NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1889 __ Audio Ethnography — Zuni, Apache & Navajo music on cylinders
Comment : An account exists of the ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing possessing of Zuni, Apache, and Navajo music in May 1889. It is not clear whether Cushing himself performed the music or whether the cylinders had documented native performers.this is because he is not known to have written about using sound recording in his work. The credit for bringing sound recording to ethnology is, thus, usually given to Jesse Walter Fewkes, a Harvard-trained zoologist who had turned his interests to the study of Native Americans. Although Fewkes’s East Coast manners earned him the nickname “The Codfish” in the field and a great deal of his ethnographic work was collected by assistants, Fewkes proved to be an aeffective organizer; he was able to make full use of his old-boy network connections. With funding from Mary Hemenway, he purchased an Edisonphone, tested it first on a trip to Maine in the winter of 1889-90, and then took it to the Southwest. Between the two trips, Fewkes recorded over forty cylinders of Passmaquoddy and Zuni music and speech. Those recording, soon deposited at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, provided the basis of a series of articles that demonstrated to anthropologists the utility of sound recording for their work. [...] When Fewkes’s recording work began in 1890, anthropologists had been seriously interested in Native American music for only about ten years. Although accounts of Native American music existed prior to 1880, dew, if any, took it seriously as music, preferring instead to call it noise. Theodor Baker’s 1882 monograph, “Über die Musik der Nordamerikanischen Wilden”, was the first serious and extended scholarly treatment of Native American music. Fletcher, also an ethnologist, was the first American to develop scholarly interest in Native American music and began publishing on the subject in 1884. Fewkes’s experiments in phonography thus took place in a still-nascent field searching for a coherent understanding of its object and its approach. Readind Fewkes’s early writings while considering the making and preservation of his phonographic cylinders offers a telling dissonance. Fewkes wrote of sound recording as beneficial for both immediate study and preservation. As anthropologists previously has to transcribe stories or music by hand, they would either rely on their memory for what they heard (which, as Fewkes points out, was probably considerably worse than the memory of their subjects) or ask their subjects to repeat the performance many times so that they could capture it in all its detail. Even then, there was no guarantee that, when reenected by a white reader, the transliteration would be intelligible to Native American listeners as the performance to which it was supposed to refer : “I doubt very much of the Indians could understand many of the words in some of the vocabularies of other Indians which have been published, if the words were pronounced as they are spelled. The records of the phonograph, although of course sometimes faulty, are as a general thing accurate” (Jesse Walter Fewkes, “A Contribution of Passamaquoddy Folk-Lore”, In Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 3, No. 9, October-December 1890, p. 258). (Jonathan Sterne, pp. 315-325)Fewkes' cylinder recordings, made in Calais, Maine, are considered to be the first ethnographic recordings made "in the field," as well as the first recordings of Native American music. (Library of Congress)When John Lomax first began collecting folksongs, there was only one way of capturing sound.the wax cylinder phonograph, invented by Thomas A. Edison. In 1877, Edison developed a way of recording sound waves on a tinfoil cylinder. A person could talk, sing or play an instrument into a cone-shaped horn, which would translate the sound waves onto a diaphragm; this diaphragm was attached to a needle that would inscribe the sound waves as grooves onto the rotating tinfoil cylinder. By running the needle over these grooves, one could play back the recording by reversing the process: from grooves to needle to a diaphragm that would translate the sound back into waves that one could hear through the horn. Over the next ten years, Edison perfected the phonograph, replacing the fragile tinfoil with more durable wax, and the wax cylinder, with a playing time of between 2 and 10 minutes, became the first permanent way of capturing sound. The anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes was the first to use Edison's machine to conduct fieldwork in 1890, when he recorded the songs, chants and speech of the Passamaquoddy Indians of eastern Maine. One hundred sixteen years years later, these wax cylinders are still playable and quite clear.they are now held by the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress. John Lomax was among a group of folklorists and anthropologists who followed in Fewkes's footsteps by taking Edison's phonograph into