#Ethnomusicology: An Adventure into Olin’s Scores and Recordings

scores and recordings

I have the good fortune of working at Scores and Recordings, the music section of Olin Library. I can objectively say that it’s one of the coolest academic hubs on campus.  S&R has a massive CD and vinyl collection, a pretty strange assortment of cassettes, shelves of musical scores, a bunch of turntables and other media players for student use, audio and video recorders on loan, and a whole room devoted to Wesleyan’s renowned World Music Archives.  It is the home of Notations 21, a collection of creative visual scores that is possibly my favorite book in the whole library.

Scores and Recordings is kind of a metaphor for liberal arts in general— it’s a huge assortment of stuff that you can’t imagine you’d ever be able to string together in a way that makes any sense, but that doesn’t matter because it’s all awesome and interesting and the perfect vehicle for discovering new things.  Especially when you choose items off the shelves at random (which is what we all do when navigating WesMaps, amirite?).

It’s always interesting to see what people check out at the circulation desk — everything from recordings of Tuvan throat singing to John Cage scores to Eminem CDs — but my sense from working at S&R is that not nearly enough people know about what’s available here.  In an effort to mine some of the treasures that are tucked away in this section of the library, I summoned fellow Wesleyinger Gabe to join me in my adventures, AKA pulling random stuff off the shelves and writing about what we found. For this first installment of a continuing series of S&R adventures, we explored the vinyl collection and made some, er, unusual discoveries. Read about our findings after the jump.

1. Armenie – Musique des Achougharmenie
Call number: WEU 6700

Our method of choosing vinyl from the endless supplies of S&R equated to spinning around, grasping at the shelves, and plopping the firstrecord we found onto the players. We were not disappointed in the off-the-wall (literally!) love songs that we ended up with. According the liner notes: “In Armenia the term ashugh, derived from the Arabic word ashik (lover), describes an artist who is at once a musician, poet, songwriter and story-teller. The ashugh are the successors of the earlier Kussan bards and their art, which may be considered as part of Armenian folklore, dates back to the 17th century. The songs composed by the ashugh sometimes relate historical events or extol the merits of certain people but their principal theme is usually love, in all its many aspects: hope, anticipation, disappointment, desire and fulfillment.”

2. The Band – The Last Waltz (1978)
Call number: WPO 328

last waltz

Fear not, rock fans— there is aplenty for you here. The Band’s Last Waltz was an obvious long-playing record choice, because, well, it’s incredible. The soundtrack for Maritn Scorsese’s concert film about The Band’s farewell performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, and it was sort of a big deal. Lead by the late Levon Helm, The Band began as Bob Dylan’s backup but made an incredible career of their own, spawning amazing songs like “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Weight.” You can chart their importance to rock music through the guests on this 3-LP album: Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and countless others join in for covers of their own songs and to play with The Band on their original tunes. The movie itself is called the greatest concert film ever made, so it’s definitely worth watching, but spending a few hours listening to the soundtrack is a most worthwhile venture.

3. Hi-Life International – Music to Wake the Dead! (1984)Hi-Life International
Call number: WAF 8102

The music on this LP sounds the way the cover art looks: lively, colorful, and all in all a good time. Hi-Life International is described as “one of the most prominent London-based bands during the UK’s mid-80s African music explosion.” Its lineup brings together musicians from Ghana, South Africa, and Liverpool for a signature Ghanaian highlife sound, driven by prominent horn and percussion sections. You can find a sample track off the album here.

4. The Dead Kennedys – Bedtime for Democracy (1986)
Call number: WPO 381

dead_kennedys-bedtime_for_democrac“Take This Job and Shove It,” “Macho Insecurity,” and “Chickenshit Conformist.” Now that’s more like it. If none of the above records are hardcore or politically aware enough for your tastes, The Dead Kennedys’ final album Bedtime for Democracy should do it for you. Full of bitterness about conformity, Reaganomics, the military, and the punk movement as a whole, the album comes after the band had dealt with a long, obnoxious legal challenge about artwork (H.R. Giger’s painting Penis Landscape) included in their previous album, Frankenchrist. So much for freedom of speech. The next month, the band split up. We got through about two songs before we were worried about disturbing the people studying in Olin around us.

