Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics 1918-1955
Dust to Digital
The cover for Black Mirror is an image of that most tenuous and fragile substance, shellac, as a reflective surface. Drawn from the turn-of-the-century 78 rpm collection of modern Renaissance man Ian Nagoski (who runs a Baltimore record store, was a prime mover behind influential '90s magazine Halana, and is also a minimalist musician), that same substance captured some of mankind's earliest forays into documenting our sounds. Though this set culls music from around the world, it's thankfully neither a world history nor geography lesson.
Sure, the 24 selections could get filed under "world music," but it's of that dark, weird, tacky strain. (The descendants of these tracks might be captured in Alan Bishop's head-swimming Sublime Frequencies imprint.) Alighting everywhere from Britannia to Bali, the comp casually erases time zones, eras, and latitudes, yet never feels willfully eclectic.
Perhaps there's very little to musically connect China's Zhehongyi to Nendi Zhaoguan and Ireland's Patrick J. Touhey or the Representatives of the Democratic Youth of Indonesia to Sweden's Christer Falkenstrom, but still, exchanges can nevertheless be gleaned. The breakneck orchestral beats of Gong Belaloewana Bali and the unknown Burmese musicians on closer "Yein Pwe" still sound audacious today, as do the cacophony of Thailand's Thewaprasit Ensemble and the pneumatic bagpipes from Pipe Major Forsyth.
Clocking in at 78 minutes, this world still feels shockingly small. Being comprehensive is not the aim here, as only portions of a gamelan set and the finale from odd Lemkos musical theater are represented. Yet for those who travel the globe and only hear strains of Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, and (strangely enough) Cake, Black Mirror will be a crucial reminder of that old, weird world still teeming under our feet.