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ARSCLIST  July 2006

ARSCLIST July 2006

Subject:

David Lewiston in NY Times

From:

Dave Nolan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 7 Jul 2006 10:45:42 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Hello all - 

I hadn't seen this posted here yet - thought it might be of 
interest...David Lewiston was profiled in Wednesday's NY Times.

Apologies for not putting it up sooner - I've been busy, and figured somone 
else might see it and post it before I got a chance - anyway, here it is...

dave nolan
92nd Street Y
nyc

************************************************

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/05/arts/music/05pare.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Critic's Notebook

David Lewiston, a 'Musical Tourist' of the World 
 
By JON PARELES
Published: July 5, 2006
Forty years ago David Lewiston decided to change his life. He traded a desk 
job for a self-invented career as "a musical tourist": a recorder and 
collector of traditional music from dozens of countries over a territory 
that extends from Bali to Kashmir to Peru. He has brought back recordings 
for the Nonesuch Explorer Series, and then for other labels, that became 
revelations for many listeners: albums like "Music From the Morning of the 
World," his ear-opening Balinese collection. 

Skip to next paragraph 
Enlarge this Image
 
Robert Caplin for The New York Times
David Lewiston brought back recordings from around the world. 

Readers’ Opinions
Forum: Popular Music 
Mr. Lewiston is not an ethnomusicologist or any other kind of academic. His 
guideline, he said, is simply "the pleasure principle." 

Mr. Lewiston, 77, now lives on the Hawaiian island of Maui. There he has 
400 hours of music — half of it digitized from his old tapes, half of it 
recorded digitally — and 12,000 photos that he wants to archive, catalog 
and perhaps find a way to make available online. "While I'm still alive, I 
have to make sure this material gets archived," he said. The entire 
project, he estimates, would cost between $150,000 and $200,000. "I don't 
have it myself," he said. "I need to find somebody who's got more money 
than they know what to do with."

He visited New York City not long ago to speak at the Rubin Museum of Art 
in Chelsea and to revisit briefly Greenwich Village, one of his haunts as a 
young man. At a Village cafe, he spoke about a lifetime of what he 
calls "creative stumbling." 

Mr. Lewiston, who is English, earned a graduate diploma in 1953 from 
Trinity College of Music in London, where he studied piano. He grew 
interested in the spiritual teachings and philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff, 
who had traveled widely in Asia. Gurdjieff was also a composer, drawing on 
non-Western traditions, and his music suggested to Mr. Lewiston that there 
were possibilities beyond the Western classical canon. Mr. Lewiston came to 
the United States to study piano with Thomas de Hartmann, Gurdjieff's 
musical collaborator and the leading interpreter of their compositions. 

To make a living in New York, Mr. Lewiston became a financial journalist, 
working for Forbes magazine and then for the magazine of the American 
Bankers Association. He was bored. 

So in 1966, Mr. Lewiston took a leave of absence from the magazine and 
traveled to the other side of the world: to the Indonesian island of Bali, 
where he thought he might record some music. A photographer friend lent him 
some first-class condenser microphones and a few hundred dollars; Mr. 
Lewiston packed his modest mono tape recorder. And in Singapore, where his 
plane made a stopover, Mr. Lewiston made a crucial purchase, a cheaply 
built Japanese machine, a Concertone 727, which happened to be one of the 
first portable stereo tape recorders. 

Bali in 1966 was trying to build a tourism industry, and when Mr. Lewiston 
inquired about music, locals were eager to help him. In his 10 days in 
Bali, Mr. Lewiston sometimes recorded three groups a day. The Concertone, 
which barely outlasted the trip, gathered the first stereo recordings of 
Balinese music: the clanging, shimmering gong orchestras called gamelans. 
Mr. Lewiston also recorded the Kecak monkey chant, a circle of men singing 
hearty, percussive syllables that go ricocheting all around. 

Back in New York City from Bali, Mr. Lewiston found himself in a Sam Goody 
record store looking at a rack of international albums including music from 
Japan and Tahiti; they were on the Nonesuch label.

"Oh, there's a record company putting out this sort of stuff," he said he 
recalled thinking. "Being a good journalist, I wrote a pitch letter, just 
addressed to Nonesuch Records. And I got a call back."

He took his tapes to the office of Tracey Sterne, whose unpretentious title 
was A&R coordinator for Nonesuch. Her engineer, Peter K. Siegel, went to 
listen to the tapes and came rushing out of the studio moments later, 
saying, "Hey, this you've got to hear!"

