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Thursday, April 11 • 3:45pm - 5:45pm
The Death and Afterlife of Music Collections

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  • Oliver Wang – “You Can’t Take It With You (Can You?): The Afterlife of Music Collections”
Like other forms of collectible objects, records may have considerable emotional and financial value to the collector but they can pose challenges for heirs and estates that have little interest in preserving those collections after the passing of the collector her/himself. This paper explores the myriad ways in which both various parties plan for and/or deal with these realities, drawing upon interviews with record dealers, estate attorneys, and record collectors and their survivors. Partly, this papers addresses the logistics of dispensing with collections and the decision-making around “fairness” that may arise amongst friends/peers who feel entitled to its remnants. Partly, it addresses the idea of collections as emotional repositories and what it means, symbolically, for survivors to deaccession objects that held great meaning to the collector but little to themselves.

  • Ali Colleen Neff – “A Digital Afterlife: Social Networking Sites and the Music Archives of West Africa”
The materials that preserve, mark and commemorate global communities of musical practice—that write sounds, scenes, styles into global musical consciousness—collect in vastly different form the world over. While all of these media are meant for circulation, some of these forms are more static; shelvable, while others elude conventional forms of archiving.

For the young people of urban Dakar, Senegal, popular music takes the form of Sufi praise songs (zikr); these carry through mobile soundsystems that fill the urban streets, sandwich between the latest mbalax pop songs at the club, and bind the devoted to their faith through ecstatic processes of amplification and reverberation. They are not bought or sold, but instead come in the form of cell-phone field recordings, collected during Sufi ceremonies and kept on mobile memory cards that are, in turn, exchanged and copied by groups of friends over afternoon tea.

Every Senegalese cellular customer is amassing an extensive digital archive in her pocket; in each kilobyte, the substance of devotion, of belief, and of grace: a principle called zahir across Islamic tradition. In Senegal, a masterful praise singer is known by her ability to harness zahir to produce a direct sonic path to Allah for her listeners. This public communion carries over into the private and personal realms, as devotees relive and extend their religious experience through their home speakers.

In this piece, I draw from my extensive ethnographic fieldwork with woman Sufi praise singer Sokhna Khady Ba, who died suddenly in 2015. Her musical presence—a voice that she inherited as a traditional griotte praise singer and developed through a series of encounters with the saints in her dreams—has persisted after her death in the form of innumerable digital recordings. Since her death, hundreds of field recordings of her zikr have appeared online, digitally reviving the power of her spiritual presence. The ownership of this Sufi sound is collective; the archive is alive; the sound and song is available to all anywhere, at any time, without cost.

  • Joe Schloss – “See Here How Everything Lead Up To This Day’: On Throwing Away My Dead Tapes”
In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, it was common for devotees of the Grateful Dead scene to amass huge collections of live concert recordings on cassette tape. Over the last fifteen years, the rise of digital media has made all of these recordings easily available in much higher quality online, thus rendering thousands of obsessively curated tape collections effectively worthless.

Deciding whether or not to keep an object necessarily includes an assessment of its value, which in turn requires both a set of standards and a set of criteria for evaluating the object with regard to those standards. The process of discarding a music collection thus provides a unique opportunity to unpack a set of cultural principles, including principles that collectors themselves may not even be consciously aware of.

Among other things, the evaluation of a Grateful Dead tape collection in this way can provide particular insight into the conceptual relationship between two different understandings of live music recordings: the recording as a self-contained artistic object that is authored by musicians; and the recording as an incomplete document of a shared experience that is authored collaboratively by a community. What are the cultural and economic implications of these two views? What is their relationship to each other? What social processes produce them, and what social processes do they facilitate?

  • Allen Thayer – “The Resurrection of a Failed Salvation: Tim Maia's Rational Reevaluation”
At the height of Tim Maia’s (Brazil’s answer to James Brown with the appetites of Barry White) soaring fame he joined a radical, extraterrestrial-obsessed cult and created two-plus albums of some of Brazil’s - and the globe’s - best funk and soul music. After parting ways with Rational Culture in 1975, Tim rarely spoke about his time or the music he created during those years and the two volumes of independently released cult funk were lost to obscurity.

Obsessive and enterprising vinyl dealers in São Paulo started ripping and selling CD-R’s of rare and out-of-print albums and in this process Tim Maia’s two cult records starting to see a new life as a new generation of Brazilians who grew up on Tim’s hits discovered these mysterious and beautiful albums. After lingering in obscurity for decades, by 2007, Tim Maia Racional Vol. 1 & 2 were both included on Rolling Stone Brasil’s list of 100 Greatest Brazilian Music Albums, the first landing at #17, higher than any other album of Tim’s and the second at #49.

Tim Maia did everything in his power to ensure the death of Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1 & 2, a brief period of his musical career that he considered embarrassing and regrettable. Just before he died, these recordings were reborn, given a new life and cultural meaning by a new generation of musicians and music fans.

Allen Thayer, author of the recently published volume in the 33 ⅓ series, Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1 & 2, will explore the unusual path these albums took from rejection and obscurity to recognition and appreciation by Brazilian music fans and how music collectors, singers, beat-makers and MCs drove this process.


Dwandalyn Reece

​​​​Dwan Reece is Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  She curated the museum’s permanent music exhibition, Musical Crossroads, and co-curated the 3-day grand opening  music festival, Freedom... Read More →


Oliver Wang

BioOliver Wang is a professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach and the author of Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews of the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the former editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He produces and co-hosts the music appreciation podcast... Read More →

Ali Colleen Neff

BioAli Colleen Neff is a music writer, filmmaker, turntablist and media anthropologist based in Portland. Drawing from her lifelong work with global music communities, she works to integrate innovative subcultures, women, and marginalized communities into the global digital landscape... Read More →

Joe Schloss

BioJoe Schloss is an interdisciplinary scholar who studies the way people use music and dance to develop new perspectives on social, cultural and political issues. His books include Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls and Hip-Hop Culture in New York (Oxford University Press: 2009), and Making... Read More →

Allen Thayer

BioAllen Thayer is a music journalist and radio host (KMHD) who lives in Portland, OR. Allen is a senior writer and associate editor for Wax Poetics his writing has been published in The Fader, The Utne Reader as well as liner-notes for releases on Light In the Attic, BBE, and Luaka... Read More →

Thursday April 11, 2019 3:45pm - 5:45pm
Learning Labs

Attendees (15)