Songcatchers – In Search Of The Worlds Music

June 1, 2003

On March 15, 1890, ethnographer Jesse Walter Fewkes walked out onto a field in Calais, Maine, and, pumping a foot treadle for power, recorded a Passamaquoddy Indian singing a salutation song. The first field recording of traditional music ever made, the song he captured was heard around the world, creating a revolution in music that continues today.  In Songcatchers, we trace the adventures of these field recordists, as well as my own new additions.
At the same time, we tell the story of the extraordinary developments in technology that made sound capturing possible: How sound waves were first imprinted in wax, then how electric microphones, radio, and other inventions changed the world soundscape. And how, with the advent of computers and the digital age, a recordist can now walk into a remote corner of the globe with nothing more than a pocket-size digital recorder, a few batteries, and a microphone, and capture the world of the rain forest – its peoples, animals, and spirit – for tens of thousands of listeners to appreciate.

Songcatchers looks at our universal appreciation of music and the reasons why, over the past century, technology and curiosity have carried the shamanic chants of Siberia, the dying folk music of isolated European villages, and the ecstatic gamelan sounds of Bali to music lovers all over the world.
The personal tales of the songcatchers are full of romance, derring-do, and intrigue: some of them were scholars, others adventurists, and a few full-fledged spies. The machines that made their work possible progressed from the early treadle-powered phonographs that allowed sound waves to imprint wax cylinders to magnetic tape that captured sound in iron oxide particles to the digital domain of today.
  • This book bowled me over in a couple of ways.It really convinced me that all music is important and precious.That goes for Hank Williams singing "The First Fall of Snow",Woody Guthrie singing Philadelphia Lawyer,Elvis singing "Love Me Tender",Sinatra singing "New York,New York",Patty Reilly singing "The Town I Love So Well",the music of the Rain Forest,regional and tribal music from around the world, and even my son's Rock

    J. Guild
    Amazon Review
  • ...lest anyone misunderstand the depth and scope of Mr. Hart's broad musical background, this book should be considered essential reading. He has painstakingly researched and documented recorded music in a way that I quite honestly never considered in any formal way. Best of all, he's illuminated the historical process and power of recorded music on a global platform, all-the-while presenting it in the most readble and accessible manner. I believe this is the best of Mr. Hart's many outstanding books on music. No wonder he works for the Smithsonian. Scholarly, yes. Boring, not for a single word.

    D. Sean Brickell
    Amazon Review
  • I want to start by saying that the merits of this book certainly make it worth owning for those with an interest in ethnomusicology and/or field recording. It's packed full of fascinating information, riveting images and passionate pleas for the conservation of music and culture.

    Josh B.
    Amazon Review

Fromo Booklist:

For some time now, Grateful Dead drummer Hart has been a songcatcher, a collector of the originally noncommercial music popularly called traditional music. Many anthropologists, musicians, political and labor organizers, composers, social workers, and others were songcatchers before him, and it is their collective story that he and professional writer Kostyal tell in this engaging book. They discourse a little on music’s many purposes, then leap into songcatching via sound recording. The first field recordings were of American Indian music, and the late-nineteenth-century phenomenon of world’s fairs spurred the capture of Asian, African, and Pacific Island music. Meanwhile, young Anglophone composers combed the British Isles for their peoples’ songs. Hart and Kostyal note major figures and events in field recording down to the present, at which point Hart relates his own experiences. Historic photographs magnificently illustrate Hart and Kostyal’s accessible overview of a subject that, despite its intrinsic attractiveness, has usually been written up only in turgid academic tomes. A book for every popular library. Ray Olson

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