I’m reminded of folklorists and musicologists, Alan Lomax and his father John, trekking across the American South in the 1930s driving thousands of miles from bars to back wood farms to state penitentiaries recording and archiving every kind of folk music they could find: Mountain ballads, prison blues, children’s rhymes, and all kinds of church and gospel hymns inbetween.
They had stuffed a state-of-the-art, 315-pound acetate phonograph disk recorder in the trunk of the father’s Ford sedan. This gave them the ability to produced almost immediate 78-rpm records for both the musicians and the Lomax’s employer, the Library of Congress. In 1936-37 Alan schlepped 155-pounds of equipment to Haiti to log in over 1,500 recordings of unique voodoo, religious and dance rhythms.
By 1959-60 Lomax took yet another fieldtrip to the south recording more jazz, blues and traditional tunes, and had graduated to using reel-to-reel machines and early stereo microphone techniques.
When I worked for University Extension of the University of Missouri I was editing fascinating interviews with mid-twentieth century mules skinners recorded on either high end but really heavy metal-cased Nagra reel-to-reel field machines or fairly light but lousy (hissy) sound quality cassette tape recorders.
The point is that field recording has had its ups and downs, but mainly ups.
So, I was recording my daughter’s flute recital last month with a very cool and light (130 grams without batteries) handheld Tascam DR-07 Portable Digital Stereo Recorder. The stereo mic picked up a nice balance between the flutes and the piano accompaniments. My job was to get the complete recital recording and then post MP3s for each of the kids’ performances up on the Internet to be listened to and/or downloaded. A piece of cake.
I felt like Alan Lomax. These girls, aged 7 to 17, may not have been playing the blues or doing time in prison (yet), but I was able to take a sound recorder into the wilds of suburban Indiana and capture a great (as far as we parents were concerned) performance.
Hooray for new technology – small and mighty.
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