Friday, October 22, 2021

Two quadruple portraits from the history of Rock 'n' Roll

Can: Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt/Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit
Surprisingly perhaps, but Can had never been in a Top 100 before this year. I never owned a record either. I think I had a tape once with some of their music on it. Holger Czukay was once listed as a solo artist in the very first Top 100, that of 1983. Malcolm Mooney was in the Top 100 of 2011. He was intermittently associated with Can as a singer. He is not included on the track Millionenspiel, a song from The Lost Tapes with old recordings that appeared in 2012.
Sonic Youth: Thurston Moore; Kim Gordon/Lee Ranaldo; Steve Shelley
Fellow experimental avant-garde rockers Sonic Youth however, were in the list multiple times. The last three years with the song Shaking Hell from Confusion is Sex. [1983] The two paintings above are kind of a pair. I intended every quarter of the canvas featuring a band member but the Sonic Youth painting that I did first was so tedious that I amended the idea when I started the Can painting.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Laura Boulton

Laura Boulton/Tuareg singer
Laura Boulton, a socialite from Ohio (b. 1899, Conneaut, died in 1980), had a 50-year long career in ethnomusicology that started with a trip to Africa in 1929. She recorded more than 30,000 songs travelling throughout the world. She saw herself as a song catcher, doing the noble work of preserving the music of vanishing cultures, that she, like most other early ethnomusicologists, considered primitive. Her legacy, despite the colonial attitude, is the preservation of musical traditions now extinct. She was not only an early practitioner in the world of ethnomusicology, she did so as a woman. (Not many women recorded in the field in the early years. One notable exception is Frances Densmore, whose known for her work with Native American tribes is well known. Densmore started much earlier than Boulton and is also less colonial in her attitudes.) I've painted Laura Boulton four times now, three tracks from the LP African Music recorded in the 1930s made it into the 2021 list. The fourth track in the top 100 (at #2) is the Girl's Game from the LP The Eskimos of Hudson Bay and Alaska in the 1940s during the Second World War. She considered the Eskimo recordings "the most primitive in her collection" and therefore "unusually interesting." I've written about this painting earlier as it was the first painting I created for the current series of 100. I'm reproducing the painting here again because I've altered it quite a bit. I have all paintings in the series hanging on my studio wall and every time I see something in an older painting I don't like I fix it. The individual paintings aren't considered finished until the whole series is finished and exhibited. I did not change the figures much in the painting but adapted the rest to fit an evolved concept for the series as a whole.
Baker Lake Eskimo/Laura Boulton
The Folkways LP African Music [1957] was recorded in the 1930s and originally released as a set of six 78 rpm records on Victor in 1939. The recordings were made mostly in the French Sudan (now Mali) and also includes recordings from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Benin. The three tracks in the Top are War Song by Malinke people recorded in Bamako, Mali, a track with short outtakes from different songs sang by Tuaregs recorded in Timbuktu also in Mali, and Orphan's Wail by a Bakwiri singer from southern Cameroon. The painting up top illustrates the Tuareg recordings, a track that includes a lullaby, a herding song, and a marriage song. I used a photo taken in Timbuktu, from the record sleeve for the Tuareg singer. It is the only photo of the four that was not taken by Boulton as she also appears herself in the same photo. That image of Boulton I had already used for the image illustrating the Bakwari singer on Orphan's Wail. Boulton doesn't name the singer but she did photograph him in the process of recording.
Bakwari singer/Laura Boulton
The third track then from African Music is the War Song performed by Malinke people on harps and drums. The image of the Malinke harpist was again taken by Boulton during the recording. It's one of most fascinating drum rhythms I've ever heard.
Laura Boulton/Malinke harpist


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Northern Light, Southern Skies

