Alan Lomax was not collecting sounds, he was collecting SONGS. Going
back to Lomax Sr -- John Lomax -- the recordings were of no consequence,
just like Peter Bartok's father Bela, and their friend Zolton Koday.
They were just a notebook, a way to take down the music while they were
writing out the words. Sometimes when the song had multiple verses they
would only record the first one or two and continue with the notebook.
John Lomax was writing BOOKS, not releasing records. Bartok and Koday
were writing their own compositions and were using abstracts of the
melodies, not releasing records. What do you want to hear our cylinders
for -- come to our concerts where you'll hear the finish product. What
do you what to listen to our discs for? Read our books and sing the
Alan came to quickly realize that the performer was also important, and
thus the sound on the recording was also important. But if there was a
train in the background it made no difference unless it covered up the
words. Only then would we ask for that verse to be repeated. The
Lomax's were using the government to fund their song scouting
expeditions -- it was a mutual affair that the government would also get
the benefit of having the recordings whereas the Lomaxes had material
for their books. Eventually LC issued some of the recordings, and later
on -- after John's death -- Alan would use Goddard Lieberson's Columbia
Record's money to finance his trips, and then turn to Atlantic when
beginning his stereo work in the late 50s. By this time the recordings
became primary because they had more of a market than books, but Alan
realized that stereo recordings gave a more researchable result -- that
they sounded pretty was still quite secondary.
Moe Asch was a recording engineer. Period. His records were his
documents, not any damn book. Can you hear it? Fine. Can you
understand the words? Fine. Does the hum bother you. A little?
You'll get used to it. Do you need a pretty picture on the cover? Why?
It don't make the music any prettier. Is the song any different in
stereo? Is it worth another couple of bucks to you on top of the
already expensive album price? No? Fine, I don't like stereo anyway.
I'm busy making interesting records, not pretty records. You want that,
go over to Jac Holtzman.
NOW do you get the difference?
Mike Biel [log in to unmask]
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Asch vs Lomax- was Duke Ellington accidental
From: Steve Smolian <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sat, September 06, 2014 5:31 am
To: [log in to unmask]
Lomax learned to use his disc cutter but had little background in
electronics whereas Moe had considerable technical training. If memory
serves, he chad training in electronics and had a radio repair shop at
time. Lomax.s "capturing the moment" may have been a result of having a
limited number of blanks and budgetary restrictions.
When I worked with Moe on a few projects, he cut at Nola Studios. Many
his LPs have hum in the track separation bands as well as in the audio,
indicating that the cutter was the source of the hum. The
Sithsonian/Folkways issues are to be preferred if only for this reason,
other factors being the same.
From: Paul Stamler
Sent: Saturday, September 06, 2014 1:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Duke Ellington accidental stereo comparison
On 9/5/2014 8:08 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
> The Lomax and Asch comparison is very interesting. I always had the
> impression that Lomax was collecting sound first and music second,
> whereas Asch was running a commercial music label. If that assumption is
> true, then Asch would want a result that sounds like a professional
> music recording, with a sonic reference buyers would be accustomed to,
> even if the music itself or the artist was new to their ears. Lomax, on
> the other hand, started out working for the government (with no need to
> be concerned with a commerical product aesthetics) and his recordings
> indicate a really interesting fascination with the background sounds as
> well as the primary performances. Take the Son House recording in
> Klack's Store. A train runs right through town, loudly passing the store
> even rattling the recorder. Does Lomax stop and try a re-take? No. In
> fact he didn't even ask for a second performance of that song. I have to
> assume he thought the train passing was a part of what he was capturing,
> not just Son House but also Klack's store and the rural Mississippi of
> that time. The same is true of his recordings of the fife and drum band
> and also the prisoner singing. He made recordings where we hear not just
> the musical performances but also the environmental audio around the
> performers. In those cases, it's fascinating.
> Emory Cook's approach seemed more Lomax than Asch. In fact, plenty of
> his commercially-released products were ONLY environmental audio
> (trains, weather, a strip club, etc).
And the famous cricket on one side of Cook's steel drum album.
The Lomax-Asch comparison is fascinating; Tom I think you've hit the
nail on the head. But Asch considered himself a documentarian too -- he
said that Folkways Records was his attempt to document the twentieth
century in sound. Hence the joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"To record 'Sounds of an American Highway' for Folkways." And yet his
studio recordings were carefully edited.
Still, he made his studio recordings very simply, with few microphones
and no apparent EQ, in a neutral room, and he reissued lots of
folklorists' field recordings. He once told an interviewer something
indicating that he issued those without high-frequency pre-emphasis,
though the interview was kind of garbled and he may have just meant that
he didn't add eztra treble boost over and above RIAA. I asked Peter
Bartok (who cut a lot of discs for Asch) about this, and it didn't ring
any bells with him -- he didn't remember cutting anything without
pre-emphasis. So I may have misread the interview. But in any case, Asch
put out very straightforward LPs.