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Sample Track 1:
"Kouco Solo" from West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music
Sample Track 2:
"Djongo" from Burkina Faso: Savannah Rhythms
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Burkina Faso: Savannah Rhythms
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West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music
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Nonesuch Explorer Series (Nonesuch Records) View Additional Info

Tribal Music, a Copper Phonograph, and a Space Ship

The Past and Future of the Nonesuch Explorer Series

There is a copper phonograph record floating in outer space. The record contains musical excerpts of Javanese Court Gamelan, Japanese shakuhachi, and Bulgarian songs from the Nonesuch Explorer Series. The record, which was shipped into outer space by NASA in 1977 in an aluminum container aboard a Voyager spacecraft, is expected to last over a billion years. The real breakthrough for the Explorer Series was not its inclusion in this seemingly-infinite gesture for posterity, but the new standard it set for presenting the globe's music to American audiences in terms of recording quality, written documentation, repertoire, and even cover artwork. This all at a time when much of this music had not been heard outside of its immediate surroundings.

In 1972, David Lewiston (the producer of over a dozen of the Explorer releases from Asia, the Middle East, and the Latin America) told The New York Times, "It's only recently that it's been feasible to make really decent recordings in the field. In the thirties they would have to take record cutting machines out into the fields and very often the equipment would fail. I take two pairs of microphones, 20 hours of recording tape, camera and film. This with a change of clothes amounts to 70 pounds, much better than the previous 200 pounds people had to carry." Newly available equipment was not the only factor that spawned the Explorer Series.

The first of the recordings of the Nonesuch Explorer Series was released on vinyl in 1967. It was a time when Elektra Records had become successful with releases by folksingers Theodore Bikel, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton. Elektra founder Jac Holzman started Nonesuch in 1964 to delve into the realm of classical music, licensing works produced in Europe. Teresa Sterne, a classical concert pianist who appeared as a child soloist with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, began as coordinator for the new label. She applied the same high standards she set for classical recordings to the emerging international offshoot. Peter K. Siegel - a , a young record producer, engineer, and banjo player who had done field work in Indiana and Kentucky and had produced several old-time and Irish recordings, was engaged in several production tasks for Nonesuch's International Series, recordings licensed from Europe which set the groundwork for the Explorer Series. Siegel had just returned from the Bahamas where he and fellow musician/producer Jody Stecher recorded Brucie Green, Joseph Spence, and Frederick McQueen.

It was a moment in time when the scholarship of classical recordings had reached a new high point and American music fans were interested in exploring roots music. Sterne and Siegel were aided in the quest for outstanding material by a number of leading ethnomusicologists and field specialists including Paul Berliner, Joe Boyd, Robert E. Brown, Giuseppe Coter, David Fanshawe, Robert Garfias, Peter ten Hoopen, Stephen Jay, Martin Koenig, Ethel Raim, John Storm Roberts, and Laxmi Tewari. Siegel made a conscious effort to combine high quality recordings of traditional music with accessible, comprehensive liner notes. Sterne monitored and ensured the quality of the record pressing, packaging, and artwork.

When David Lewiston returned from Bali with "Music from the Morning of the World," Sterne felt they were entering uncharted waters and decided to give the series a new name and identity. For the first time, Nonesuch and a handful of record labels were according non-western classical music the attention and respect already granted to musics of the Wwestern tradition. This was occurring at a time when many indigenous cultures were disappearing or adapting their music rapidly to outside influences heard on radio and records. Documentation of the music and its cultural context were was essential, and photos of the performers and locale were encouraged. Recordings were to be the optimum obtainable.

As President Jimmy Carter put it, on the copper record launched into space by NASA, "This is a present from a small distant world. This record represents our hope, our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe." Now available on CD.

Beginning in August of 2002, Nonesuch will start the process of issuing the entire series on compact disc in batches by global region. The revival of the series begins in August 2002 with thirteen volumes of African music. It will be followed in January 2003 with ten titles of music from Indonesia and the South Pacific. Subsequent releases will group titles music from Tibet/Kashmir, Latin America/Caribbean, East Asia, Central Asia, Europe, and India.

Additional Info
Tribal Music, a Copper Phonograph, and a Space ShipThe Past and ...
Nonesuch Reissues Landmark Explorer Series on Compact ...

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