I'm reminded of Lewis Hine, the sociologist and socialist reformer, who used
photography the expose poverty, child labor, and other routine abuses. The
pictures were functional, yet the pure artistry he developed through his
long career was undeniable and carries the lives of those anonymous people
down through the years in a way more vivid than would prosaic snapshots or
purely academic documentation. The concern for context was integral in both
cases, as was a fascination with what the media could do.

Yet, did he use his subjects purely as fodder for his career as an artist? I
highly doubt that; any more than did Bartok or Kodaly consign their targets
to a slag-heap of used-up raw material. That degree of cynicism belongs to a
later age, when nothing could be seen beyond an industrial imperative.

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Barton, Matthew
Sent: Sunday, September 07, 2014 7:24 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Asch vs Lomax- was Duke Ellington accidental stereo

For the Lomaxes and others, the recordings WERE of consequence, and not
simply an efficient way to gather song texts. Only on their first couple of
field trips, when they had almost nothing to work with, did they record only
a verse and a chorus and write down the rest of a song text. They realized
early on that they were recording not only songs but forms and styles. This
aspect of folk performance comes through in recordings but is the hardest to
thing to get down on paper. The brilliant transcriptions that Ruth Crawford
Seeger made for the Lomaxes' book "Our Singing Country" make this apparent.
I think Alan would have said that he was not just recording sounds, or even
songs, but people.

The quality of Alan's recordings improved enormously when he was able to
switch to tape, and some of them are truly exceptional. Listen to some of
the one-mic recordings that he made in Italy and Spain in the 1950s, such as
"La Partenza" an astonishing performance by a group of Genoese longshoreman
recorded in a waterfront bar in 1954, or "Caramiles" by a small group of
local church musicians in the Balearic islands in 1952. To hear how far both
he and field recordings had come in in 17 years, compare the mono,
disc-based recordings he made in 1942 of shape note singers in Alabama with
tape-based stereo recording he made there of the same songs and many of the
same singers in 1959. 

Alan did most of his disc-based recordings in his Library of Congress
fieldwork from 1933 to 1942, and had to cope with the local power supplies
of the day, if any, or his car battery. They were operating with limited
time and funds, and were often hundreds of miles from the nearest source of
more recording blanks, so multiple takes were out of the question, though
there are false starts and second tries occasionally. That train-recording
of Son House and group is one of my favorites--and for me, the train is a
highlight, not a blemish. I may be kidding myself, but it always sounds like
its passing by on the beat. Maybe Alan heard it that way too, but I think he
also knew that the group was giving their all, and he later wrote that he
felt it was one of the best performances that he ever recorded. He might
have gotten another take without a train going by, but the feeling might
have been lost. This was one of the first times that he had been able to
take a 16" disc recorder into the field, and so he could let the musicians
play for as long as it felt good to them. I think that recording of "Walking
Blues" is over six minutes in all.

It went beyond a "fascination" with extra-musical sound. For these
performers this was the world in which they played and heard music, and if
some of that made it's way into a recording, so much the better., and
sometimes it was worth going the extra mile to try and capture it. The name
escapes me now, but there's a mono recording of a man singing and cutting
wood that Alan did in the Caribbean in 1962 made on an early Nagra where he
mixed down three channels of the voice, the axe hitting the wood, and the
ambient sound of the forest. Similarly, Alan tried recording Fred McDowell
in different parts of his house, but got the best sound on his porch, where
he had the least control over background noise. A bed of crickets chirps
away on those performances, but everybody I've played those recordings for
loves the crickets.

Matthew Barton
Library of Congress

From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Biel [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Saturday, September 06, 2014 8:18 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Asch vs Lomax- was Duke Ellington accidental stereo

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 songs yourself.

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 stereo
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 one
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 of
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, all
other factors being the same.

Steve Smolian

-----Original Message-----
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.