1492 – Always Coming Home: A sonic journey from Kesh (2020)

Some of the Places and Peoples Known to the Kesh, 1985 © Ursula K. Le Guin. Courtesy of Curtis Brown, Ltd

I finally realized that if I was ever going to find any words in which I could tell stories about my world, if I was ever going to approach the center of the world in my writing, I was going to have to take lessons from the people who lived there, who had always lived there, the people who were the land—the old ones, the first ones, trees, rocks, animals, human people. I was going to have to be very quiet, and learn to listen to them. (Le Guin, 1988/2019: 751)

Music and poetry of the Kesh by Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton was released on bandcamp in 2018

Music and Poetry of the Kesh is the documentation of an invented Pacific Coast peoples from a far distant time, and the soundtrack of famed science fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home. In the novel, the story of Stone Telling, a young woman of the Ksh, is woven within a larger anthropological folklore and fantasy. (from bandcamp)

The ways of the Kesh were originally presented in 1985 as a five hundred plus page book accompanied with illustrations of instruments and tools, maps, a glossary of terms, recipes, poems, an alphabet (Le Guin’s conlang, so she could write non-English lyrics), and with early editions, a cassette of “field recordings” and indigenous song. Le Guin wanted to hear the people she’d imagined; she embarked on an elaborate process with her friend Todd Barton to invoke their spirit and tradition.

Always coming home is a musical feature by NTS radio with words words by Andrea Zarza Canova, various field recordings and a tracklist based on the above and the book by Ursula K LeGuin Always coming home. Original is here

Upon reading Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, one feels as though entering an anthropological museum filled with artefacts from a past civilization; we can discover maps charting where the Kesh lived, drawings and descriptions of the plants, trees and rivers that surrounded them; collections of recipes and descriptions of how they dressed; detailed notes explaining their society, kinship, sexuality, medicine and funerary rites; folk tales, plays, poems, stories and descriptions of rites and rituals, with detailed descriptions of what their instruments looked and sounded like.

Pandora is the archaeologist, historian and anthropologist who describes the Kesh in this ethnographic account of a non-existent civilization. For both us readers and Pandora, also referred to as the Editor, the Kesh exist in the future, in a post-apocalyptic California. A note at the beginning of the book makes us aware of this with a complex use of verbal tenses—“The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California”. This note is one of the few occasions where we hear Le Guin’s voice, for Always Coming Home is instead a patchwork of Kesh voices that come to life through poems, songs, storytelling, oral histories and a novel, collected or recounted by the narrator Pandora. (fragment from text by Andrea Zarza Canova)

1475 – Ghostophonia album by Makunouchi Bento & Silent Strike via Bela Bartok (2020)

In some ways the earth has become more hospitable to the long gone extinct ones than to the ones whose very lives are at stake in the here and the now.

On the surface, and according to the current ethno political fad, ghosts across Eastern Europe and elsewhere, ghosts of time gone by, of golden ages spent in plenty or carelessness are welcome, even as environmental and economic streams of refugees are being rapidly turned into ghosts themselves.

Ghostophonia 2020 album by Makunouchi Bento and Silent Strike arrives to wade these murky waters and to temporarily salvage, sing along and wreak creative digital havoc with early recordings made by pioneering ethno musicologist and Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.

In what was then known as comparative musicology, Bartok sampled local songs, various chants, vocalizing lost feelings into a strenuous stream of forlorn audio artifacts.

Somehow these impossible, non retrievable affects found their way onto audio wax cylinders, while he traveled across the region of Banat, Slovakia and elsewhere in the early first half of the XX c.

Never monotonous, in spite of their ancestral sound material, these insistent analogue hosts are not really your Casper the Friendly Ghosts type. Ghostophonia does not reek of nostalgia or of remastered folklore, but seems to cherish all types of analogue ghosting equally. From wax cylinders to magnetic tapes, cassette effects and digital emulators, recognizable or not, they all offer hospitable matter to the ear.

Suffering from various bouts of welcome amnesia, lacunae and willful silliness, Ghostophonia traverses the whole audible history of our lifetimes.

As the very first sound recordings ever made, they are plagued by mediumatic break downs, by parasitic hiss, by unintentional disturbances that are part and body of the recording, weaving all frequencies together. Hauntology is past its prime some say, a ghost of a ghost, but it is also a permanent feature that thrives in the current climate of replay retromanias and future past gone viral.

The ability of any material, be it stone or wax, and of any disturbance to repeat itself and reverberate all around keeps reasserting itself.

In his last book, The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher takes the Nigel Kneale’s 1972 Stone Tape as a central example of why it is impossible to separate, or to say who plays who. These amorphous reverberations are played by a sensitive Human Central Nervous Systems as well as the walls and the floors of some old building.

Once the first layer is deleted there is always deeper and more disturbing layers triggering further replays.

Ghostophonia retrieves accidental analogue troubles and finally settles as an ubiquitous enlivened visitor ghost-guest house. The title actually plays on Goşti – guests – a Banat regionalism found in a wide range of slav or Church slavonic languages.

Ghostophonia will be one of the albums of the year because it eschews high cultural fidelity and still stays true to its source material. This album was born as a live concert in Timisoara in 2019 and was released in 2020 on bandcamp right here