May 11, 2008
Here is another relic from Southeast Asia in the days before the widespread use of the electric microphone. Voice and music emerge from a deep layer of surface noise. Such is the case with these early recordings: however tweaked and lessened by me, surface noise is inevitably an integral part of the listening experience.
In particularly hot and humid areas – perhaps Siam for instance, where this recording was made ca. 1927 – recording engineers would often have to pack their wax masters in dry ice to protect them from melting. Working without electricity…sometimes recording entire orchestras who played into a large horn…carting boxes of heavy equipment and hundreds of wax masters from place to place, perhaps country to country, for sometimes months at a time…the odds seemed against these expeditions. Yet many hundreds of thousands of records, perhaps even several million, were recorded all over the world before the microphone started appearing in recording studios in the mid-1920s.
Recording minutiae: originally, this selection was recorded by the Beka record label, and then released by Parlophon. Beka and Parlophon were German companies, owned by the larger entity Carl Lindstrom A.G., which was purchased by the British company Columbia in 1926. The smaller German companies under the Lindstrom banner operated independently of their British owners for several years, until Columbia/Lindstrom eventually fell under the banner of EMI, and Parlophon became known as Parlophone.
This is an example of Thai classical music, featuring a singer (Seeranii) and a small “phin-phaat” ensemble (also transliterated as “pii-phaat”), where a dominant instrument is the traditional Thai xylophone (the rānāt). You can also distinguish at least one Thai flute (the khlui), and in the distance (I think!), the classical Thai reed instrument, the pī nai. Thai classical music was originally developed as court music, and many of the instruments used date back 700+ years. The title of the piece translates to “Golden Star.”
Many thanks to Philip Yampolsky for discographical insight, and to Pluethipol Prachumphol of the Antique Phonograph and Gramophone Thai Society for help with the translation. Thanks also to Lawrence Ross for additional information on Thai music and helpful translation.
Issue Number: 212
Matrix Number: 25701