“Black Mirror”

by
  • Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music 1918-1955 (Dust-to-Digital)

    edited from Mike McGonigal (http://pitchfork.com):

    Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music (1918-1955) is an enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s. The set was compiled by Ian Nagoski.  Nagoski’s been collecting 78s since he was in high school, intrepidly and often blindly looking for stuff that sounds cool, even if the labels were all in Russian and he had no idea what it was going to sound like. As you can guess from the title, this assemblage of material comes from long ago and far away, all over the globe: Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, Turkey, and a dozen more.

It’s always a treat to be reminded of how much amazing music there is in the world that you’ve never heard. Seventy-five percent of this material has never been issued on CD, so both bushy-eyed world music newcomers and intrepid crate-combers will find an awful lot to dig in these 24 songs. In fact, only one track’s ever been released on a CD in the States before. Black Mirror stacks performers of great renown (at the time) next to uncredited musicians performing folk musics that stretch back for centuries. All of them are obscure today, of course.

When a thing is done with absolute love, it tends to show. I’m not a huge fan of CDs myself; I have a lot of vinyl and more mp3s than I can count. But it’s awfully hard to imagine these songs without the lovely 24-page booklet that comes with the set. The liner notes are lush with information about each track, as much as Nagoski could find anyway. He also brings the listener back to the very dawn of recorded sound by reproducing some of the earliest reactions to Edison’s great invention, the phonograph. Nagoski writes with awe himself about finding a special, strange record in a dusty corner, and about how amazing it is that these round, brittle discs can transfer such absolute magic from one generation to another.

There are indeed magical possibilities when it comes to assembling and editing a collection such as this; it’s no accident that alchemical symbols dot Harry Smith’s liner notes to his celebrated urtext, the three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music. Nagoski also quotes from his own translation of the spiritual-minded, avant-garde poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, even borrowing the album’s title from one of his works. All that places the material in a different context than one usually finds in globetrotting collections of ye olde records, which often suffer the post-colonial hangover of exoticism. Here’s to hoping that Nagoski compiles at least a dozen more records like it. Black Mirror just might be the most remarkable collection of its sort since Pat Conte ceased his CD reissue series Secret Museum of Mankind in 1998.

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