Harry
Smith,
avant-garde
filmmaker,
painter,
occultist,
anthropologist,
alchemist,
collector
of
music,
books,
textiles,
and
paper
airplanes,
anthologized
84
recordings
of
American
Folk-Music
on
a
six-record
collection,
released
by
Folkways
in
1952.
It
is
widely
held
that
the
84
recordings
are
hardly
representative
of
American
Folk
(or
anything
else)
besides
inscrutable
private
logics
known
only
to
Smith
himself.
But
these
logics
themselves,
whilst
difficult
to
cohere,
make
sense
precisely
due
to
what
they
elide,
since
archival
seems
a
matter
–
explicitly
–
of
elision
and
unknowing.
Each
recording
implies
all
the
others:
all
the
records
lovingly
polished,
careworn,
scuffed,
scratched,
or
broken.
The
duration
of
the
recording
encompasses
and
is
tempered
by:
wax
and
its
proneness
to
melting,
the
brittleness
of
shellac,
the
bendiness
of
plastic,
the
tanglings
and
foldings
of
magnetic
tape,
the
jitter
of
the
scratched
disc,
and
lately,
the
proliferation
of
digital
audio
files,
prone
to
copying
and
to
deletion.
But
more
than
this,
each
of
the
84
recordings
implies
congregations
never
gathered,
recordings
never
made,
songs
never
sung.
And
similarly,
each
piece
of
criticism,
written
by
scholars,
enthusiasts,
obsessive
collectors,
implies
the
inexhaustible
possibilities
of
old
words,
old
arguments,
old
records
and
old
melodies.
Towards
this,
I
proceed
with
a
citation,
a
thought
to
be
renewed,
from
the
critic
Greil
Marcus:
When
you’re
listening
to
old
records,
or
looking
at
old
photographs,
the
more
beautiful,
the
more
lifelike
the
sensations
they
give
off,
the
more
difficult
it
is
not
to
realize
that
the
people
you
are
hearing
or
seeing
are
gone.
They
appeared
upon
the
earth
and
left
it,
and
it
can
seem
as
if
their
survival
in
representations
is
altogether
an
accident—as
if,
as
the
Apocrypha
quoted
by
James
Agee
at
the
end
of
Let
Us
Now
Praise
Famous
Men
reads,
in
truth
they
perished,
as
though
they
had
never
been;
and
are
become
as
though
they
had
never
been
born.
But…here
the
persons
singing
are
getting
younger
and
younger
with
every
line.
By
the
end
they
are
just
emerging
from
the
womb.
Play
the
songs
over
and
over,
and
you
hear
them
grow
up—but
only
so
far.
You
hear
them
born
again,
again
and
again
(www.granta.com/extracts/1453).
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