Fifty years' worth of field recordings

Various Artists, recorded by Art Rosenbaum

Art of Field Recording, Volume II

Dust to Digital DTD 12 boxed set (4xCD)

In the spirit of Harry Smith’s anthologizing of American roots repertory, Art Rosenbaum has spent over fifty years making field recordings of traditional music-making. In this, the second boxed-set installment of his work from Dust to Digital, lavish care is paid to Rosenbaum’s half-century long labors of love. An LP-sized box, it includes a large booklet with copious liner notes, reproductions of Rosenbaum’s paintings, and many photographs (by Art and his wife Margo). These provide historical, often indeed musicological, details about the recordings.

Four CDs of music are included here: a Survey disc, Unaccompanied Ballads, Accompanied Ballads, and Religious music. There are so many gems contained herein that it’s difficult to choose favorites among them. AoFR II instead invites a smorgasbord approach to listening – wading in, indeed basking in, a wealth of Americana. The participants range in age from seven to ninety-four. There’s an authenticity here – these are not polished studio renderings but recordings caught in the midst of the participants’ daily lives; this is attested to by the ambient noises of work, conversation, et cetera, that ‘antique’ the sonic experience.

The offerings often begin with brief interviews, in which the participant(s) discuss the history of the song or piece at hand. Many of these are fascinating aural postcards from another place, time, and way of life. The performances themselves, unadorned by studio trickery, are an unvarnished look at the music-making of dedicated amateurs. Sure, there is the occasional wonky harmony or bum note; but the considerable beauty of the performers’ ardent commitment and performance energy proves ample compensation for any such ‘imperfections.’

Composers ranging from Ross Lee Finney and Ruth Crawford Seeger to Gavin Bryars and Steve Reich have drawn significant inspiration from field recordings. One imagines that  Rosenbaum’s collection will prove similarly influential for many burgeoning artists today. Dust to Digital projects a third installment in the Art of Field Recording series: fingers crossed!

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