The James Koetting Ghana Field Recordings
October 6, 2009 8:01 PM   Subscribe

The James Koetting Ghana Field Recordings has 142 reels of Ghanaian music, almost all of which have more than one track, collected by ethnomusicologist James Koetting. There is a glossary of musical terms should you want to know a bit more about Ghanaian music and Koetting's notebooks should you want to know a whole lot more. All the music is wonderful but here are a few that stood out to me. Here are two tracks featuring postal workers whistling over a rhythm beat with scissors and stampers. Flute and drum ensemble. Brass band blues. And finally, twenty teenage girls singing over some nice rhythms. [requires RealPlayer]
posted by Kattullus (35 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post.

Also: Bush Taxi Mali
posted by Joe Beese at 8:07 PM on October 6, 2009

I perhaps should mention that most of the tracks feature flute and drum ensembles and that the one I single out isn't at all the best, it's just one I happened to like. Also, one of these days I must put together a proper post about American drum and fife music.
posted by Kattullus at 8:07 PM on October 6, 2009

those postal workers have been a staple and a litmus test for musical exposure for me and my collaborators for close to 20 years. mention that at any ethnomusicological gathering (cough.cough hippylovefest) and you can instantly know who`s worthy of your mutterings.

it`s also just uckfing cool...
posted by artof.mulata at 8:17 PM on October 6, 2009

OMG IT'S THE POSTAL WORKERS! Someone sent me an mp3 of part of the first track ages ago and ever since I've been thinking about it whenever my job gets too tedious.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:36 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fine post. Koetting died tragically young (of a heart attack) and before his full contribution (a thorough rethinking of long-held theories about African rhythm) could be realized. I didn't know him, but colleagues who did (some of whom are close friends) thought very highly of him as a person, too. His death affected his friends very deeply.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:38 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

i'd love to check this out, but realplayer? goddamn
posted by gonna get a dog at 9:13 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I too have had the postal worker track for a long time and didn't know exactly where it came from. I'll have to spend some time digging through this.
posted by thecjm at 10:15 PM on October 6, 2009

The Postal Workers? I am so sick of those damn Pacific Northwest hipsters.

posted by drjimmy11 at 10:20 PM on October 6, 2009

i'd love to check this out, but realplayer? goddamn

Yeah, really. Not usually one to bitch about formats but I am not having that thing on my computer. Anybody got any straight mp3 links?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:22 PM on October 6, 2009

I was in his drumming ensemble at Brown University, thanks for reminding me of this wonderful man.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:50 PM on October 6, 2009

WFMU has a blog entry about the postal worker song here. Here's an mp3. Great post. I'm looking forward to checking out all of the recordings.
posted by dosterm at 10:55 PM on October 6, 2009

Here you go.
posted by arto at 10:56 PM on October 6, 2009

i'd love to check this out, but realplayer? goddamn

They played fine in VLC. Try it.
posted by spaghettification at 10:56 PM on October 6, 2009

I could not open them with itunes or vlc. Any tips?
posted by dirty lies at 11:43 PM on October 6, 2009

VLC worked for me too.

My mate at work is from Ghana. His grandmother died earlier this week and of course, return tickets to Ghana at short notice are hard to come by. I dunno if this would cheer him up or make things worse...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:54 AM on October 7, 2009

His first love was the trumpet, on which he was quite classically skilled. He was particularly fond of the African High Life style, that was built around abandoned British brass band instruments that were played more like drums, with a notable lack of any classical technique whatsoever.

He championed this music with a twinkle in his eye that was mischievous, transgressive, but mostly delighted.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:08 AM on October 7, 2009

Nice work all round! (Except the RealPlayer aspect; I can only assume they didn't know any better).

Top tunes!
posted by asok at 1:32 AM on October 7, 2009

I had the postal workers recording as part of a listening lab when I took an ethnomusicology class in 1987. Really cool stuff. Part of the reason for the compelling sound is that stamping and whistling are in differing time signatures. The scissors are being used to mimic a traditional instrument (name escapes me) which was an iron ring worn on one finger and an iron bell worn on the thumb.

