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The Sound World of Bosavi

©Steven Feld

This short resource guide is meant as an additional “conversation starter” to the liner note texts in my CD publications. My concern here is to provide information and discussion ideas for classroom use. If you are a teacher or student interested in further dialogue about these recordings, or have any specific questions about them, please me.

From Ethnomusicology to Echo-muse-ecology: Presentation at The Tuning of The World Conference
Thoughts on Recording Soundscapes: Interview with Carlos Palombini
Published Recordings
Linking Publications to Recordings


Since 1976 I have been visiting and recording in the tropical rainforests and Kaluli communities of Bosavi, in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I have made about 150 hours of recordings; the originals of most are held at the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, with copies held by the Music Department of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies and by me.

The recordings of human sound expressions were recorded in ritual contexts, as well as everyday contexts. Very few of the recordings are “staged” in the sense of being isolated requests, or performances for just the tape recorder. Most all of them are in natural settings, in a longhouse, on the trail, by creeks, in gardens, and other forest locales. Typically my concern was with the sounds of people doing what they just happened to be doing; my presence with the tape recorder was often a catalyst, but it was rarely the sole reason for the burst of sound and song I was there witnessing. Wearing my recorder and headphones for lengthy periods of time simply made them part of my clothing, and recording and talking about recordings everyday became a very simple and straightforward aspect of my presence. This is no doubt why one of my Bosavi nicknames is “sound always putting-in (man).”

Among these recordings are over 1000 songs, almost all of them transcribed and translated in Bosavi with local consultants (in many cases the singers and composers). But song hardly exhausts the subject of the recordings. Indeed, on virtually every song recording in the forest there is also crying, yelling, talking, playing, and a great variety of other vocal sounds. There are also the sounds of tools, of work instruments and activities, of people moving about, eating, passing things to one another, and interacting with one another and with me. And there are the sounds of waterways, birds, insects, and all the presences of the forest environment. I never made any attempt to isolate these things from “music performance.” Indeed, what is most common to all of the recordings is how much is going on between people, between vocal and instrumental sounds, between human sounds and sounds of the environment. In this sense, every recording I have ever made, whatever its main purpose or focus, is a soundscape recording, a recording of a sound environment, an index of participation in an acoustic ecology.

A complete listing of all the published sound materials from these trips is appended at the end of this essay. Along with it I make suggestions for how to coordinate the recordings with some of my publications. The rest of this publication will be devoted to an essay and an interview, both full of ideas about how to listen to Voices of the Rainforest, a CD I recorded and edited with production support from Mickey Hart for his World Series on Rykodisc in 1991; Rainforest Soundwalks, an all ambient follow-up produced for EarthEar in 2001; and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea, a 3CD retrospective anthology of the first 25 years of my recording history in Bosavi. (In case you’re wondering, author royalties from all of these recordings benefit the Bosavi People’s Fund, a foundation I started in 1991 to aid with locally initiated development projects in the Bosavi region, and also benefit the Music Department of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.)

To begin, here is a good companion piece for all of my sound recording work, indicating my concerns with sonic ecology and recording the anthropology of sounds in Bosavi. This little essay is revised and expanded from one of the same title that was originally published in The Soundscape Newsletter, Number 8, June, 1994, and later posted on several websites. It originated as a talk-slide-audio presentation I gave to an audience of soundscape artists, radio producers, sound recordists, acoustic ecologists, and a few scattered academics, at The Tuning of the World Conference on Acoustic Ecology, held at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff, Canada, in August 1993. The conference was also a 60th birthday party and tribute to R. Murray Schafer, and I was most pleased to present these words and sounds in his presence. When spoken and written the piece made reference to Voices of the Rainforest and especially to the interplay of voice, water, and crickets on it’s 6th track, where Ulahi sings three songs at a creek. I have updated the piece here to also make reference to Rainforest Soundwalks and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea.]

From Ethnomusicology to Echo-Muse-Ecology:
Reading R. Murray Schafer in the New Guinea Rainforest

What role can an anthropological voice have in this large mix we're calling acoustic ecology and soundscape studies? How is this voice complementary to, yet distinct from, other voices we’ve been hearing from at the conference- from history, acoustics, performance, design, psychology, geography, musicology, composition, architecture, philosophy, or communications?

