December 7, 2005

Folk, Media & Web 2.0 Studies ...

... Around 1930 there was something like an explosion, triggered by new media technologies and practices. As Greil Marcus describes it beautifully in his book The Old Weird America, dealing with the Anthology of American Folk Music (which has been edited by occultist hipster Harry Smith, 1953):

[between ca. 1927 and 1934, because of new record industry invading the country] "for the first time, people from isolated communities and cultures had the chance to speak to each other and to the nation at large. A great uproar of voices that were at once old and new was heard, as happens only occasionally in democratic cultures - but always, when it happens, with a sense of explosion, of energies conatined for generations bursting out all at once. The story is in the numbers."

[and 1953 it had become possible to bundle the microcontent of 78-singles on a three-record- 33-longplayer-meta-album ... DJ culture. Dylan's Basement Tapes then being a remix of songs that were remixes themselves from the start ....]

"Many copies of these records were bought from people without phonographs. They bought the discs as talismans of their own existence [...] [It was exciting] precicesly because cpuld have heard it next door, or even played it yourself - but not with the distance of self-representation, which made a magic mirror, and produced the shock of self-recognition. What one saw in the mirror was a bigger, more various, less finished, less fated self than one had ever seen before."

[Harry Smith] "orchestrated the event as a conversation, the folk music of people attempting to connect to othe rpeople, to take their money, to feel their presence, to change their minds, even to change the music, to take it places ... it had never been."

... "arming his selected old discs with complex, cross-referenced discographies and bibliographies, neatly attaching story songs to the historical events from which they derived ..., noting changes to voicing, instrumentation, tunings and the like, ...", adding "painstaking annotation" ... "Smith constructed internal narratives and orchestrated continuities". ...

"Linking one performance to another, he ultimately linked each to all. Out of such arrangements Smith made a world, or a town: Smithville." - "The town is simultaneously a seamless web of connections and an anarchy of separations."

Some songs were so called "folk-lyric" songs: "made up of verbal fragments that had no direct or logical relationship to each other, but were drwan from a floating pool of thousands of disconnected verses, couplets, oneliners, pieces of eight. Harry Smith guessed the folk-lyric form came together some time between 1850 and 1875. Whenever it happened, it wasn't until enough fragments were abroad in the land to reach a kind of critical mass - until there were enough fragments, passing back and forth between blacks and whites as common coin, to generate more fragments, to sustain within the matrix of a single musical language an almost infinite repertory of performances ..."

"Just as it is a mistake to underestimate the strangeness of the cultures that spoke through folk-lyric fragments ..., it is also a mistake to imagine when people spoke through these fragments, they were not speaking - for themselves, as contoingent individuals. What appears to be a singer's random assemblage of fragments to fit a certain melody line may be, for that singer, an assemblage of fragments that melody calls forth."
... "to a great degree the music Smith wove together was not exactly made by a folk. It was made by willful, ornery, displaced, unssatisfied, ambitious individuals ..."

Posted by martin at December 7, 2005 10:31 PM | TrackBack
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