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.