One way to answer is with the simple observation that anthropologists tend toward the Kantian view that all knowledge begins in experience. We jump off that cliff to study how human experiential patterns and practices construct the habits, systems of belief, knowledge, and action we call culture. And we study it everywhere and anywhere we can. Our ultimate concern is with people, with adequately and evocatively representing their experiential worlds, their voices, and their humanity. To take up that concern the anthropological project basically must ask, what could it possibly be like to be - to feel, sense, imagine, act, become - another kind of person? A full answer, of course, is impossible. We cannot become another. But the challenge of getting close or at least closer, of glimpsing, hearing, touching other realities, is thoroughly compelling to us.

Another way to say it is that what turns us on is human complexity and diversity, and we celebrate and document it all, from beauty and hope to horror and despair. In fact we tend to do this in far more detail and with far more obsession than the general public cares to know about. We justify what others perceive as our excess by claiming, simply, that there is too much we don't know about the sources and varieties of human difference. But deep down we hope that by writing and circulating peoples' histories, by giving their voices places to speak and shout and sing from, we in some measure combat and counter the longstanding arrogance of colonial and imperial authority, of history written in one language, as one truthful narrative. Anthropology, and particularly long term ethnography of the kind I practice, is best understood as a disruption of monologic history. It is a way of talking back, as a way of giving voice to those people and places who have been denied history, legitimacy, validity, authority, power, equity.

Let me now position myself a bit more in this story. In the intense climate of race and war politics of the late 1960's I found myself, as an undergraduate, moving from being a musician to wanting to be an anthropologist. I soon found out that there was a kind of hybrid field; a few of its practitioners called it anthropology of music, but most of its active participants called themselves ethnomusicologists. I took up the study of this field of ethnomusicology in earnest in graduate school, only to find, with disappointment, that a great deal of it mimicked the study of western art musics, replacing western history with a remote ahistorical exotic. Ethnomusicology often seemed very much about doing to "others" what had already been done to "us". So, for example, it replaced time -periods of western music history- with space -regions of geographically defined others. It presumed western music theory could translate and definitively explain other musical materials and concepts. It focused on reified categories and things, like pieces, instruments, texts, and composers, and otherwise took music as a universal given. It valued the same things elsewhere that it valued in Europe: virtuosity, melodic and rhythmic complexity, and technical sophistication. And predictably, explorers in this field were after discovering and preserving stunning new finds, like their musicological counterparts were after discovering and preserving stunning old manuscripts.

Little of this was intellectually exciting to me, so I spent most of my time in graduate school training as a linguist, figuring that the anthropological study of languages and oral traditions was far less shadowed by such big aesthetic and political agendas. When it came time to do a dissertation fieldwork project on some aspect of language and music, I abandoned the usual framework and, perhaps rudely, called my project by a deliberate counter term: the anthropology of sound, or, the ethnography of sound as a cultural system. I wanted to study ways sound and sounding link environment, language, and musical experience and expression. I took up a simple hypothesis, one I'd heard years before, from my undergraduate teacher Colin Turnbull, whose own rainforest work in central Africa was a great inspiration. Namely: rainforest environments might be the places where humans developed the most acute levels of acoustic adaptation. I headed for the rainforests of south central Papua New Guinea, about as remote and different a place as I could possibly try to experience and know. My questions were all about the ways rainforest ecology and sounds mediated the linguistic and musical knowledge and practices of forest people.

In Papua New Guinea I lived through 1976-7 with the Kaluli people of Bosavi, on the Great Papuan Plateau. For most of this first period of research I worked in collaboration with another ethnographer, Edward L. Schieffelin (see his book The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers, 1976, St. Martin's Press, for a study of Kaluli rituals and ceremonialism), and another linguist, Bambi B. Schieffelin (see her book The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children, 1990, Cambridge University Press, for a study of how Kaluli children acquire language and culture). My focus was on ritualized vocal expression, principally Kaluli women's funerary sung weeping and Kaluli men's ceremonial poetic songs that brought audience members to tears. As I learned about the symbolism of the weeping and singing voice, and the ways they are related, I was taught about their intimate connection to rainforest birds. This is because birds, for Kaluli as with most Melanesians, are spirits, and spirit voices, whether in talk or cries or song, are reflected in bird sounds. Ritual weeping and song recall and evoke the presence of spirits, and are understood as expressions of sadness embodied in being a bird. This sadness makes a listener cry like a bird, completing a symbolic and emotional circle.

In this and other ways I learned how the ecology of certain natural sounds is central to a local musical ecology, and how this musical ecology is mapped onto the rainforest environment. Songs and weeping recall and announce spirits; moreover, their texts, sung in a poetry called "bird sound words", sequentially name places and co-occurring environmental features of vegetation, light and sound. Songs become what Kaluli call a "path", namely a series of place-names that link the cartography of the rainforest to the movement of its past and present inhabitants. These song paths are also linked to the spirit world of birds, whose flight patterns weave through trails and water courses, connecting a spirit cosmology above to local histories on the ground.

