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February 16, 2009 9:06 AM   Subscribe

The Folkways Collection is a downloadable, 24-part podcast series that "explores the remarkable collection of music, spoken word, and sound recordings that make up Folkways Records (now at the Smithsonian as Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)."
posted by Miko (27 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic! I'm looking forward to listening through this. Folkways is really a great label- I never would have heard one of my favorite electronic records without them.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:31 AM on February 16, 2009

Their Lead Belly link is frakked, but here's the correct URL.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2009

Episode 20, The Poets, is a real prize. Roethke reading his own "Reply to a Lady Editor" is so... metaroethke. Thanks, Miko.
posted by steef at 9:57 AM on February 16, 2009

Why limit access to 24 one-hour podcasts? If the Smithsonian owns Folkway, why isn't all of it available to the public?
posted by gum at 10:07 AM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also recommended is Tapestry of the Times, a weekly jaunt through the Smithsonian Folkways archives. Sign up for the podcast and enjoy!
posted by roombythelake at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2009

Fantastic. Thank you Miko.
posted by iffley at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2009

posted by Abiezer at 10:58 AM on February 16, 2009

posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 10:58 AM on February 16, 2009

If the Smithsonian owns Folkway, why isn't all of it available to the public?

It is all available, for a price. From the FAQ:
With the acquisition of the Folkways and other record labels' master recordings and related materials, the Smithsonian took on the job of accounting and paying royalties to many persons and organizations around the globe, since much of the material is protected by copyright under U.S. law. We are proud of our fair royalty system, which supports artists (and heirs) in their communities and sustains the dynamic creative practices that foster cultural diversity.
posted by Knappster at 11:01 AM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I remember reading about Folkways and first checking out their website.

"Sweet, the government is providing an archive for and disseminating culture. That's a use of the government I can approve of. I'm going to download me some folk music."

Then I went looking for the download and Bittorrent links.

Then I facepalmed.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2009

Also somewhat related (and possibly previously on the blue?) - Folkstreams.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:51 PM on February 16, 2009

Holy smokes, a company I used to work for back in the dot com heydays used to have the distro rights for this entire collection, along with tons of other stuff on the Smithsonian label. While there are definitely pearls and wonders amongst the selection, there are also tons of really bizarre recordings. It was my job to go through, listen through each CD for audio defects, and then enter and index the performer data for each album into our database. The tricky part arose when you ran afield of the stranger recordings - how would you name the performer of a CD recording of the sounds of 40 different types of trains? How about a 99 track CD containing frog mating calls? Telephone ringtones (from back when the tone was generally an actual ringing sound... ancient history!)?

Of course, the really WEIRD stuff was the things that actually had performers, of a kind. For example, Jim Nollman's recordings of classic folk and children's songs, such as 'Froggie Went a-Courtin', as arranged to have backup vocals sung by 300 adult turkeys. There were lots of old field recordings of the remote South Americas, as performed by the hit group "Indigenous Peoples". There was a Peruvian recording of old folk songs, along with lyrical translations in the liner notes. My favorite verse by far was:

"We have many alpacas
We raise our alpacas in the mountains
We are sad because we have no clothes."

I always thought that alpacas were primarily raised for their fur to make clothes, but evidently that option was not available to this sad, warbly, cold Peruvian man.

By far the most chilling recording was another of the 'field recording' variety - this one a collection of ritual and ceremonial songs, sounding rather a lot like the cave scene in Altered States. Various tunes are presented for about forty minutes, and then the audio abruptly changes to the sound of the recording crew running through the jungle at a jarring pace, while trying to recount the details of the last few minutes into the voice recorder using very hushed tones. Apparently, the team had finished their recordings for the day and settled into the camp at night. Deep into the evening, after the fires had gone low and everyone was asleep in their grass huts, an unknown force of guerrillas had stormed the village with assault rifles and torches, laying rounds into everyone they saw and lighting the huts aflame. The recording crew bolted, altho as I recall the man relaying the narrative was on his own while running, and that at least one of the other men in his group had been shot back at the camp. After a while of running noises and heavy breathing, the recording just stops. Downright eerie...

Disclaimer: it's been something like ten years since I heard that last one, and the details may be a little hazy. If anyone knows what recording that actually was, I'd love to track it down again.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:23 PM on February 16, 2009 [12 favorites]

I don't know, Father Dragon, but I've run across a lot of those ambient recordings by Folkways of all sorts of odd sounds. There are some available on eMusic now. I don't know the one you are describing, though.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on February 16, 2009

I never would have heard one of my favorite electronic records without them.