the field as part of his equipment to document America's folklore. The wax cylinder phonograph was quite simple. With a wind-up clockwork motor, it needed no outside power source, which made it perfect for taking into the hinterlands of America where there was not likely to be electric power. It was easily carried in a wooden case, and the horn was not particularly bulky. Although they were housed in thick cardboard casings that kept them somewhat secure, the cylinders were fragile and easily affected by heat and handling. Carrying a supply of blank wax cylinders was probably the most difficult part of the process. John Lomax could easily carry his equipment to the plains of Texas to record cowboys, or to the fields of the South, where he documented the songs of African Americans. In 1933, the first time that Alan Lomax accompanied his father on a collecting trip, John was still using a wax cylinder phonograph, and other folklorists continued to use cylinder recorders throughout the 1930s. But the 1930s began the era of disc recorders, which was the equipment of choice for the younger generation of collectors. When John and Alan Lomax began using a disc recorder in 1934, they were part of a technological evolution in capturing sound. Emil Berliner had invented the disc recorder, which he called a gramophone, in 1887. It worked on the same principles as Edison's phonograph, but it etched sound waves onto a flat disc. Over the next 30 years, the cylinder and disc competed in the marketplace, but the advantages of the disc eventually won out.discs were easier to carry and store, could be recorded on two sides, and generally allowed a longer recording time.about 10 minutes per side. In the 1890s, one could buy commercial recordings on either cylinder or disc, but by the late 1920s, the commercial cylinder recording had disappeared. Alan Lomax's disc recorder was large and cumbersome, and certainly harder to manage than the simple cylinder machine. The Library of Congress supplied Alan with a series of Presto recorders and blank discs, and although the Presto recorder came in a case with a handle, it was hardly "portable" in any real sense. Like other folklorists in the 1930s and 1940s, Alan traveled with the machine in the back of his car.some folklorists used a converted ambulance for the equipment. In order to record in places where there was no electricity, Alan used his car battery, which was attached to a transformer, which was attached to an amplifier, which was attached to the Presto machine. Instead of a horn, Alan ran a cable from the machine to a microphone. In this respect, the way he recorded was much more modern, and of higher fidelity, than the cylinder recordings that his father made. The first field recorded discs were made of solid aluminum, with the grooves etched directly into the metal by the recording needle. These discs were quite rugged, but the grooves were shallow and the sound was not of the best quality. By the mid-1930s, Alan Lomax was using discs that were coated with a kind of lacquer, which allowed deeper and better grooves and made for better recordings. But the whole recording process was still difficult. Beyond the difficulty of transporting and setting up the equipment, Alan had to monitor the recordings continually, wearing a set of earphones as he hunched over the Presto machine, brushing or blowing away the thin spiral of aluminum or lacquer, as the needle cut its groove onto the blank disc. He could not devote his full attention to the singer or musician whom he was recording, which must have been uncomfortable for all concerned. But he could immediately play back the recording for the performer and any other folk gathered around, which was a great novelty and pleasure for people who had never heard their recorded voice before. By the late 1940s, folklorists began to use a new type of machine, the tape recorder. While tape recorders had been around for many years, the first portable machines became available only around 1947. When Alan Lomax began his European fieldwork in the early 1950s, he used a Magnecord tape recorder, which was the state-of-the-art machine for field use. It was not as bulky as the disc recorder, but still required two cases.one for the recorder and one for the amplifier. As with the disc recorder, where there was no local electricity, the machine needed power from batteries. It was, however, much easier to operate, using a reel of recording tape that could be quickly threaded past the recording heads of the machine and onto a take-up reel. The tape reels were much easier to transport, and did not share the problem of fragility with cylinders and discs. Depending upon the size of the reel of tape, and the speed of recording, one could record more than an hour's worth of material without changing tapes. The machine did not need constant monitoring, which meant that Alan could concentrate most of his attention on the performer. Freed from the demands of the machine, Alan became an eager and attentive audience, and his reputation for graciousness and