Last week we wrote about Dust-to-Digital’s Drop on Down in Florida, a 2 CD release highlighting African American music traditions in Florida, paired with a 224-page hardcover book. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company: part archivist, part celebrator of cultural artifacts. We will be talking about several of these awesome (by the original definition) releases over the next few weeks.
…i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces: music in vernacular photographs, compiled by Steve Roden, is a 2 CD set and 184-page hardback book exploring an unusual collection of recordings and old photographs related to music.
From the Dust-to-Digital website:
“It is a somewhat intuitive gathering, culled from artist Steve Roden’s collection of thousands of vernacular photographs related to music, sound, and listening. The subjects range from the PT Barnum-esque Professor McRea – “Ontario’s Musical Wonder” (pictured with his complex sculptural one man band contraption) – to anonymous African-American guitar players and images of early phonographs. The images range from professional portraits to ethereal, accidental, double exposures – and include a range of photographic print processes, such as tintypes, ambrotypes, cdvs, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, albumen prints, and turn-of-the-century snapshots.
The two CDs display a variety of recordings, including one-off amateur recordings, regular commercial releases, and early sound effects records. There is no narrative structure to the book, but the collision of literary quotes (Hamsun, Lagarkvist, Wordsworth, Nabokov, etc.). Recordings and images conspire towards a consistent mood that is anchored by the book’s title, which binds such disparate things as an early recording of an American cowboy ballad, a poem by a Swedish Nobel laureate, a recording of crickets created artificially, and an image of an itinerant anonymous woman sitting in a field, playing a guitar. The book also contains an essay by Roden.”
In his essay, Roden explains the lack of narrative in the collection is important because it allows the images – alongside the music – to speak for themselves. An image of a man with a piano, a banjo, a guitar, and a phonograph reads, the caption scrawled across the bottom, “Papa and his only true friends.” Roden discusses his personal connection to the music, the soul of scratchy recordings, and how really listening to the music makes him, and hopefully all listeners, feel less lonely. Roden has found and created a connection with the musicians long gone.
This collection allows us a window into history and the unknown lives of these largely amateur musicians. The images are faded and sometimes damaged, grounding the title “the wind that obliterates my traces.” It is a treat for all thinking music lovers and an adventure for all listeners.