Sivugun (or Nunana)/Kiighwyak (lead singer)
The Top 100 2021 is compiled from pretty much the same genres and songs as the previous two editions from 2019 and 2020. A few (female) singer-songwriters, some (post) punk classics, (free) jazz, and a vast majority of ethnographic recordings. The latter come two distinct parts of the world: The Arctic and equatorial regions. The spirit world of the south and throat singing from the harsh climates up north. Not only are half the songs in this year's list a repeat from last year, almost a third of the songs are listed for the third year in a row. This includes Ay-ay-amamay, a nonsensical work song in the pic'eine'rkin genre, specific to the Chukchi people of northern Siberia. The song of (I assume) ancient origins is performed by two generations of women from the pic'eine'rkin ensemble Kiighwyak, shown back to back in a video published by the Swiss research institute OPOS (Open Planet of Sound.)
Miss Velongo Kupu Fakaua/Richard Moyle
The second painting completed in the last few days is one that illustrates a recording of a Tongan nose flute trio belonging to the southern-spirit-music category I just mentioned. The Tongans, and other Polynesians, believe that the breath of the spirit is manifest through the nose, rather than mouth. The nose flute, called fangufangu in Tonga, is considered a sacred instrument. The recording comes from a compilation record called The Music of Primitive Man, compiled by Joseph Prostakoff for the Horizon record label in 1973. The record has been with me for more than ten years and functioned as a primer for consequent inquiries. The record is very well curated but lacks any data. Only a short description of each of the 50(!) songs on the record. All of the songs, furthermore, are only short outtakes from longer recordings from different sources. This year I revisited this record and have tried to locate the original sources of the recordings. I have been only partly successful in this quest. The Tonga trio is one of my favorite tunes from the record but the source of the recording remains elusive. Therefore I was at liberty to illustrate the song with whatever images I fancied. Looking at images of Tongan nose flute players I found mostly heave set men playing solo or in small groups. When I added "vintage" to my query I found just as many female nose flute players as men. Illustrations from before the era of photography showed the nose flute the property of women. I settled for for a black and white image of Miss Velongo Kupu Fakaua, a cousin of Queen Salote of Tonga. For the ethnomusicologist I chose Richard Moyle, a scholar from neighboring New Zealand. Mr. Moyle is an authority on Pacific lore and music who spend decades traveling the Islands.
Paga, Wopkai songwriter/Christopher Roberts
For the third painting the geography shifts back to Papua New Guinea, a country very well represented in this year's list. At the very center of the large Island, in the highlands bordering West Papua (belonging to Indonesia) live the Wopkai people or Wopkaimin. The classical musician Christopher Roberts traveled to New Guinea to study and record the Wopkaimin in the early 1980s. He encountered a vibrant but quickly disappearing culture of song. Through extensive recording he preserved the dying tradition of singing rather than talking for future generations to come. Interestingly Roberts found a natural ability to compose songs in all Wopkai people. I have not yet purchased Robert's book (including a cd) Music of Star Mountains from which A Woman's Song in the Top 100 list is taken and my only evidence of it is a small soundbite embedded in the podcast Missionaries almost erased a tribe's history, but for a Pasedena man's tape recorder by Chris Greenspon for OffRamp. The seven-minute interview has taken the place of the Woman's Songs and the whole interview is now in the Top 100.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Getting Ahead

Wolgang Laade/Amadu of Buzi
The Tataro solo is another track that was listed last year as well. A snippet concerning the recording can be read here. A tataro is a bundled pan pipe much like the ones used in the Solomon Islands I've written about before (in this post for example.) The music of the south coast of Papua New Guinea actually shares many characteristics with their neighboring islands in Melanesia. The painting sort of forms a pair with the one I did just before. My main adaptions from the painting of Tran Quang Hai together with Nang Suy are the scale relations between the two and warming (toning down) of the stark black and white contrast.)
Tran Quang Hai/Nang Suy
Female voice and flute again repeats from the Top 100 2020. Nang Suy alternates between singing and playing the flute in such a manner that one is an extension of the other. The track was recorded by Jacques Brunet but the painting is of Tran Quang Hai, who wrote the liner notes to the recording. Tran Quang Hai (Vietnam, 1944) is an important practitioner and researcher of Vietnamese traditional music. Nang Suy is from the Kmhmu Highlands in Laos. I did not have an image for Jacques Brunet.
Jon Ibragon/Charlie Parker
The next in line to be painted brought me back to the popular music of the United States. Earlier this year saxophone player Jon Ibragon released the record Bird With Streams, playing the music of Charlie Parker (hence "Bird" in the title of the record.) Bird With Streams was brought to my attention through a record review by Kevin Whitehead on NPR radio. The review was coupled with another new record of another tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen. The coupling, and theme of the review, was about how the jazz world dealt with the practice in the COVID-19 era. For Jon Ibragon it meant seeking out solitude in the woods. He recorded Bird With Streams at Falling Rock Canyon in California. It's a lo-fi recording and the sounds on the record include the sounds of nature. I immediately listed to the whole record on Bandcamp and was blown away by especially the opening track Anthropology.


