Treasury of ethnomusicology – The field recordings of Alan Lomax

Various Artists – The Alan Lomax Collection – Spanish Recordings: Basque Country – Biscay & Guipuzcoa
Various Artists

The Alan Lomax Collection – Spanish Recordings: Basque Country – Biscay & Guipuzcoa (Rounder Records, 2004)

The Alan Lomax Collection – Spanish Recordings: Basque Country – Navarre (Rounder Records, 2004)

The Alan Lomax Collection – Italian Treasury: Liguria Piemonte & Val D’Aosta (Rounder Records, 2004)

These three volumes are part of the Alan Lomax Collection produced by Rounder Records. Around 150 albums are planned for eventual release, drawn from the vast archive of field recordings amassed by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. The format is the same for each of these three releases: all transfers are from the original source materials, extensive explanatory notes are included for each recording as well as lyrics and translations.

Each CD also features specially commissioned essays by ethnomusicologists that place the recordings in their historical, ethnographic and musicological context. Footnotes, bibliography and discography are included with each CD. For the generalist listener, this is ample material for understanding these important and often irreplaceable field recordings. Each release is a model of care and attention and include as much as 50% new material not previously released.

From 1952 through early 1955, Alan Lomax traversed first Spain and then Italy amassing a large body of field recordings that form The Spanish Recordings and the Italian Treasury. Both recording projects were massive in scale and attempted to capture the music of village and rural life in each country.

The Spanish recordings are of special interest because there are few important sound documents of traditional music from early- and mid-twentieth century Spain. Although the folk traditions have survived to a greater degree in Spain than in many parts of Europe, the conditions of life are so altered from the time of these field recordings that the folk traditions have changed in fundamental ways. In Italy, the music of the preindustrial peasant culture Lomax recorded in the mid-1950s has in large part disappeared, and the recordings now serve as reminders of a different way of life and of musical traditions that have all but disappeared.

Every care has been taken with the transfer of sound recordings from the original reel to reel tapes to digital media. The sound quality is typically excellent given the primitive conditions of the time. (Lomax often recorded in remote locations, reached by mule or donkey, that had no electricity or running
water. The recording equipment was bulky and reel to reel tape was expensive and not always easy to acquire.) The repertoire from each region is varied and reflects the care Lomax took in performing his advance work prior to the recording sessions. None of the performers were professionals in the contemporary sense of the word, though many were active paid performers playing and singing in local festivals, wedding and baptism celebrations. Some recordings were even made at regional folk music festivals.

The Spanish and Italian field recordings of Alan Lomax are invaluable documents of mid-twentieth century traditional music in these countries. The presentation of this material in The Alan Lomax Collection, released on Rounder Records, is everything that could be hoped for. The lover of traditional music can enjoy the recordings for their varied and authentic performances, while those interested in them as ethnomusicological documents will be pleased with their careful contextual presentation. Rounder is to be congratulated for producing such a fine series and making it available to the general public.

Up-to-date information on The Alan Lomax Collection can be found at http://www.rounder.com/rounder/artists/lomax_alan/.

Buy the 3 CDs: The Alan Lomax Collection – Spanish Recordings: Basque Country – Biscay & Guipuzcoa, The Alan Lomax Collection – Spanish Recordings: Basque Country – Navarre, and The Alan Lomax Collection – Italian Treasury: Liguria Piemonte & Val D’Aosta

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