Thursday, November 27, 2008

when each speak each other's language...

apache light and darkness 78rpm

well, after listening to a very convoluted mess of a discussion on the radio yesterday about school children celebrating thanksgiving in insensitive and/or socially incorrect ways, it's clear that america's relationship to their native forefathers (and foremothers) involves a heavy dose of guilt, denial, or some relatively epic confusion - especially when it comes to thanksgiving. in light of the confusion, and perhaps to push it further, i've decided to post two discs that veer into sketchy territory... as both tracks are not only incredibly beautiful, but also incredibly "wrong".

the first is from a small group of eight inch 78's i recently got in the mail. they were published by the american bible society, and each side has a person reading a bible story in a native american language. the side i'm posting is in the apache language, and the story is called 'light and darkness.' it is read by mrs. celena perry, whom i'm guessing was a missionary, who learned various native american dialects in order to teach them the ways of the bible. the thing is her voice and story telling are incredibly gentle and beautiful, feeling as if she's speaking a fairytale or a bedtime story in a made up language. it's strangely seductive and other worldly, but there is also this underlying current of someone trying to take the magic out of a culture, only to replace it with the magic of her own. certainly it's easy to exoticize a langauge you don't understand, but here it is her fragile human self that comes through, the pitch and waver of her voice leaving the words behind.

click here to listen to darkness and light.

the second disc is a flexi from an old poetry magazine featuring a 1971 recording of jerome rothenberg singing/chanting a navajo piece called 'the 10th horse song of frank mitchell'. rothenberg did an LP of this piece using multi-tracked voices and sort of taking the role of the shaman to the text/sound poet extreme, which you can find here on ubuweb. this piece, to the best of my knowledge was not part of the LP, and is much more straight ahead, with him simply chanting a solo. it's a beautifully hypnotic and relatively minimal performance. again, there's a lot to scoff at here, particularly a non-navajo, attempting to re-create a ritual from another's culture; but like mrs. celena perry, rothenberg's voice is so darn convincing, that you get a sense he's looking at poetry and ritual through the same eyes, and in many ways evening the playing field. rothenberg's performance suggests, at least to me, that poetry can work the magic of ritual, and ritual can become the song-like poetry.

click here to listen to the 10th horse song of frank mitchell.

i believe in the spirit of thanksgiving, that one should be able to look in the mirror and understand that at this point in time none of us are really as pure culturally as we think we are. we are living in a moment where cultures are constantly becoming infested with other cultures; and old rituals have become not only new rituals, but fodder for poetry, and just about everything else. the question is where does one draw the line between exploitation, affectation, and/or deeply felt respect.

i believe in my heart of hearts, as much as both of these recordings can be viewed through negative eyes (and ears), they can also be heard for what they are - beautiful amalgamations of various cultures, attempting on some level to share love, in a way that attempts to cross from one culture into another with an open heart. of course, in the midst of all this there is a potential for the jive-ass uber diluted schlock now called "world music"; but in these two cases beauty, as well as a kind of humble sincerity, transcends any missteps that might have been taken.

on this day of giving thanks, i for one would like to mention that i am grateful for all the convoluted, mixed-up, bad ideas that have led people, in their own human way, to make beautiful things - intentionally, as well as in spite of themselves. and more than anything, i am thankful that a good number of these things have ended up in the archive here, fairly regularly.

i leave you on this thanksgiving day with a chippewa verse, also filtered through rothenberg, a gift...

know what i'll promise you?
skies be bright & clear for you
that's what i'll promise you.

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Blogger PTA Transit Authority said...

Happy Thanksgiving... wishing all the best for you and your family, Richard.

7:24 AM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

But who is inhaling whose spore (as Lawrence Wechsler has it in Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder). Do the conquered - or their ghosts - leave behind only their harmless artefacts, or do they inform the cultures of their conquerors? Remember the distinctly non-PC phrase "going native"?

9:35 AM  

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