Bolivia, and was a revered performer of Bolivian folkloric music, recording for the Victor and Odeon company in Argentina throughout the 1930s and 1940s, until his death in 1946. He moved from Bolivia to La Quiaca, just over the Bolivian border in the Jujuy province, in 1929, and had his first session with Victor in 1931. He was self-taught, and played guitar, charango (the 10-string, small guitar-like instrument of the Andes, usually made with the back of an armadillo as the shell), and the quena flute. According to the only biography that seems to exist on Rivera, he and his group were apparently met with dismissiveness by the Victor label in ’31, as the label was convinced that music of the Andean Indians wouldn’t sell. Rivera prevailed somehow, and Victor recorded two of his performances, which sold plentifully in August of 1932. Normally this would be followed by subsequent sessions, but Rivera did not record again until the “Guerra del Chaco,” the war between Bolivia and Paraguay, ended in 1935. Rivera went back to Buenos Aires to record in 1936, 1938, and 1942.

Victor began recording in La Paz as early as 1917, but Rivera’s are among the earliest I’ve come across, myself. They are also completely unavailable, as far as I can tell. Too bad – as the sound of the charango can transport a listener. The title of this track “Caminito a Yavi,” no doubt refers to the historic village Camino a Yavi (or, simply, Yavi) in Argentina, about 16 kilometers from La Quiaca. The town, founded in 1667 on a stark plateau, is just a few streets, surrounded by hills and desert plains.

As we begin the third year of Excavated Shellac, very soon we’ll have at least one important announcement, as well as several tracks from countries and regions we haven’t yet been to…

Felipe V. Rivera y su Orquesta Típica Boliviana, with Maria F. Sivila and Faustino J. Ventura – Caminito a Yavi

Technical Notes
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 37988-A
Matrix Number: (same)

Much information for this post gleaned from Remo Leaño’s fine site on Rivera, located here.

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