Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ice sheets, shellac and glass plates

Sometimes a musician tells of story from stage that just really sets off my historical imagination. I'm a history nerd, what can I say? Well, I subscribe to more academic podcasts than music ones. Like years ago at Nordic Roots when Jenny Wilhems from Gjallarhorn explained the strong asymetrical rhythm in Scandinavian polskas by saying the common people in those lands were forbidden to possess drums for hundreds of year. Some say it was the Lutheran church who came down on percussion because it might lead to sin (like dancing the polska?) and some say it was the military, because only soldiers could have drums. Either way, facinating factoid.

So when Warsaw Village Band's Wojtek Krzak spun a tale of a 17th century freeze on the Baltic Sea and Scandinavians walking across to Poland and taking home new dances - like the polska - it got me to wondering. Yeah, OK, I know they could've just gone in a boat, too. The Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden used to freeze too, and starving peasants from both sides walked that dark crossing, just looking for work and a chance at a better life. And maybe a few new tunes.

Not so far apart.

Not to revisit that familiar topic of complainig about our country's artist visa/security system, but...

I was talking to some of the members of Warsaw Village Band prior to the concert, expressing my disappointment that they hadn't brought along the really cool old-style instruments, like their suka, nyckelharpa, hurdy gurdy and that big hammer dulcimer. Fiddler Krzak said they could only bring one instrument per person this time, then percussionist Maciej Szajkowski told how the security guards didn't believe Krzak he was really a musician so they made take his fiddle out and play for them at the airport. Pretty demeaning. And you wonder why European artists don't really want to come over here. Hey, at least they get in the country...often the African artists are just refused visas.

I really enjoyed the WVB concert, although without the old intruments we got fewer of the quiet, more delicate numbers. It was the driving, rock-out version of the band, which was cool, too. Very percussive use of the fiddles and cello. It was great to see people dancing all over to the band's triple-drummer second encore "Is Anybody in There." As they say in Poland "It kicked."

I have to wonder, however, what does it take to get people to check out a different sort of "world music?" I mean, really. The crowd for that show was Polish expats and U of M students plus the handful of Cedar World music freaks, many of whom were volunteering already to get in free. (Yes, I include myself in that freak group.)

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So just to continue this 78 rpm discussion for one more minute, I SO can't picture owning or even wanting to own that $8k piece of shellac. What does one do with it? Look at it? Put it in a box? You can't play the thing. Sheesh.

I have a few antique little glasses. Cut glass, very nice. They were dated 1910 at the dusty little antique store by the side of some nameless highway near the Illinois border on the way back from a cousin's wedding. They're so pretty, I just like to look at the light shining through the facets. But every time I fill one with wine at a party, I feel compelled to say "Be careful. It's 100 years old," as I hand it to a guest. Sheesh again.

The 78s that interest me are the stuff that will never ever show up for 99 cents on ITunes, like those Turkish discs I mentioned last week. DJ Pepper Patriot (who still hasn't answered my emails for an interview...) was trying to get some sound out of a disc he'd brought back from Istanbul that had a big chunk out of one edge. It was crackly, but we got part of the tune. LO-FI!

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So has anybody noticed that you don't need to put the .org on to Google this blog any more? It's another milestone. First it stopped asking if one meant "" then it stopped sending us to "Cedar's blog" if we left off the .org. We win. It's all us now, no matter how you search it.

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And in a non-music note, Sergei's back in town! As in more of those amazing 100+ year old color photos from "Photographer to the Tsar" Sergei M. Prokuden-Gorskii at the Russian Museum of Art. If you missed the initial showing of his work last summer, drop the five bucks and get yourself over to this. The new exhibit "revealing the Silk Road" focuses on what is now Central Asia, you know, "the 'Stans." Many of the photos are from legendary cities like Samakan and Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekistan, and what was then the legacy of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.

There's something about seeing people from so long ago in color...details you would never notice in black and white. Little things like creases in a rabbi's boots, stains on a peasant's apron, or the verdigris patina on an Orthodox church's downspouts. You can even get free passes from the Minneapolis Public Library's Museum Adventure Pass program, so no excuses.

Check out the tile work.

1 comment:

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