Friday, October 8, 2021

The three paintings for the week, two of Hugo Zemp

Men's choir (Fataleka)/Hugo Zemp
The image I used next to Hugo Zemp in a painting from June of this year must now move to represent a song recently added to the list this year which is Sukute the name of a tubular instrument that is both struck and blown. The player of the instrument on Solomon Islands, Fataleka and Baegu Music from Malaita is Rokona. I believe the image I linked to above is indeed Rokona. I thus painted not the new song but an alternative painting for Fataleka divinatory songs: Uunu. Fataleka Music, Uunu song form, Divinatory songs, performed by men's choir seated in two rows facing each other. On the liner notes to the album there is an image of two rows of men with rattles facing each other. I believe these to be the men heard on the recording. Hugo Zemp has been really good with naming and photographing his subjects which my undertaking so much easier. Adhering to my own concept for the series of the Top 100 2021, I simply must paint Hugo Zemp over and over again. While I have images of most performers recorded by Zemp in this list, I am running out of options for Zemp himself. Here he is shown early in his career while I used an image of a much older man in the next.
Hugo Zemp/"A hunter sings alone" (Dan)
The younger portrait of Zemp would have been more appropriate here as Zemp recorded the Dan in Ivory Coast in the mid 1960s well before his work in the Solomon Islands. I own a re-release on CD published by Rounder Records in 1998 titled Africa: The Dan but the original LP dates way further back. It was published as The Music of the Dan by The International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation. In the painting I experimented with a black background which alters the focus, especially early on when setting up the images, from linear to volume. On black you start out with swatches of light rather than the outline. On black you work from the inside outward while with a white ground you do the reverse. Early on in the process the painting had the looks of those kitschy black velvet paintings. An early shot of the painting appears in a video I recently posted:
Ahidous (Berber Dance, Morocco)/Bernard Lortat-Jacob
Grande Danse Ahidus, recorded by Bernard Lortat-Jacob in Morocco in 1978 appeared on the CD-set Voices of the World which was edited and produced by Hugo Zemp together with Lortat-Jacob in 1996 for Musee de l'Homme. The recording is of a mixed chores of Ben Aissa Berbers accompanied by frame drums. Ahidous is a traditional war dance performed in the Atlas Mountains by Berber men and women.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Three paintings per week

Brigitta Hauser-Schaublin/Ocarina player (Abelam)

The image of the Abelam ocarina played I used last year to illustrate the song Nggwal mindsha. That same song was also part of the Top 100 2019 and was already illustrated for this year's top 100 as well. I commented last year that the ocarina wasn't heard on the recording but the image did come from the same album as Nggwal mindsha: Music of Oceania: The Abelam of Papua Niugini. [Musicaphone, 1983, Germany] The song the ocarina represents now is the actual song the image illustrates: Ocarinas and Bamboo Flutes. The song was recorded by Hauser in 1979 and the photograph was taken that year by Jorg Hauser. Ocarinas and Bamboo Flutes is in spirit much closer to the Abelam Warning, a recording that was my first introduction to the Abelam about ten years ago and at the time qualified as the most outlandish recording I've ever heard. Re-listening to the warning it no longer qualifies as being so outlandish at all. Familiarity will do that to you. I must disagree with the attitude of John Cage, who hated all sound recordings (he thought of sound as alive, recordings as dead). I find that hearing the same performance multiple times increases empathy (I admit that it wouldn't compare to witnessing the original performance, but it would be impossible to witness any of these ethnomusicology performances—it is still better to hear the recording than not hear this music at all.)

Martin Rev/M.I.A.

Born Free by M.I.A. has been in the Top 100 nearly every year since it was released in 2010. Her live performance of the song that same year on David Letterman's Late Show elevated the song to the status of 'one of my favorite songs ever.' On the Letterman performance she is joined by Martin Rev who, as one half of the band Suicide, was responsible for creating the riff M.I.A. sampled on Born Free 20 years earlier. The drummer on the session is Butchy Fuego, who also played with the Boredoms at the time. Because of Rev's presence I thought it was appropriate to share one of my favorite performances ever with the facebook group "No Wave." This was a mistake. (The first comment was "Well that's a crock of shit that pisses all over suicide.")

Meg White/Jack White (The White Stripes)

I don't think the No Wave group would have much positive to say about the White Stripes either. Yet, I love the both the the White Stripes and the No Wave group and follow their posts religiously. The No Wave group has been a great influence in this year's top 100. 7 Nation Army by the White Stripes doesn't need any special groups to become exposed to it. The song is all over the place. Much like Queen's We Will Rock You, 7 Nation Army has become sort of a rock 'n' roll anthem that you hear at football stadiums and commercials alike.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Instruments of the spirit