I analyzed these sorts of issues to write an ethnography of sound, Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression, 1982, University of Pennsylvania Press; expanded second edition, l990). The book concerns the Kaluli world of birds, myth, and cosmology and how they are united with poetry, song and lament. My interpretation showed how Bosavi birds turn into Kaluli singers and weepers, how Kaluli singers and weepers turn into Bosavi birds, and how all of this is a local ecology of "voices in the forest".

It wasn't until the early 1980's, when most of this research and writing was initially done, that I encountered R. Murray Schafer's The Tuning of the World (1977, Knopf) and the 1970s publications of the World Soundscape Project. I was teaching courses on sound at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and I found these publications very exciting. They opened new windows into a familiar world, making it possible to rethink Sound and Sentiment from the standpoints of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies.

While I did not like Schafer’s technophobia, his evolutionism, and his overly McLuhan and Ong type ideas about sound’s opposition to vision, his work did deeply appeal to me in many other ways. First among them was his emphasis on sounds of the everyday world. While I had made a great deal of recordings of sounds of everyday life and had attended to the daily soundscape during my first fieldwork, I did end up writing about the ritual sound system. I knew I needed to get back to the larger picture, to everyday hearing, to the world of sound that wasn’t limited to ritual specialists. The irony was that while my academic writing was about this ritual sound world, my first LP, Music of the Kaluli, in 1982, contained many recordings focusing on the sounds of everyday life in the forest. So I took some of the World Soundscape Project’s publications with me to the Bosavi rainforest during my field trips in the 1982 and 1984-5, and reading Schafer's suggestion that people "echo the soundscape in language and music" I got a fresh take on the anthropology of sound, one that more meaningfully transformed me from a reluctant and contrarian ethnomusicologist, into an enthusiastic echo-muse-ecologist. This was the origin of my 1983 half-hour NPR soundscape program “Voices in the Forest,” (now re-edited as track 10 of CD II, Sounds and Songs of Everyday Life, in the Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea package. Also on that CD are re-editions of some of the recordings from the Music of the Kaluli LP; listen especially to tracks 1-6, 8).

One of the things the Schafer writings helped me do was focus on why I never liked the term “ethnomusicology.” "Ethno" always implies otherness. "Echo" is a much more appealing substitute, because it is about presence, about reverberant pasts in the present, presents in the past. And this helped me concentrate on how sound is memory, here as everywhere. From there I began to explore how the Kaluli soundscape, from its bird calls to its song paths of forest place-names, is always about memory, about absence and presence, about how in the forest sound reveals what vision conceals. The ephemeral power of sound is always significant in the forest, where time and space and seasons are so tellingly indicated by the transforming mix in the foreground and background sounds.

Indeed, this is beautifully enunciated even in the local Kaluli idea for "echo", indicated by the mimetic compound "gugu-gawgaw." "Gu" is downward moving sound; by duplication "gugu" marks the action as continuous. "Gaw" is outward moving sound; "gawgaw" likewise marks continuity. So the ambiguous auditory melange of continuous downward and outward moving sound is what is heard and instantly felt as "echo". This is brilliantly precise. In the forest one easily confuses the height and depth of sound, particularly in the absence of visual cues. In this place "echo" means that upwards sounds like outwards. The phonesthesia (phonetic synaesthesia) of Kaluli vowels trace movement this way, becoming one with what they sound like in both everyday language and song poetry.

The motion from music-ology to muse-ecology was equally obvious, for the important thing in Bosavi wasn't "pieces" or "forms" of music in isolation, but rather the constant interplay of inspiration, imitation, and incorporation that linked the forest flow of natural and human sound expressions. A way of hearing the world comes from interacting with it, but it also has to do with appreciating it, imagining it as one's very own. Linking forest birds and places to voices and experiences was more a search for "patterns that connect", Gregory Bateson's notion in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972, Ballentine), than it was the "sciencing about music" my teacher Alan Merriam advocated in his book The Anthropology of Music (1964, Northwestern University Press).

Exploring Kaluli echo-muse-ecology in the Bosavi rainforests lead me to realize that what I was trying to understand all along was that the language and music of nature are intimately connected with the nature of language and music. Shifting from the realm of ritual performances to that of everyday experience and expression I learned that sounds are heard as time of day, season of year, vegetation cycles, migratory patterns, forest heights and depths. Place resounds as a fused human locus of space and time. Local acoustic ecology can thus be considered a kind of aesthetic adaptation, a naturalization of place, or, put differently, a pattern of ecological and aesthetic co-evolution.

