Secret Museum of Mankind

Latest Release

Album Cover - Chris Robley - A Filament in the Wilderness of What Comes Next (1)

Secret Museum of Mankind
Atlas of Instruments: Fiddles, Volume 1
Out September 15, 2023 on Jalopy Records


Okukomawe · Abadongo Abaganda
Atlas of Instruments: Fiddles, Volume 1
Out September 15, 2023 on Jalopy Records


Volana Fenomanana (Fandihizana Malagasy) · Orchestre de M. Michel Ratsimba
Atlas of Instruments: Fiddles, Volume 1
Out September 15, 2023 on Jalopy Records


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Liner Notes

The museum’s musical atlas of instruments continues with the opening of another wing, the first in a series on bowed instruments. To stretch boundaries over the earth and over time is to forsake them; whether it is a matter of Synchronizitätor just the plain unconscious. In Western cultural history, the bowed instrument is a late installment, after centuries, of an almost primordial vibration that we imagine in sound; see in the old paintings; and yet can sample in the remnants of the ancient world captured on gramophone records.

Aptly the Πεντοζάλης, or 5-step dances, are among the most ancient, and bare some deeper context to the people of Crete. One of the older sounds here, featuring the Lyra by an unknown trio and an unnamed tune (ca. 1926).

The legends of the “Hanged Fiddler” are a rich and widespread tradition in Folklore. Fisherman Joseph Allard, born in the 1870s, was recognized as a master and mentor to future masters and was counted with the first Canadian fiddlers to record (1926). He utilizes a special tuning often favored by fiddle contestants, which is identified by specific names in old time style and bluegrass, as well as in Scandinavian music.

Violinist Joseph Ziccone and guitarist F. Guandi were recorded in July of 1928 in NYC. They were eventually billed as the Duo Siciliani; The Waltz, “Secret Tears”, is the second of their two records to have survived.

Part of a larger troupe, this group billed as Orchestre de M. Michel Ratsimba recorded in 1930, but the performance sounds beyond the scope of known numbers! The central trio consists of a western violin with guitar and the tube-zither, the valiha. [see YAZOO 7003 for more, on the first of the regional SMM sets]

William Nathan Wells, according to Grove’s, was born in 1868 and is probably the oldest fiddler here; he was a source for Cecil Sharp who visited with him near the turn of the century. A multi-instrumentalist who often played the fool for the Morris Teams, “Jinkey” Wells also documented the history of Morris dance himself via manuscript. He recorded sparsely in the 1940s and passed short years after this recording.

Raks or Raqs is another example of a more modern version of a traditional Egyptian dance, born in the earlier half of the 2oth Century; often the violin being reconfigured by shifting the 4 strings into two courses and lending itself to various reed and bagpipe imitations, another almost universal trait for showpiece fiddlers. This unnamed Syrian-Lebanese group, probably living and recording in the Atlantic Avenue Arabic community of Brooklyn shortly after WWII, has most likely named the tune in honor of Jamileh Matouk, the famed singer from Tripoli who was most likely present in the studio.

Mariachi Coculense Rodriguez performs “El Jilguerillo”, named for the songbird that migrates south known as the Linnet, or Goldfinch depending on your Audubon guide edition. Perhaps the earliest mariachi to record, here they are at mid-stream in the height of their powers during their ‘electrically recorded’ period. Harmony twin-fiddling with guitarrón, before the advent of the more familiar brass.

Sam Liang Gow (Educating Her Son) is a dialogue between two Chinese huqin or two-string instruments, and reflects the introduction of such so-called “modernized” instruments to Peking in the 1920s. These huqin are in effect a more ancient version of erhu, or gaohu in conversation with zhongu, the throatier lower-pitched instrument.

Paul LeVault, from Commagny, and a one-time member of the Garde Republicaine, was a multi-instrumentalist and known master of the accordion and pipes as well. LeVault often played on historic instruments from the 1700s which he avidly collected, including rare wheel-fiddles and cabrettes whose function remained basically unchanged since the Renaissance.

