Field recordings can be a tricky business. When they capture the experiences of people not credited – or for that matter, asked for permission – they raise important questions about the right to privacy and ownership of our image and voice. At the same time, they deliver a line of sight into worlds many of us will never have an opportunity to visit. When done respectfully, they can help us understand other cultures a little bit better.
Two recent recordings from the Discrepant label are worth considering.
Félix Blume’s Death in Haiti: Funeral Brass Bands & Sounds from Port au Prince features recordings from 15 funerals, 16 funeral processions, five churches, one cemetery and one wake. These recordings cover a range of emotions – from the unrestrained cries of mourners to the loving support of the island’s traditional funeral march music and more.
The funeral music is the album’s most accessible element. It is a rich tradition that jazz fans in particular will appreciate. The loved ones’ suffering is another thing altogether. On one hand, listening feels like an invasion of privacy. On the other, many of us in the west have a lot to learn about the emotional benefits of shared, open grieving. By presenting these scenes simply and without manipulative editing, these recordings illustrate that point powerfully.
Kink Gong’s DIAN LONG: Soundscape China / Destruction of Chinese Pop is less a documentary than it is an avant-garde recording project.
Laurent Jeanneau has travelled to southeast Asia repeatedly since 1999. His goal is to document the music of ethnic minorities whose traditions are being impacted – in some cases threatened – by external, modern influences. This album is based on recordings of the kind of pop music that threatens the region’s traditions.
Unlike Blume’s project, Jeanneau’s recordings are treated as source materials that he turns into something entirely different.
Jeanneau explains in the album’s notes: “Faced with the cruel tendency of modern China to reject tradition and embrace full on bling bling culture, my option was to attack this music industry commercial flavour by destroying it.”
I can’t speak to the question of whether one or both of these artists sought out permissions in the process of making these recordings. (I’d be very pleased to share that information if a representative from Discrepant can share it.)
What I will say though is that both have value as works of art and as educational documents. Blume’s documentary style and Jeanneau’s electroacoustic compositions are at opposite ends of the field-recordings spectrum. Still, they share in common a desire to produce art that makes these cultures more relatable to a global audience.