Father Louis J. Luzbetak/Tua playing a kambar
Wahgi and Shimbu melodies. Two men play on their home made 'spirit' flutes kambar) recorded by Louis Luzbetak in Papua New Guinea. From the record Primitive Music of the World [Folkways, 1962] selected and edited by Henry Cowell. The image of Tua playing a kambar comes from a slide taken by Dr. Michael David Peter O'Hanlon in 1979 in the Wahgi Valley in Papua New Guinea. Since the image is in the collection of the British Museum, the data for it are impeccable. I quote from the page dedicated to it: "Previously, such flutes were secret from women and revealed only to boys at initiation; while no longer secret, they made and played only during the Pig Festival." Father Louis J. Luzbetak (1918-2005, American) was a professor of Cultural Anthropology at Georgetown University. He studied the Wahgi extensively in 1954 and I may assume the recording was also made in that year.
Musical bow (Mitsogho)/Pierre Sallee
Harp and vocal solo from the Bwiti ritual from the LP Gabon: Musiques des Mitsogho et des Bateke [Musee de l'Homme, Ocora, 1968] recorded by Pierre Sallee. The Bwiti is an all male sacred ceremony that involves ingesting the bitter root from the iboga tree. Initiates enter other dimensions and see the past, present, and future of their own lives. [MusicRepublic, blog] Pierre Salle (1933-1987, French) was an ethnomusicologist known for work in Gabon.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Rest in Peace, Lee "Scratch" Perry

Mad Professor/Lee "Scratch" Perry
I heard the news through the No Wave facebook group I subscribe to. The page, the group, they are actually responsible for about half of the non-ethnographic recordings in this year's list. I was surprised to find Lee Perry on No Wave as most materials posted relate to the No Wave movement one way or another. But I clicked on the YouTube link and enjoyed listening to the clip a whole bunch. Then a few hours later a second post appeared and I knew something was up: Lee "Scratch" Perry had just died. Lee Perry died on August 29 in Jamaica, he was 85. Last week I listened to a number of his records, including ones I have myself on vinyl, and watched several live videos on YouTube. The song that made it into the Top 100 was the first video posted by the No Wave group: Heads of Government, a live recording made during the Tibetan Freedom Festival in 1997 in New York City. He is assisted by Mad Professor & the Robotiks Band. Mad Professor (b. Neil Fraser, 1955, Guyana) was also Perry's collaborator when Heads of Government was recorded on Black Ark ExPerryment in 1995. Originally it appeared on History, Mystery & Prophesy from 1984.

Saturday, September 4, 2021



Studio portret van een Dajak vrouw uit Borneo/Jaap Kunst
I'm Dutch, and like other Western European countries the Netherlands was also a colonial force in the early 20th century, and of course, like those other European countries, some compatriots were ethnomusicologists as well. The best known Dutch ethnomusicologist is Jaap Kunst, who specialized in Indonesian gamelan music. He actually coined the term ethnomusicology. He became curator of the Royal Tropical Institute of Amsterdam, an institution distinct from the Tropenmuseum of Amsterdam. On the right is a portrait of Kunst blowing a conch shell and on the left a Dayak woman with a drum from a photograph from the Tropenmuseum collection. Kunst recorded in Indonesia but his best known contribution to ethnographic records was as curator: Indonesian Music which was volume 7 from the Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, a series edited by Alan Lomax. The recordings on the record were made by J. Hobbel, Andre Dupeyrat, Bernard Ijzerdraad and others. (The name Bernard Ijzerdraad rings familiar in my head because of the cartoon character Phil Ijzerdraad, a lanky bandit who featured in a Lucky Luke cartoon—friends said he looked like me.) The recording of rice song by a Dayak woman that features in the Top 100 was made by J. Hobbel on the island of Borneo. You may have noticed that the last ten or so paintings were done on a ground of four colored rectangles. This is my foray, like I did for the Top 100 2018, into the world of abstract art and color theory. Below are a few 'colorfield' paintings. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Gentlemen in the Jungle

Michael J. Harner playing a shaman's drum/Shuar woman preparing beer

My purchases this year of the LP Music of the Jívaro of Ecuador as an mp3 file and the book Visages the Bronze, and free downloads of the LP Jívaro and a pdf of The Jívaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls all contributed to an enormous amount of recordings by the Shuar people (as the Jivaro are currently referred to) in the Top 100 but other sources were accessed as well. I've read current academic papers on Shuar culture as well as some early anthropological studies done in the 1930s. The four titles listed above are by the ethnologists Philippe Luzuy and anthropologist Michael J. Harner. I've painted Michael J. Harner here to illustrate the song Social Dance Singing (female chorus) that he recorded in 1972 together with an image of a woman preparing mash for manioc beer that Harner also took in 1972 and appears in the liner notes of Music of the Jívaro of Ecuador. [Folkways, 1973] The image of the woman photographed by Harner would also be appropriate for the song Chant de la bière de mais but for the Luzuy recording of it I used an image of the Finnish anthropologist Rafael Karsten paired with an image from a photo that he took during his frequent stays with Ecuadorian Indians in the early 1930. 
Shuar man (after a photo by Karsten)/Rafael Karsten
Karsten's book Head-hunters of the Western Amazonas was the first serious academic study of the Shuar. The Jivaro, as they were then called, had an almost mythical status in the Western imagination. So much had been fantasized and speculated since their famous shrunken heads became a fad for collectors in the late 19th century, yet none had studied their actual culture until Karsten spent time with them. Karsten's observations however, as one might expect given the early date, are far from objective.