My professor was also an African music specialist and in particular loved the kora - cool stuff.
posted by plinth at 3:20 AM on October 7, 2009

I am excited to listen to this when I get home!
posted by molecicco at 3:33 AM on October 7, 2009

Excellent post, I am enjoying the music very much.

For those unafraid of the cli, here is a simple way to download the files from the streams.
posted by idiopath at 6:25 AM on October 7, 2009

Kattulus, I officially Love You Now.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:36 AM on October 7, 2009

Having already skimmed the thread, noting much excitement, I still was unprepared for the EXCELLENCE of postal workers. Can't wait to get to the rest.
posted by krilli at 7:02 AM on October 7, 2009

also: vlc can open rtsp, and is worth having anyway. And is way better than realplayer (not that being better than realplayer is difficult).
posted by idiopath at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2009

Right, here we are: "With Kleeman's permission, panelist Roderic Knight took Koetting's notes from the conference and edited the paper for publication in Ethnomusicology, Winter 1986."

Roderic Knight was my ehtnomusicology professor. Here is an interesting paper (PDF) about how African ethnomusicology grew in UCLA.

Searching here, I found the instrument I referred to earlier, the frikyiwa (free-chee-wa), which can be mimicked with a pair of metal scissors.
posted by plinth at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2009

I remember being blown away by the postal workers in an ethnomusicology class, too! It's like you find out there's actually other kids at school that also like that underground band named "Slayer" that you discovered.

I wonder if the other field recordings I heard in that class are standard, too. Mournful Bosnian highland singers, anyone?
posted by ignignokt at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2009

Mournful Bosnian highland singers, anyone?

We got the piercing Bulgarians instead. Put 'em on with a good pair of headphones and they'll clear your sinuses right out.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:13 PM on October 7, 2009

Finally got this working (OS X, Safari). I had to open RealOne Player first and then copy and paste the link into 'Open location'. Well worth the esquivalience.
posted by tellurian at 6:55 PM on October 7, 2009

This doesn't actually require realplayer, but it uses the RTSP protocol to deliver a mp3 file (judging from the URLs). If you want to save the files and have VLC, you can do:

% vlc -vvv rtsp://

This is just another ass-backwards move by a library trying to keep control over its collections while simultaneously looking good by opening them to the public.
posted by beerbajay at 4:45 AM on October 8, 2009

If anybody wants to bulk download the mp3's, I made a list of the RTSP URLs. It's available here. For anybody interested, the python script I used to do this is here.
posted by beerbajay at 5:55 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that vlc command I listed above is wrong. This should be better, though I've not tested it:
vlc --demux dump --demuxdump-file savehere.mp3 rtsp://sourceURL
posted by beerbajay at 6:00 AM on October 8, 2009

Woops! To clarify, the python script was only for extracting the URL listing, NOT for downloading the files.
posted by beerbajay at 8:53 AM on October 8, 2009

We got the piercing Bulgarians instead. Put 'em on with a good pair of headphones and they'll clear your sinuses right out.

I kind of like audio punishment like that once in a while! And this seems more interesting than synthesized experimental music. I'll look some up next time I'm in the mood.
posted by ignignokt at 3:28 PM on October 8, 2009

You might try updating your vlc if it won't play Real stuff.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:42 PM on October 8, 2009

For similar, although somewhat unacademic, field recordings in Mauritania and Mali, see sahelsounds (self link).
posted by iamck at 9:31 AM on October 9, 2009

I ended up writing a script[1] to bulk download these things. It requires a few extra python packages, particularly simplejson[2] and mutagen[3], in addition to command-line VLC. The script should correctly tag things with id3 tags, but I've only run it on the first 16 tracks, so there's no telling if it'll run into errors or not. When VLC is invoked, it must play through the entire track in order to download it, so it takes the same amount of time to download as it would to listen. Some of the tracks are 30 minutes. If you interrupt a download, delete the last downloaded file otherwise the script will just skip over it when you run it again and it'll be incomplete.

I might put up a torrent when my batch is done downloading.

posted by beerbajay at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

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