REVIEW: Evan Parker and David Toop: Sharpen Your Needles #4 at Cafe Oto,

Evan Parker and David Toop. Photo Credit: Fabio Lugaro

Evan Parker & David Toop: Sharpen Your Needles #4
(Cafe Oto, 12 January 2016. Review by AJ Dehany)

The fourth instalment of Evan Parker and David Toop’s listening evening at Cafe Oto was a tonic for damaged attention spans. What happens is they play vinyl records from their own collections and we listen. With good humour and erudition, the pair guided us through ethnographic field recordings largely from the 1950s-1970s.

Toop played some indescribably weird Angolan circumcision music, field hollers from Western Australia, Shinto from Japan, a series of Korean pieces and, supposedly to calm us down, a jarring Tamil lullaby from Southern Ethiopia.

Fans of programmes like Radio 3’s Late Junction would find the selections as sonically familiar as they are strange, but more creaky. Many of the recordings are taken from a single stereo microphone over fifty years ago. We’re never quite sure if the distortions in the sound are coming from the recording, the knackered vinyl, or the sound system.

Toop’s range was contrasted with Parker who played track after track of Dogon funeral music from Mali. Introducing a separate funeral piece Toop remarked “It’s like we have funerals on our minds — I wonder why,” perhaps hinting that Parker’s dogged insistence on funeral music might be an oblique tribute to a certain departed Star Man whose loss we are all feeling.

With some ceremony, Parker made a shocking confession. He doesn’t really care for vinyl: its skips, pops, crackles and hiss, its supposed ‘analogue warmth’. He sold most of his vinyl records twenty years ago, but not the niche ethnographic records, most of which haven’t been reissued. They praised recent labels like Ocora and Inedit that have started to release this kind of material on CD (just in time for the death of the format).

Funerals gave way to a recording of dogs going crazy during a Dogon ‘Bull roarer’ ceremony in which cymbals are whirled around overhead, sparking a story about the time they tried this themselves and nearly killed their project funder. Plenty of the rhythms and textures are not dissimilar to those generated on any given night at Cafe Oto or the Klinker, but they’re straight from the field rather than sampled, looped or simulated electronically.

A recording of the Yawalapiti of Brazil is a wall of unidentifiable pipes that sounds rather like an electric guitar through a tremolo pedal. The prevalent overtone series suggests to Parker that the players are blowing directly on the edge of what he speculates might be block flutes, but who knows?

Parker grew expansive over the evening, and praised these cultures who know things that we don’t but whom we lack the humility to try to understand. Instead we’re destroying our planet, culturally and ecologically, and ignoring “the healing work that these cultures speak to us.”

His is a serious defence of keeping these traditions alive, even if only by playing these records. Toop amplified Parker’s point by noting that many of the cultures represented here would have been “decimated” since these recordings. This recalls a much earlier curator Pat Conte’s description of his ethnic transcriptions, “Pictures of a gone world.”

Afterwards Parker joked “This beer is strong,”

The message we all took away from his impassioned speech is much stronger.

LINKS: Review of Sharpen Your Needles #1 from May 2014
Review of Sharpen Your Needles #3 from March 2015

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1 reply »

  1. Ocora. Inedit and other labels have of course been issuing and reissuing ethnographic music on CD since the 90s. They've been joined by new labels like Dust to Digital, Honest Jons more recently.

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