The most recent extension of these concerns, developed in the field research and recording I did on sounds and senses of place during four research trips to Bosavi in the 1990s, is what I call acoustemology (i.e., acoustic epistemology). This project is about exploring acoustic knowing as a centerpiece of Kaluli experience; how sounding and the sensual, bodily, experiencing of sound is a special kind of knowing, or put differently, how sonic sensibility is basic to experiential truth in the Bosavi forests. Sounds emerge from and are perceptually centered in place, not to mention sung with, to, and about places. Just as "life takes place" so does sound; thus more and more my experiential accounts of the Kaluli sound world have become acoustic studies of how senses make place and places make sense.

Two important keynotes of a Kaluli acoustemology, richly hearable on Voices of the Rainforest, Rainforest Soundwalks as well as many tracks (especially CDs 2 and 3) of the Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea set are, complex local notions translatable only as "lift-up-over sounding", and "flow." The first of these, "lift-up-over sounding" is as potentially omnipresent in the experiences and aesthetics of Kaluli as the notion of "harmony" is in the West. "Lift-up-over sounding", like "harmony", is both a grand metaphor for natural sonic relations, the ways tones combine together in time, as well as for social relations, for people doing things together in concert. In the Kaluli world "lift-up-over sounding" sounds are dense and layered, blended, and forever thinning and thickening. One hears no unison, only a constant figure to ground motion of densities, decays and fades, of overlapping, alternating, and interlocking sounds.

These sounds, whether in the forest, in Kaluli music singing, or in the overlap of the two, are "in-synchrony but out of phase". By this I mean that they are always cohesive, yet always seeming, as well, to be at different points of displacement from a hypothetical unison. Neither a clear-cut polyphony nor heterophony, "lift-up-over sounding" sounds define an acoustic space-time where upward is outward. One sound stands out momentarily, then just as quickly fades into a distance, overlapped or echoed by a new or repeated emergence in the mosaic. This pattern of sounding in the natural environment is the inspiration for many Kaluli vocal and instrumental forms. Likewise it is the pattern of fluid but tense egalitarian social life, where an anarchic synchrony of energy and assertion take prominence over fixed categories, in a social order without political or economic hierarchy.

You can hear many kinds “lift-up-over sounding” as people work together, talk together, and sing together on CD II of Bosavi and equally when you listen to the strictly environmental ambiences on Voices of the Rainforest or Rainforest Soundwalks. A good exercise, one I still do regularly, is to select a track and to concentrate on a single sound through a track of the recording, thinking about how many different relations it enters into with other discrete sounds, or sound layers. When I do this I find that I can hear something new virtually every time I listen to these recordings (and I have listened to them a lot!). This idea of sound-“tracking,” a listening exercise to follow sounds as they move through space and time, always helps me visualize and auralize the notion of sonic ecology. It is a way of focusing on all sounds as particles in niches, as members of interacting groups, as actors in a scene, as characters with acoustic biographies.

One of the ever-present "lift-up-over sounding" sounds of the Bosavi environment, layered as a ground to the remarkable figures of avian life, is the hiss of water (check out the relation of the bird voice to the background sounds on track one of Rainforest Soundwalks). Runoff from Mt. Bosavi, an extinct volcano, crisscrosses the Bosavi lands, turning into numerous rivers, creeks, falls, and streams. Walking means crossing water, yet always hearing it before seeing it. Water carries in and out of visual perceptual immediacy but always has dramatic, though ever-changing, acoustic presence. This carrying power, moving through and connecting lands, is water's "flow". But this "flow" does not only exist in the way water connects what Kaluli call the "thighs" (i.e., saddles) and "body" (i.e., hills) of the land. Water is to land what the voice is to the body. The voice connects the many parts of the body; by resounding in the head and chest, the full body is always present in the "flow" of the voice, just as the connections of land are always present in the "flow" of water.

Water flow also animates much of Kaluli musical imagination, as all waterway terms are also the names for the musical intervals, the segments of song, the patterns of rhythm, and the contours of melody. And composing songs is like getting a "waterfall in your head"; the pool is the melody in motion and the fall the text mixing into the melody to create song. Kaluli compose their songs by creeks or waterfalls, singing with and to them. And the texts of these songs are maps of waterways or trails, viewing them from above as spirit birds might. Additionally, "flow" is also the carrying power of poetic song, the way it stays in memory. A waterway can be continually heard but visually appears, disappears, and reappears when one walks through forest trails. This is its "flow", its path of carrying. Likewise as one hears a song, it disappears quickly from an experiential foreground and reappears through time in memory, reverberating and lingering in sonic traces and fragments, far past and beyond the moment of an immediate experienced performance.