There had been ethnographic recordings well before the 1960's, notably on 
labels like Folkways. But most of them had been dry, scholarly collections, 
with brief examples of various styles more for study than enjoyment. "Music 
From the Morning of the World," although still a sampler, reveled in the 
sheer sound of the music.

Released in 1967, it became the first album of the Nonesuch Explorer 
Series, for which Mr. Lewiston would go on to record more than two dozen 
collections. In the decades before the Internet, the well-distributed 
Explorer series was often the only traditional world music available in 
many stores. After Nonesuch curtailed its Explorer series in 1984, Mr. 
Lewiston's recordings appeared on Bridge, Shanachie and Ellipsis. 

Skip to next paragraph 
Readers’ Opinions
Forum: Popular Music 
When Mr. Lewiston returned to the United States from Bali, he worked for 
about a year and took off again, this time to South America, where he 
visited every country and came back with music from Peru, Colombia, 
Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil, as well as Mexico. He returned broke. 
He had his last day jobs in the early 1970's, disciplining himself to save 
a third of his pay toward, he recalled, "never again having to do anything 
like this." 

On subsequent trips Mr. Lewiston recorded in Tibet, Kashmir, India, 
Pakistan, Morocco and Central Asia. "I just thought, 'Oh, haven't been to 
that place, let's go and see what it's like," he said. He also returned to 
Bali in 1987 and 1994. On his early trips his travel budget, he recalled, 
was often $5 a day. He found musicians simply by asking around. "Don't 
organize, just go," he said. 

Mr. Lewiston recorded wherever musicians felt comfortable. "It should be a 
party," he said. "It should be totally enjoyable for musicians. If it's 
enjoyable, it'll be reflected in the music making. These aren't session 
musicians. These guys are farmers, and when they get together for music, 
it's basically to have a good time. I don't want to interfere with that."

He sets up his recording equipment quickly. "Especially in villages, people 
get impatient really fast," he said. "So I have a configuration that I can 
just plunk down, switch it on and say, 'O.K., ready.' Because I don't want 
to make them nervous by fiddling with this and fiddling with that. And the 
trick is — at least my trick — if I'm not happy with the way I've 
positioned the musicians and the mics, I'll just unobtrusively go in and 
reposition them and set the levels to what they should be. And just have 
rapt admiration for everything and say, 'Wow, that was great,' and, 'Do you 
have more?,' " he said. "And after four or five or six pieces say: 'Well, I 
really enjoyed that first piece you played. Can I hear it again, you 
think?' Rather than saying, 'Take 2.' " 

He learned another recording technique in Colombia. "We had a bottle of 
aguardiente, firewater," he said. "When the aguardiente ran out, the music 
stopped. So that was a lesson. But on other occasions I've provided too 
much, and the musicians passed out." 

His equipment has improved through the years. He now records digitally onto 
a hard drive. But the villages he goes to are not so isolated anymore. "All 
India Radio, which is the government broadcasting system, has stations all 
over India," he said. "Of course, what people want to hear are the 
Bollywood hits." 

"So increasingly that's the music that's heard and, of course, it's picked 
up in the villages," he continued. "So if I go into a village, it's like 
this: I immediately look for a guy wearing a shirt, tie and jacket, right? 
I know he'll be either the local doctor or an administrator or a 
schoolteacher. I say, 'I'm David Lewiston, I'm very interested in the local 
music.' "

"I'll explain what I want is the pure traditional music," he said. "So when 
the musicians set up, these intermediaries will be listening, and they will 
have enough knowledge of the local culture to know whether it is really 
local music or whether it's a Bollywood tune."

Mr. Lewiston keeps returning to Gurdjieff's music. In the early 1990's, 
before his hands grew arthritic, he recorded his own interpretations in a 
San Francisco Bay Area studio, and he wrote via e-mail that lately he had 
been playing the slower pieces again, noting their similarities to the 
Persian classical improvisations called taqsim. But he has no interest in 
the countless recent world music fusions, some inspired by the recordings 
he made.

His albums are documented with his photos and with liner notes that he 
struggles to write but are filled with both historical fact and delight in 
the music. But his appreciation, he insists, is not intellectual but 
sensual. 

"The ethnoids," Mr. Lewiston said, using his joshing term for 
ethnomusicologists, "can't stand me. They'll review one of my records, 
picking every nit they possibly can. And then the final line will be 'The 
sounds on this album are superb.' They can't get away from that." 

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