Wow, thanks for that. The song titles are classic. And "Future City Traffic" sounds like something off a Squarepusher album.

How about a 99 track CD containing frog mating calls?

Heh, I used to have that on vinyl. It was great for mixing into sound collages. Thanks, Miko; this is great stuff.
posted by mediareport at 2:56 PM on February 16, 2009

We received the Smithsonian Folkways Children's Collection on CD when our son was born and I used it almost every day when he was a baby. Great fun.
posted by girlhacker at 7:31 PM on February 16, 2009

Thanks so much!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:25 PM on February 16, 2009

Great find, Miko, but it's missing a shoutout to my excellent local/regional radio station, CKUA, which produced the series in the FPP a decade back and has recently launched another epic Folkways series (streaming only for now, it would appear).
posted by gompa at 11:26 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

thank you for this, Miko - excellent find
posted by jammy at 5:00 PM on February 23, 2009

Thanks for the great post and the stories about other Smithsonian Folkways albums.

FatherDagon - I'm asking our archivist and others about the recording you mention - if we have it, they would know!

gompa - the new CKUA series "Sounds to Grow On", hosted by Michael Asch, son of Folkways Founder Moe Asch, will indeed be available for podcast as soon as the first 4-5 episodes are ready to go.

Dr-Baa - Futuribile: The Life to Come is indeeed great, a staff favorite (especially among interns!).

Thanks also for pointing out the other newer Smithsonian Folkways podcasts (all free):

- Tapesty of the Times (weekly, exclectic hour-long show - a tour of the archives).

Tapestry of the Times

- Sound Sessions (monthly, lively interview discussion about a topic/artist. Examples - Lead Belly, the Oud).

Sound Sessions Radio

David Horgan
Smithsonian Folkways
posted by horgand at 9:14 AM on February 24, 2009 [20 favorites]

Heh, I work with Michael Asch and have been listening to his radio shows, good to know about the podcasts becoming available. Michael is a good guy and also is one of Canada's most prominent anthropologists
posted by Rumple at 6:25 PM on February 24, 2009

Thanks for your comment, David!
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on February 24, 2009

So glad this was posted over in metatalk. I missed this thread, and never heard of the site. Cool find! (for me)
posted by cjorgensen at 8:24 PM on February 24, 2009

Wow, I missed this too, so here's another 'glad-this-got-MetaTalked'. Miko, you totally rock.

or... you totally folk?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:12 AM on February 25, 2009

And if Folkways had only released Roscoe Holcomb's The High Lonesome Sound (originally as an LP in 1965), they STILL would've been one of the greatest labels in the history of recording.

BTW, just came across this at Google Books: Norm Cohen's Folk Music: a Regional Exploration*.

*It's a PDF, might take a minute to load.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:30 AM on February 25, 2009

I'm kind of curious how the Folkways' mp3 downloads from Amazon works. Is it just an alternative to getting them straight from the Smithsonian site? How much of that 99 cents does the Smithsonian get from Amazon?
posted by steef at 7:03 AM on February 25, 2009

Nice post. I missed it at first, but I know Miko knows I love my Folkways!
posted by OmieWise at 1:48 PM on February 25, 2009

Thanks for the comments and kind words...

A few follow ups:

- Everyone needs to listen to Roscoe Holcomb once in their lives...

We've re-issued 2 albums of Roscoe Holcomb with cleaned-up audio and expanded notes:

The High Lonesome Sound

An Untamed Sense of Control (the title comes from a Bob Dylan quote about Roscoe, which we also use on one of our Folkways t-shirts)

and there is more Roscoe on some compilations

- On the Amazon vs Folkways download question: the collection of ~40,000 tracks is available from the Folkways website but also from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Rhapsody etc. - all the major providers. Each provider encodes at different rate - Folkways is 196K MP3s (going to 256K very soon) or FLAC (a lossless format) for the same price (no one else offers this that we're aware of).

- Downloading from is the best way to support the Smithsonian Folkways non-profit mission and artsts. But all purchases help, as do positive reviews/rankings, podcast downloads, and threads like this. On Amazon, for example, the "people who bought this bought that" feature helps us reach new fans that we otherwise could not...


David Horgan
Smithsonian Folkways
posted by horgand at 3:59 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

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