This is how Kaluli songs, like Bosavi waterways, "flow", emerging in the density of a "lift-up-over sounding" soundscape of rainforest acoustic ecology. On the CDs you can hear many kinds of Kaluli "lift-up-over sounding.” They include birds waking a village; women singing, whistling and talking with children as they work to scrape and pound sago; men whooping and singing as they clear a forest garden; bamboo jews harp or vocal duets with cicada rhythms and bird calls; singing with creeks and waterfalls; dusk volleys of frogs and birds overlapped by an evening rainstorm; quartets of in-sync and out of phase drummers; ceremonial singers overlapped by a man who is moved to crying by their song; and the density of night winds, mists, frogs, and insects.

One aesthetic apex of this "lift-up-over sounding" is where it meets with the "flow" of poetic song, indicated on music of CDs 2 and 3 of Bosavi, and well illustrated on a section of Voices of the Rainforest called "Relaxing at the Creek." Here a woman named Ulahi sings three songs, in three different song genres, all with and to the Wolu, a creek situated near her village. Her voice develops a pulsing pattern that densely flows with the sounds of the creek where she sits, and her songs develop different place paths, including one that sings a long succession of places connected to the creek she is singing in. On these selections the performative flow of singing with water and the musicality of singing like water connect deeply to the emplacing poetry of singing about water.

Ulahi is also the featured composer-performer on “Sounds and Songs of Everyday Life,” and her picture, sitting in the Wolu creek on the day we recorded the Voices of the Rainforest songs cited above, appears on the cover of CD 2 of Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. She can heard there singing while working at sago in the sonorous forest with her family, and singing solo and with her co-wife to the sounds of surrounding cicadas and waterways.

Evoking the flowing presence of creek paths, and other features of the forest, Ulahi's songs, like the Wolu creek and other forest places where she sang them, meander and flow through Kaluli lives and memories. These songs link places and suggest that the flow of their names tell stories about events and feelings. Ulahi once told me that every one of her songs (I've recorded about 200 of them since the mid-1970's) was like a pool on a creek. So every Kaluli song swirls, centers, circles in place, then flows on to mingle and merge with places and voices elsewhere. Singing about water, with water, and imagining song as water and vocal flow: here the poetry of place meets the sensuality of soundscape and the singing voice. This is where the "lift-up-over sounding" of Kaluli song "flow" creates an acoustemology of embodied place resounding.

Thoughts on Recording Soundscapes

In summer 2001, a Brazilian sound researcher, Carlos Palombini, emailed me some questions, to provide background material for his review of Rainforest Soundwalks in the electronic journal Leonardo (available via the Rainforest Soundwalks page on EarthEar’s website at I briefly answered Carlos’ questions for that occasion. In what follows below I have taken parts of his questions as springboards to more broadly reflect on soundscape recordings, recording techniques and technology, and the anthropology of sound. The answers respond to the most typical things I am asked about Rainforest Soundwalks, and its relation to my Bosavi research and my other CDs, Voices of the Rainforest (1991, Rykodisc) and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea (2001, Smithsonian Folkways).

Q: The first question concerns your CD title: Rainforest Soundwalks. I was sure, when I requested the CD that its point of view would be that of someone who walks through the forest with a pair of microphones and a portable DAT recorder. That does not seem to be the case. Can you clarify the meaning of "soundwalk?" Does it refer more to what Pierre Schaeffer called the "intention of listening”?

A: As you (and Schaeffer) suggest, my "soundwalks" are not about actual physical walks but about a way of listening. The duration of each piece on Rainforest Soundwalks is not the duration of a physical walk. Nor are they the duration of microphone movement. In contrast to some other kinds of soundscape work that I do and that others do using walking techniques, each of these soundwalks takes place in a singular forest locale at a distinct time of day. Each is really about a way of listening to and at the forest edge during that time.

The soundwalk takes place in my head and body as I listen and record. Each soundwalk is about tuning into the forest at particular times and places with a heightened acoustic vigilance, a kind of patience for scanning with ears, a way of being aurally copresent with the forest, taking in its surrounding gestalt and kaleidoscopic sonic effects. This is something akin to the art of hunting - an art of intense sensory tracking- as often discussed in Native American literature. The soundwalk is really the result of this attention to the surrounding motional sound field.