Okukomawe, or “The Return Of The King Mutesa” was recorded ca.1948 or so in Kampala. Apparently based on epic poetry attributed to J. Kasasa (who may be present), it may in fact refer to the Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda, or his descendant. The endingidi (tube fiddle) solo is usually accompanied by an odi, the hand-held harp resembling Nyatiti or other bowl harps found in East Africa, which at this time would still have been crafted with traditional materials including antelope horn and elephant ear. [See also Yazoo CD 7015]

Serbian violinist Stevan Bačić-Trnda and his tamburicaorchestra play a local specialty of Tavankut, a village near Subotica. They recorded while the troupe visited Austria in the fall of 1930. A master of many tunes and styles, this was amoung his last recordings before he passed away in his native Sombor in 1935.

By the 1930s, at the time of this recording, Tiramakudalu Chowdiah, from near Mysore, was already recognized as a Carnatic master and developed this 7-string version of the violin (“Pitilu”) in an effort to extend its voice and range, much to the displeasure of his guru. Accepted shortly thereafter, it was used continually for the next 30 years until his death. He erected a sacred music space in the form of a temple to his guru, at great expense – and there exists today a monument to Chowdiah himself as well, a building in the shape of a violin.

Champion fiddler near Tylertown, Mississippi, Jabe Dillon(b. 1898) was a winning contest fiddler, known for many unusual tunes which were unique to him. Brown Skin Girl(later known also as “Refused Love”) was reworked as a solo in c. the late 60s and released on his own label to be distributed to local radio stations. This original version, however, (ca. 1949) features his son Lloyd Dillon Jr. on guitar and unknown string bass.

One of the National treasures of Telemark; Igletveiten is an older springar dance (Couple Dance) with variants. Gunnulf Borgen was born in 1881 and from the village of Heddal, recorded in Oslo in 1939. His hardingfele is an elaborate instrument with underlying sympathetic strings, fancy inlays and penwork and a striking carved head. Borgen often employs various tunings, amoung them some fanitulientunes which employ a “devil’s tuning” not dissimilar to the tuning used for “Le Reel Du Pendu” above.

The Matachines continue a tradition spanning up from the 1600s; These are location recordings made in Tlaxaca, Puebla in 1933 by an anonymous Yaqui group with fiddle, harp, and stamping by the dancers. The frame harp, and indeed Yaqui Indian music in general, was virtually unheard on disc before the previous decade.

“Fattenin’ Frogs” features a unique group interweaving two fiddlers, Charles Jones and James Fields, and includes guitarist Paul Johnson, banjo-mandolin by Lee Warren and Wesley Williams, string bass. Bill Russell, who can be heard in the opening seconds signaling “go” over the chirps of the early evening crickets, was one of the most fascinating people I had ever written to; an avant garde composer (e.g. wrote a piece scored for “suitcase, Jack Daniels bottle & Haitian Drum”), author and violin repairman who ran a record shop and his own label. Russell preserved some remarkable field recordings of his own such as this one, helped write the history of jazz and connects full circle the worlds of Henry Cowell and John Cage with the rarest deep south origins of American Music.

Sligo Maid’s Lament; Trip To The Cottage is a set of reels recorded by Paddy Killoran in NYC in 1936, with James Ryan on guitar (tenor) and brother of Killoran bandmate, Paul. The Lament is also related to a mountain reel from Donegal. Born in 1903, a youthful Patty, member of the Sligo Brigade, shared a mentor with Michael Coleman and was a tavern owner in Manhattan in his later years.

The last waltz is courtesy of fiddler Augustus Abreu from “Abrew’s Portuguese String Trio.” A Cape Verdean who emigrated from Fogo in the twenties, Abreu recorded a single session in 1931 with his band and leaves a short but essential legacy of a misty and disappeared island string tradition.

–Pat Conte
L.I. NY 2021

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