enthusiasm, which many of his European informants recall, grew. The value of these field recordings lies not only in the songs, music and stories on them, but in the field notes and other information that often accompanies them. Alan Lomax was especially good at asking singers and musicians about their lives and their artistry, so that the recordings often give more than simply performance.they give the context of that performance. Like many other folklorists, Alan kept field notebooks that recount his collecting experiences, and give further information on the people he recorded. The labels on the recordings, as well as the sleeves and boxes that house them, are often covered in scribbled notes, song lists, and notes on the quality of the recording.all of which add to the document as a whole. From these notes, we often learn the name, age and occupation of the performer, instrumentation, place and date of the recording, troubles during the recording process, and the opinion of the folklorist on the overall success of the recording effort. A good fieldworker, like Lomax, also took photographs of those recorded. In the 1940s, Works Progress Administration workers took much of this information and typed out catalog cards for each performance on a disc. These catalog cards are an extremely valuable resource that researchers have mined for information ever since. The American Folklife Center has now scanned these cards and is producing searchable computer files of the information. In addition, the Center has a number of other databases and finding aids that make working with these recordings relatively easy. The Center is also in the process of digitizing the sound from its thousands of cylinders, discs, and tapes to preserve its collection from deterioration, and to make these recordings more accessible to the public through online presentations and CDs. Today, folklorists continue the work of Alan Lomax. There are always more traditions than any one person or team of fieldworkers can collect in a lifetime, and there will always be a need for folklore collectors. Luckily, the technology used to capture sound has gotten better and easier to use over the years. The kind of open-reel machine that Alan first used continued to be improved upon, becoming more compact and lightweight, and affording better quality sound, until in the 1970s, cassette tape recorders replaced the old open-reel machines. Most folklorists switched to cassette recorders, although professional, state-of-the-art open-reel machines usually gave a higher quality recording. Since the 1990s, most folklorists have turned to digital media for their fieldwork, and there are several varieties of competing machines: DAT (digital audio tape), CD recorders and mini-disc machines, flash recorders and hard disc machines. All of these machines have their pluses and minuses, but what is interesting about them is that they replicate the cylinder-disc competition of 80 years ago. Some of these digital formats are technological dead ends, but others will evolve into the folklorists' tool of the future. (“Lomax in the Field”, 2006)
Original excerpt : « The study of aboriginal folk-lore cannot reach its highest scientific value until some method is adopted by means of which an accurate record of the stories can be obtained and preserved. In observations on the traditions of the Indian tribes, the tendency of the listener to add his own thoughts or interpretations is very great. Moreover, no two Indians tell the same story alike. These are sources of error which cannot be eliminated, but by giving the exact words of the speaker it is possible to do away with the errors of the translator. I believe that the memory of Indians for the details of a story is often better than that of white men. There may be a reason for this, in their custom of memorizing their rituals, stories, and legends. The Kāklan, a Zuñi ritual, for instance, which is recited by the priest once in four years, takes several hours to repeat. What white man can repeat from memory a history of equal length after so long an interval? Phonetic methods of recording Indian languages are not wholly satisfactory. It is very unlikely that two persons will adopt the same spelling of a word never heard before. Many inflections, accents, and gutturals of Indian languages are difficult to reduce to writing. Conventional signs and additional letters have been employed for this purpose, the use of which is open to objections. There is need of some accurate method by which observations can be recorded. The difficulties besetting the path of the linguist can be in a measure obviated by the employment of the phonograph, by the aid of which the languages of our aborigines can be permanently perpetuated. As a means of preserving the songs and tales of races which are fast becoming extinct, it is, I believe, destined to play an important part in future researches. [...] The songs and stories were taken from the Indians themselves, on the wax cylinders of the phonograph. In most cases a single cylinder sufficed, although in