What you hear in these soundwalks are composites, not just of the layered height and depth, or space and time of the forest, but also of a history of listening --my history of listening and being taught to listen, over 25 years, in Bosavi. That’s why I call this work an "acoustemology", a sonic way of knowing place, a way of attending to hearing, a way of participating and absorbing. Even when physically still the body is doing the moving. And even when they are physically fixed, the microphones are sensing motion. The soundwalk is a densely layered audio image of this experience.

Unlike the more familiar and literal soundwalks that some sound and radio artists do to take listeners into acoustic spaces, these tracks are in no way literal walks through literal spaces over literal durations. Rather, they are metaphorical journeys through what are now for me familiar sonic spaces and times. I try to give you both a sense of what I hear when I am there, and a sense of what I hear when I am not there. In other words, these soundwalks are both hyper-real and surreal. They recreate the intensity of immediate immersion in local experience. And they mix that with a sound dream of what I can recall or tune-in about the sound and my history of sonically knowing the place.

I think that soundscaping is first and foremost acoustic witnessing. The field part of the work is to “be there” in the fullest way. The studio part of the work is to make that original “being there” more repeatable, expandable, sharable, open to new kinds of participation. The idea is to turn my ear-witnessing into an invitation for your ear-witnessing. That’s my deepest desire for these soundwalks.

Q: On first listening, I seemed to discern a logic in Rainforest Soundwalks: from the figure/background contrast of the first track to the incredible symphony of the last one, where every singular component of the rich texture is a soloist in its own right. Is this "correct"? And if so, how would you describe the intermediate stages?

A: Your hearing of the recording is quite consonant with the way I made it and with my hopes for how it might engage a participating listener. In the Bosavi language there is a term, dulugu ganalan that means "lift up over sounding." This is the term for this sound world's spatial and temporal interplay. Out of the textural density of sounds certain "solos" appear only to be registered momentarily and then re-layered into the overall density. The sonic poetry of the forest is here, in this textural density of overlapping, interlocking, and alternating sounds. Each of the audio immersions is meant to indicate a different way that multiple sound sources interact to create this acoustic space that keeps arching up as it moves forward. This is how the forest sound tells the listener the exact hearing position, the time of day, season of year, the orientation of the forest geography. And this is the logic of fleeting “solos” and their swirling motion into large gestalts.

“Lift-up-over sounding” is the aural aesthetic of both the content materials on the CD and my own studio presentation here. I want the recordings to feel as densely layered and interactive and evolving as the way I have come to hear the forest and it inhabitants. I brought this aesthetic to both the recording and editing process of Voices of the Rainforest and Rainforest Soundwalks; it also comes out on a number of the everyday and ritual recordings of CDs 2 and 3 of Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. I think that the best thing I can do, either with two channel recordings, or with studio mixing techniques, or a combination of the two, is to transport the listener into what is distinctive about the Bosavi sound world and the way I have learned to listen to it. Inevitably this means that I must heighten or amplify or bring out certain subtleties and nuances of the ways the forest sounds so that they are more present and available to novice listeners. I have to take this auditory slippage and retune the recordings to bring out their “lift-up-over sounding.” But of course there is nothing new about this; artists in cultures everywhere have been practicing such “selective amplification” of everyday life for centuries.

Q: Could you describe your choice of equipment in less denotative terms than the CD booklet does? What kind of DAT recorder is the Sony D7 and why have you chosen it? What kind of preamp is the Aerco and why use it? What kind of microphones are the AKG 460B, the CK1, and the AKG451EB and why have you chosen them? Why use a Nagra IV-S instead of a digital tape recorder? What is a "X-Y stereo pair"?

A: I used a stereo Nagra (the IV-S) for all the field recordings I made from 1976-1992. Nothing else would hold up in the environment and record as well. It is a superb instrument and I still love everything about it except the preamps, and, of course, the weight! I like analog warmth and know how to work with it to get the full feel of forest humidity and spectral presence. All of CDs 2 and 3 of the Bosavi set were made with the Nagra and 15-25 years after the original recordings they still sound very warm and vibrant and were easy to remaster in the digital domain.

