Don't Let Me Be Lost to You
|+ Add opportunity|
Through his Canary label in Baltimore MD, musicologist, producer, artist, historian and indefatigable mensch Ian Nagoski has made available hundreds of aural documents. These date from the often bleak dawn of the 20th century, which hawked a war to end all wars, then (mostly) culminated in a vast, post-Ottoman diaspora. Nagoski freely acknowledges the genesis of his curatorial passion: He wanted 78 RPM disks, capsules from time he did not inhabit and tongues he could not speak.
And he was on a budget.
Ravenous blues travelers (Fahey and ilk) had scoured the bins like locusts, denuding them of prized Americana-isms. But Nagoski reckoned that, at fifty cents apiece, he could dive into still-unknowable languages. (On a recent podcast conversation, the host makes a live request for speakers of a Kurdish dialect, to translate a track. Nagoski is completely game, but he also just enjoys the song, an arrow shot into the aether.)
What we’re served, platter to platter, is an ethnomusicologic goulash of the private, the inherited, the traditional, and the raucous. This mad medley is weighted by the post-war, Eastern European diaspora that polka-dotted the fabric of New York City. Yet we also carom from Iberia to the Balkans, Assyria to Albania. The floorboards of this stage creak beneath the weight of immigrant woes, joys, traditions, rebellions and ribaldries.
Bear in mind, the strident yelps of the Delta blues only achieved escape velocity because the recordings were adjuncts of a primary commodity. You got to hear Charley Patton because Paramount needed to sell you the turntable; it was housed within a cabinet; Paramount made furniture; Wisconsin had trees, and a rail connection to the South. There it is: Delta blues.
These 78 RPM relics were unimaginably futuristic for their time, yet now inexpressibly archaic to ours. They indulge in no audio equalization, flattering edits or post-production niceties. Moments are seized, of irascible and non-erasable happenstance, newly minted treasures chiseled in groove. Nagoski, referencing the physical components of these disks, refers to them (with a Biblical flourish) as “stones” — a permanence of self-assertion, and an urgent vaccine of bravery versus vagary.
Nagoski’s explorations rank alongside the cultural cosmonautics of Harry Everrett Smith, Dust-to-Digital, the Lomaxes, and Blackwood/Fahey of Revenant. Strange within a strange land, these efforts disperse shadows from a collective experience. During this particular moment of history, Ian Nagoski’s encyclopedic gumption and mondoscopic focus insist that each of us came to be here from someplace else, and some other time.
These kindred authors whom Nagoski lovingly reanimates for the digital moment? Their voices neither croak nor spew about making america great again. They vivify America’s greatness within a chorus for whom this nation was and remains an ongoing and churning model of Creation.
So here, goodness gracious, we have a peddler of the Good Stuff, the stuff of self-actualization. We live in a moment in which such frequencies are too frequently squelched, disintegrated in disinterest and pandering fear. Ian Nagoski is a clairvoyant, channeling voices past to present. Listen.
About Ian Nagoski:
Ian Nagoski is a music researcher and record producer in Baltimore, Maryland. He has produced dozens of reissues of early 20th century recordings in languages other than English for labels including Dust-to-Digital, Tompkins Square, and his own Canary Records. His enthusiastic talks have been hosted at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens Greece, the University of Chicago, New York University, University of California LA and Santa Barbara, and he has presented his work in installation at the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin Germany, the Wellcome Center in London England, and the Peale Center in Baltimore Maryland. A fragment of his work is included on the MoonkArk, the first object to be permanently installed on the moon, in 2020.
"Nagoski is a Walter Benjamin visionary, using his collection of 78s to hallucinate a history that actually happened but which remains hidden beneath official dogma and nationalisms.”
— Marcus Boon, the Wire
"Nagoski's approach is great, because he's got a DJ's ear, and he's got this historian's perspective. He's looking at these songs as somewhere between a poem and an autobiography."
— Jace Clayton, DJ/rupture
"His work is so rare and important that it should almost be treated as a ritual object, a pathway to the past and a voice for ghosts of a forgotten part of American musical history."
— Nate Wooley, SoundAmerican
"...as essential to an understanding of American music as anything else."
— Amanda Petrusich, Pitchfork