5. Orpheon Celesta – Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble (1983)s&r
Call number: WJB 7661

Not going to lie, we sort of chose this one because the name amused us. It goes in the jazz category, but you’ve probably never heard of it— and not just because you aren’t as well versed in jazz as you should be. The French band Orpheon Celesta recorded this album of New Orleans jazz and swing in the Netherlands. This particular album is somewhat nonexistent on the Internet, but the band also apparently does a musical performance/standup routine/history lesson called “La Prehistoire du Jazz,” somewhat like “The Evolution of Rap” but different, and in French.

6. JRR Tolkien – “The Hobbit,” narrated by Nicol Williamson (1974)
Call number: YYF T6h

Hobbit-Audio-CoverIf the musical offerings at S&R aren’t enough for you, the LP room also has a sizable “spoken-word” section—performance and studio recordings of poetry, audio adaptations of books, and other gems that don’t fit into either category (see below). This abridged reading of The Hobbit, narrated by British actor Nicol Williamson under Argo Records, offers an entertaining rendition of Tolkien’s classic. Williamson takes out all the “he said”s and “she said”s, instead using his own vocal impressions of the characters to make for a humorous and compelling adaptation.  Listening to this record in the quiet seclusion of the LP room is the equivalent of curling up with a book by the fire—except without the book…and without the fire. Get a taste for Williamson’s adaptation here.

7. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)Miles-Davis-Bitches-Brew
Call number: WJB 282

We picked up this gem because Pitchfork gave it a 9.5. But actually, folks, Scores and Recordings has an unparalleled collection of jazz, both bizarre (see: Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble) and classic (i.e. Bitches Brew). This double album essentially created jazz fusion, and it was Miles Davis’ first gold record. The rhythm section was revolutionary in and of itself, featuring two bass players, three drummers, three electric keyboardists, and a percussionists all playing at the same time. Miles, of course, plays trumpet throughout, but this ain’t your mama’s bop. Leaning more towards jam band-style loose improvisations (the jury is still out on whether or not it can be charted in a mandala), Bitches Brew flies way past an hour running time and edges on two. Studying for finals can wait.

8. Bob & Dog McKenzie – Great White North (1981)
Call number: YYQ M679

Towards the end of our prolonged venture into this vast store of recordings, we finally stumbled upon the two real voices of world music: Bob and Doug. This album is the quintessential portrait of authentic Canadian identity. It won the 1982 Juno Award for Comedy Album of the Year and was nominated for the 1983 Best Comedy Album Grammy, which is weird, because there’s nothing funny about scholarly ethnomusicology. The liner notes offer an enticing introduction to this collaborative academic endeavor:

“We in the Western World share so much. Our similarities strengthen our ties; our differences make us unique. As American as apple pie— as Canadian as Bob and Doug.”

Okay, confession time: Bob and Doug McKenzie are not the true folklore-bearers of the Great White North. They are actually just comedians in thinly-veiled disguises. Specifically, they are Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, two actors with nothing better to do. When we pulled their record off the shelves, we had no idea what we were getting into. But we gave it a chance anyways, because we are two students with nothing better to do.

Here is a further excerpt from the liner notes:

“So this is our album, eh? Okay, so like this is the back cover, and inside there’s like not only the record, but the first edition of The Daily Hoser, which all hosers must read. And no bootlegging allowed, or all cops will be after you! P.S. Nice pictures, eh? That’s our dog, Hosehead. The girls are like our back-up singers. And those guys at the bottom are our roadies now that we’re a band, eh?”

Highlights from the tracklisting include “The Beerhunter,” “Peter’s Donuts,” “Gimme a Smoke,” “Ralph the Dog,” and “Okay, This is the End, Eh?”

Responding to the resurfacing of this lost tome, Assistant Professor of History Jeffers Lennox had this to say:

More installations of our Scores and Recordings adventures to follow. This is the end of our Wesleying post, eh?

#ethnomusicology.

beccahope and Gabe

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