March 15, 2004

Of Zithers, Dolceolas, and Homemade Electronics

Snarkout (via commentator and fellow-Pittsburgher Vera Tobin) posts on the nightmares that exotic instruments will pose for musicologists of the future:

Pity the music historian of the twenty-third century, reduced to tears by an effort to find just the right antique to perform primitive yet stirring twenty-first century compositions on. The audience won't know the difference between a real Electronic Rap Pad and a clever reproduction, but she will, and she'll wish we had stopped at plainsong.

He mentions the homemade electronics of the Silver Apples. While I'm back in Pittsburgh I'll play with an improvising group--around 10 years now and it doesn't have a name--including a fellow who plays homemade electronic junk that makes Silver Apples look like Circuit City. But authentic music performers won't ever try to reproduce it. One of the things about improvised music is that it lets you work with sounds that are beyond notation, even beyond complete control, like the sort of things that happen when I inhale through my trombone instead of blowing out.

Snarkout also points to this article on the great gospel blues singer Washington Phillips. Apparently Phillips played zithers instead of the dolceola, an instrument whose primary fame is as the one Phillips allegedly played*, and lived until 1954 rather than 1939. Regardless, he must be heard. If you know Tom Waits's "78" version of "Innocent When You Dream"--Phillips sounds like the 78 Waits is nostalgic for.

[Further down snarkout mentions the conspiracy theories about Tupac Shakur's death, but I know the truth.]

*What would Kripke say? Or whoever it is who wrote Naming and Necessity.

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 15, 2004 11:32 PM