29 September 2022

Tradition and technology

Jake Blount (left), Aaron Jonah Lewis (right)

[...] we are not learning from long-dead musicians when we study recordings of them. We aren’t learning from musicians at all. We are learning from electromechanical reproductions of musicians — limitlessly replicable acoustic automata that repeat the same few minutes over and over again, for as long as they endure.

This is quoted from 'SPOTLIGHT: Jake Blount on traditional music’s built-in science fiction', published on No Depression on Monday (26 Sept.), and well worth reading in full for the several issues it raises. Jake Blount's points have much in common with what Aaron Jonah Lewis said at his fiddle workshop on 28 May this year at the Ulster American Folk Park about the limitations put on us - without our knowing it - by learning from recordings, especially older ones.

Perspectives do change with the passage of time. One of Jake Blount's first sentences - 'Our instrument [the banjo] is firmly entrenched in the American consciousness as a symbol of cultural and political conservatism' - might have puzzled a reader sixty years ago, when the banjo player best known to the public was Pete Seeger, and when the 'melodic' revolution was beginning to transform bluegrass banjo playing.

© Richard Hawkins

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