When I recorded Voices of the Rainforest in 1990 I was lucky enough to have Mickey Hart’s customized Nagra IV-S, which had a Bryston Dolby SR frame attached. I think these were some of the first if not the first remote field recordings made with the Dolby SR system. The thing was big and clumsy to take around in the forest but it was worth it. Tracks 2, 3, and 4 of Rainforest Soundwalks were recorded with this gear and I think they sound more like the forest than anything I have ever done. They have that amazing warmth and gentle but precise presence and immediacy that you can really get with analog SR. Everyone loves those tracks for that warmth, and it is really the experimentation I did with the SR that we can thank for them. Part of this is that the SR circuitry made it possible to record very low volume sounds and very subtle interplays (crickets and wind, for example) with no noise.

It was while developing a field system with Mickey that I came upon the AERCO, a custom preamp made by Jerry Chamkis in Austin, Texas. It is amazingly quiet and gives the best phantom power sound that you’ll ever hear. It is quite small, runs on three 9v batteries and accepts XLR cables from the mics. The preamps of the Nagra are good, but I’ve never turned back after hearing how much better the Nagra sounded using the AERCO with phantom powered microphones. I continue to use it with DAT; it makes an enormous difference.

The Sony D7 (later replaced by the D8) is a mini-DAT, a so-called DAT Walkman. It is small and convenient for the forest and runs on 4 AA batteries. I started using these machines in 1992. The string bands on CD I of the Bosavi set were recorded this way; so was the first track of Rainforest Soundwalks. It took me quite a while to adjust to DAT. I still don’t like the hyper-crispness of the high end, the compression, or the overall sound as much as I like analog SR. But with the AERCO and familiar mics I have been able to adapt.

Now that DAT is being phased out, many field recordists have turned to mini-discs. It took me forever to get used to the compression of DAT and I don’t think I could ever get used to the compression of mini-discs. I just hate the sound; it’s worse than MP3. For anything other than pop music it just sounds to me like AM radio played over a telephone. I prefer to stick it out with DAT until the next generation of field recorders becomes available. Nagra will soon introduce the Nagra V, and that will probably be the way to go. It is a 6 lb. (with batteries!) 24 bit digital field recorder that uses removable 2.2 GB hard disks, each capable of recording for more than 2 hours. Knowing Nagra, it will be a super rugged and a wonderful recorder for field and studio. I really look forward to that development.

The main microphones I use are phantom powered AKGs, the field worthy ones with the circuitry of the famous studio AKG 414s. In the 70s and 80s I used the 451EB and CK1 cardioid combination, or sometimes the CK8 hypercardioid. In the 90s I stepped up to their modification, the C60 power modules but continued to use the CK1 cardioid capsules. These mics have always tolerated the high humidity of the forest pretty well for such sensitive instruments (if kept in silica gel, ziplocks and tupperware!) And they have the right characteristics for the vocal, ambient, and instrumental sounds I record. They have a rising response and are very consistent and clear in all mid and upper frequencies. Only recently have I begun to also use a single point stereo microphone, the Shure VP88, which has a MS configuration. The MS (mid-side) is a very nice alternative to X-Y stereo, and you can tune the stereo angle as you go, which is also quite convenient for some kinds of soundscape work.

All the same, I like the sound of X-Y stereo (the microphones cardioid and slightly crossed with overlapping capsules); this seems to produce the most gentle version of a stereo field. Unlike the A-B, ORTF, or binaural stereo recording configurations I’ve tried, X-Y does not overly spatialize the left and right. There is so much sonic ambiguity about space in the forest, and I want the stereo image to register that. X-Y recording techniques also make it possible to record both closeup and far away and to match cut them nicely when editing; examples would be the cutting trees on track 3 of Voices of the Rainforest and the opening garden work track 1 of CD II of Bosavi. I am now finding that it is also possible to get these advantages, but with slightly better spatialization, with the MS configuration.

Although Rainforest Soundwalks principally uses stationary recording techniques, a number of my other recordings do not. One classic approach to recording soundscapes is to listen for where and when multiple sounds are present, how they overlap, and how sounds appear, disappear, or shift from figure to ground, from prominent to ambient. This is a bit like the cinéma-vérité school of documentary filmmaking, where walking with the camera, constantly looking in the viewfinder for the right moment to reframe the action, and editing as one shoots are critical reflex skills.

Likewise, I adjust the angle of sonic inclusiveness on my stereo microphones, and then move around, selecting sonic views and listening for the points of conjunction, overlap, and dispersal of sounds. Various walking techniques and small movements of the hand edit the recording as it is being made. Each segment of tape thus becomes a kind of "shot sequence" (as it is known in film language), a scene whose integrity unfolds and congeals in sonic time. These sequences are later strung together, creating soundscapes that are like film soundtracks, just without the pictures. This was very much the way I made Voices of the Rainforest, and its predecessor, the “Voices in the Forest” radio show, now track 10 on CD II of Bosavi.

