A Spiral Way: How the Phonograph Changed Ethnography

By Erika Brady | Go to book overview

5
A Spiral Way
Bringing the Voices Home

I feel there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which for some never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice, the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and returned to share our life.

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

The modest Capitol Hill row house where Running Scout recorded for Alice Fletcher was razed in the mid-1970s to make way for the James Madison Building, part of the Library of Congress-coincidentally, the very building that would eventually house her cylinder collections and those of her adopted Omaha son, Francis La Flesche. I first encountered the Fletcher and La Flesche cylinders in 1981, in a chilly recording studio tucked deep in the fin-de-siècle Beaux-Arts extravagance of the Jefferson Building, just across independence Avenue.

The vividness of the voices they preserved astonished me. The recordings had less surface noise than most and were exceptionally free from damage and distortion, but it was not so much what the cylinders lacked that struck me, it was what was there, surviving years of neglect-a kind of freshness of presence enabling the listener to imagine not only the singers but the setting, evoking the clarity of light and the quality of the air. I had seen an old photograph of a powwow arena and a grove of oak trees on the Omaha reservation at

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A Spiral Way: How the Phonograph Changed Ethnography
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction "Fugitive Sound Waves," Fugitive Voices 1
  • 1: The Talking Machine - A Marvelous Inevitability 11
  • 2 - Early Patterns of Response to the Phonograph 27
  • 3 - "Save, Save the Lore!" 52
  • 4 - The Box That Got the Flourishes 89
  • 5 - Bringing the Voices Home 118
  • References 135
  • Index 149
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