Music

Various Artists: The Photographs of Charles Duvelle

Sublime Frequencies co-founder Hisham Mayet and musicology pioneer Charles Duvelle curate word, image, and sound in layers of cultural insight.


Various Artists

The Photographs of Charles Duvelle: Disques Ocora and Collection Prophet

Label: Sublime Frequencies
US Release Date: 2017-06-30
UK Release Date: 2017-06-30
Amazon
iTunes

In the wide world of record labels, Sublime Frequencies is essentially Ivy League. Every release is at a high level when it comes to concept and production, obscure sounds being pulled from everywhere you’ve never heard of based on themes you didn’t know an entire album could be based on. Each album is an A-plus student.

But that’s not good enough for Sublime Frequencies, and jumping right to the head of the class is the massive undertaking that is The Photographs of Charles Duvelle, an unparalleled collection of music, photos, and interviews that offer layer after layer of insight, both into cultural traditions spread across three continents and into the life of Charles Duvelle, prolific musicologist and founder of groundbreaking French record label Ocora, a label that specializes in field recordings.

An interview with Duvelle conducted by Sublime Frequencies co-founder Hisham Mayet makes up a substantial and fascinating portion of the 296-page book accompanying the album, as do the pictures that go with it. These offer beautiful detail of an array of performers who are then described in the booklet by Duvelle with respect accorded to each individual musician. On every topic, Duvelle has plenty to say, even with the content edited down to its most crucial points. Indeed, Duvelle tells exactly the stories he means to tell about his childhood, his contemporaries, and the influence of his recordings on the pop music world of the 1960s and '70s. He recounts being at Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta compound days before it was burned and discusses the fine line between cultural exchange and new colonialism, and it makes for a thought-provoking read.

The music contained in the two discs has all been curated by Duvelle, and listening to the quality and range of the music, it’s easy to understand why Carl Sagan drew upon Duvelle’s collection when deciding what music to send into space with the Voyager spacecraft. The selections are poignant ones, many of them examples of traditions that have lasted for millennia. The first disc focuses on a handful of traditions in sub-Saharan Africa before heading to the Indian Ocean and beyond, with highlights like: "Pili Pe", an impassioned courtship song from Papua New Guinea; "Samy Faly", a quick Malagasy string melody; and "Medzang Me Biang", a ten-minute burst of unceasing percussion from Gabon. For the second disc, three long and particularly hypnotic tracks take us to India and Laos. Every song is a worthwhile one, culturally significant not just from the perspective of its place of origin, but also from the point-of-view of anyone who wants to hear clear examples of Burkinabé woodwinds and Laotian mouth organs.

One final component of this multimedia volume is straight from the UNESCO Archives: "Eastern Music in Black Africa", an 18-page essay Duvelle prepared in 1970 that, in addition to technical details and observations on musical exchanges between Asia and Africa, contains some of Duvelle’s philosophies with regard to approaching musical study. He details what he terms "living knowledge": an understanding of something through living it, which he feels gives a deeper familiarity with music than simple observation.

The Photographs of Charles Duvelle is more than a book, more than an album, and more than pictures. This is a carefully curated portrait of one man’s professional life, but it is also a look, and a listen into the traditions of more than a dozen different cultures. Micro, macro, audible, and visual, The Photographs of Charles Duvelle covers a lot of ground. Sublime Frequencies is at its most thorough here, and none of the work goes to waste. Going through everything here is an experience to sink your teeth into -- and learn from.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image