others one story occupied several cylinders. None of the songs required more than one cylinder. I was particularly anxious to secure the songs. The Passamaquoddies agree in the statement that their stories were formerly sung, and resembled poems. Many tales still contain songs, and some possess at this day a rhythmical character. I am not aware that any one has tried to set the songs to music, and have had nothing to guide me on that head. In sacred observances it is probable that the music of the songs preserves its character even after other parts have been greatly modified, while the song retains its peculiarity as long as it continues to be sung. The paraphernalia of the sacred dance may be modified, as in the case of many New Mexican pueblos, into church festivals, but the songs must remain unchanged until superseded. It is noteworthy in this connection that in many of the songs archaic words occur. The following list indicates the variety of records which were made:.1-3. The story of how Glooscap reduced the size of the animals. These cylinders give the story in substantially the same way as published by Leland in his "Algonquin Legends." 4. A collection of Indian words corresponding with those found on page 82 of the schedule of the United States Bureau of Ethnology. 5. English words with Passamaquoddy translations. 6, 7. An old tale of how Pookjinsquess stole a child. 8. Song of the "Snake Dance." 9. "War Song." 10. Song sung on the night when the governor's election is celebrated. This song was sung by proxy, and contains compliments to the feast, thanks to the people for election, and words of praise to the retiring chief. It is a very old song, unknown to many of the younger Indians. 11. Numerals from 1 to 20; the days of the week; also, a "counting-out" rhyme. 12-14. Tale of Leux and the three fires. 15. Tale of Leux and Hespens. 17. An ancient war song, said to have been sung in the old times when the Passamaquoddies were departing for war with the Mohawks. A second part contains a song said to have been sung in the "Trade Dance," as described below. 18. War Song. 19. Pronunciation of the names of the fabulous personages mentioned in Passamaquoddy stories. 20-22. Story of the birth of a medicine-man who turned man into a cedar tree. 23. An ordinary conversation between the two Indians, Noel Josephs and Peter Selmore. 24-27. Modern Passamaquoddy story, introducing many incidents of ordinary life. 29-35. Story of Pogump and the Sable, and of their killing a great snake. How the former was left on an island by Pookjinsquess, and how the Morning Star saved him from Quahbet, the giant beaver. [...] The cylinder with Passamaquoddy words and the English equivalents has the following records, which I have written down as nearly as I could from the phonograph, and verified by repeating them from my spelling to the Indians. With two exceptions, the Indians, were able to understand the word meant, and to give me an English equivalent identical with that originally recorded. I have made these experiments of verification in order to test the capabilities of the phonograph. In the cases where my spelling of the word has failed to convey the sound of the word, the phonograph was perfectly understood by the Indian interrogated. This fact seemed to me to bring out a serious defect in the use of the phonetic method, which may not be confined to me alone. I doubt very much if the Indians could understand many of the words in some of the vocabularies of other Indians which have been published, if the words were pronounced as they are spelled. The records of the phonograph, although of course sometimes faulty, are as a general thing accurate. When I wrote out the Passamaquoddy words given below, I was wholly ignorant of their meaning. I wrote them as I heard them on the cylinder, placing at their side the English equivalent. I then pronounced the word to an Indian, and he gave the same English word which I had myself written from the phonograph. » (J. Walter Fewkes, “Contribution to Passamaquoddy Folk-Lore”, Hemenway Southwestern Archæological Expedition, Reprinted from the Journal of American Folk-Lore, October-December, 1890)
Source : Sterne, Jonathan (2003), “The Audible Past - Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction”, Durham & London : Duke University Press, pp. 315-325.
Source : Brady, Erika (1999), “A spiral way: how the phonograph changed ethnography”, Univ. Press of Mississippi.
Source : Renaud Etienne B. (1931). “Jesse Walter Fewkes”. In: Journal de la Société des Américanistes. Tome 23-1, 1931. pp. 233-236.
Urls : http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/cushing.htm (last visited ) http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/f%23a7741 (last visited ) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17997/17997-h/17997-h.htm (last visited ) http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/jsa_0037-9174_1931_num_23_1_1096 (last visited ) http://www.pbs.org/pov/lomax/background.php (last visited )

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