The song Chant de la bière de mais (recorded in 1960 by Luzuy) curiously enough is identical to another social dance song from Harner's 1972 recordings on Music of the Jívaro of Ecuador. Harner's recording is not just the same song as the one Luzuy recorded twelve years earlier but it's identical note for note, as identical as a Beethoven piano sonata recorded by two different pianists at different times. Beethoven's music was written down but the Shuar songs are passed on from one singer to another. Stranger yet, even more starteling, is the fact that the singer recorded by Luzuy is a man while the singer recorded by Harner is a woman. Michael Harner, as well as others who have studied the Shuar, observed strict gender roles. (I wrote about the mysogyny of Shuar culture earlier, you can read it here.) Cultures like the Shuar may be much more flexible as anthropologists would be able to observe. (Here's the link to all my recent musings on the recordings of the Shuar.) 

Matthew W. Stirling/Shuar woman (after a photo by Stirling)
Philippe Luzuy recorded five tracks listed in this Top 100 and I still have not been able to find an image he appears on. For the fifth recording then, which is called Chant sur l'oiseau Toucan, I continued to chronicle the history of Shuar anthropology. A few years after Karsten, still in the 1930s, the American Matthew W. Stirling, produced a study of much greater integrity. Historical and Ethnographical Material on the Jivaro Indians has the flaw that Stirling relied on a certain translator who was biased, coming from a rivalling tribe. Harner, who used Stirling's book as a guidebook, tracked the informant down thirty years later and was able to set the record straight on some of Stirling's conclusions. In the painting here Stirling is seen carrying a gun (I think this may be a first for me!) in the Ecuadorian jungle. Next to him is an image of a Shuar individual he had photographed. 

Note: The photograph I used to portray Matthew Stirling, also features his wife, and long time collaborator, Marion Stirling. It felt really really weird to edit out Marion Stirling and instead, replace her by a Shuar woman, the object of their studies. In reality Stirling is much taller than the (unnamed) Shuar woman. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


Top 100 2020, #100: Entrance of the Mani Mask
The caption under the photograph I used reads: "One by one the soaring Spirit Fish masks enter Otei village accompanied by chanting and dancing women." Otei village is situated in Papua New Guinea and the quote and photograph, together with the recording Entrance of the Mani Mask come from a 1978 Folkways LP called The Living, Dead & Dying: Music of the New Guinea Wape which was recorded by William E. Mitchell in the early 1070s. I did not reproduce the photograph, which was also used on the cover the record, but made gesture sketches of some of the individuals seen in the ceremony depicted. Since I'm quoting William E. Mitchell, here's his description of the recording in the Top 100: "As the mani demon prances into the village from the forest, women welcome him with vigorous chant. Here, as in most of the large curing festivals, women have an important ceremonial and musical role." The Wape are unique in Melanesia in the fact that their organization is egalitarian. In most other cultures in the region there is a strict hierarchy in what ethnologists call "the big man political system" or "bikman." [William E. Mitchell, On Keeping Equal: Polity and Reciprocity Among the New Guinean Wape] Entrance of the Mami Mask is number 100 in the Top 100 2020 and thus marks the completion of this series of works. After I organize a showing of the works my undivided attention will become the Top 100 2021, that now is already more than a third done. At a provisional number 36 in the new list resides a second track from Mountain Music of Peru, vol. 1 from 1966, [Folkways] a seminal album of recordings by John Cohen. It is thus also the second portrait I painted of John Cohen in the new series of 100. John Cohen was an influential musicologist and photographer who recorded and shot, beside Peruvian mountain music, mountain music from Kentucky, the Beat generation, among many other topics. The dancing child on the right of the painting is also based on a photo by Cohen, be it in the context of a different collection. John Cohen, known too for being a member of the New Lost City Ramblers, a New York bases string band, died in 2019.
John Cohen/Mountain Music of Peru, vol. 2 cover