On Voices of the Rainforest you can really hear a clear mix of the four key listening techniques associated with soundscape work. These are: (1) standing in place in relation to fixed sound sources; (2) standing in place in relation to moving sound sources; (3) moving in relation to fixed sound sources; (4) moving in relation to moving sound sources. By recording in each of these four ways, and then juxtaposing the differing "sound views" that result, it is possible to edit the sequences to give a sense of place and of action, as well as a sense of the continuous transformation of sound, its dynamic power.

Q: How do you fit “Rainforest Soundwalks” into the context of the Western art music tradition?

A: Rainforest Soundwalks is obviously a very "musical" recording in the sense that it presents both a new field of sounds and is structured to provide a way into listening that can either be narrative or non narrative. It is not a literal kind of program music. But it is also not entirely abstract. It uses editing and compositional arrangement techniques that are very influenced by my studies of electroacoustic music. At the same time, it is also in conversation with other environmental, natural historical, acoustic ecology, and soundscape (radio/performance) recordings (the kinds of artists whose work is represented in the EarthEar catalog, for example). I am trying to reach out, simultaneously, to sound artists, ecologists, anthropologists, soundscape and radio people, and composers of experimental music. I listen often and carefully to work by all of these people, and Rainforest Soundwalks is very much about my conversation with their work, as well as my distinctive way of listening absorbed through years of being in the Bosavi forests.

Another kind of response to this question is to locate soundscape work as a populist and deeply humanist alternative to the high art tradition of subjecting the natural world to all the most abstract headtrips of Western music theory, call it “let’s take it way beyond Messiaen” approach. Or subjecting natural sounds to the techno- bondage and other forms of call it the “live from the Marquis de Sade bedroom” approach. What I mean is that soundscape work --like any kind of really liberating music-- moves you into a place where sound and hearing can really take over, expand your body’s mind and mind’s body. I think the best of soundscape work performs a politics here, a politics of what R. Murray Schafer called “ear-cleaning.” And with it, of course, it performs a poetics of listening, of participation and absorption. For me the best of soundscape work, like the best of any music, creates a new ecology of hearing, and with it a renewed grasp of the sensuous and material power of acoustic presence. I really believe that soundscapes can provoke these acoustemological encounters, and that’s what I’m after in these recordings.

Q: What is the "Anthropology of Sound"?

A: I coined the “anthropology of sound” phrase in some of my publications in the 1970s. Originally it was just my response to what I saw as limiting in the phrase “anthropology of music,” which was the title of a 1964 book by my professor, Alan P. Merriam. My original concern was that ethnomusicologists were artificially separating the patterning of sound called "music" in the West, from the full human and environmental world in sound. I called my work anthropology of sound because I wanted to connect acoustic form to social meaning. Everything I’ve done follows that approach; it is as much concerned with the production of sound (the sources and agents) as the reception of sound (who hears, how it is heard). I simply want the acoustic materiality of sound and its social life to have equal billing, and that’s what you get in the phrase “anthropology of sound.”

The best way to get the full sense of this "anthropology of sound" idea is to juxtapose Rainforest Soundwalks with Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. On the three Bosavi CDs you hear how the forest sounds not only inspire the poetry and acoustic patterns of song, crying, instruments, and so on. You also hear how all the songs and work sounds and ritual and ceremonial sounds transform these forest sound patterns, and how they are performed in concert with them. The music of nature becomes the nature of music; that is what juxtaposing the recordings gets you.

These recordings are an attempt to present this full acoustic ecology of Bosavi, and that has been my passion for 25 years—to present a whole anthropology of and in sound for this community. Rainforest Soundwalks is the foundational recording because it lets you hear the basic tracks, the sonic everyday -- whether high tone bird solos or more unfolding ambiences -- that people listen to throughout their lives. It is through the attentive listening to this world that Bosavi people build their way of singing, their song texts, and so much of their musical lives. Bosavi is really about how much people hear in the world, how much the material on Rainforest Soundwalks has inspired in their creative universe.

Published Recordings of the Sound World of Bosavi

1981 Music of the Kaluli. 12" stereo LP, booklet with map, photographs, descriptive notes; also a cassette (contains no liner materials). Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, IPNGS 001. Out of print; re-edited tracks from this LP appear on discs 2 and 3 of Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea, 2001.

1983 Voices in the Forest. 30 minute audio tape commissioned by and broadcast on National Public Radio in narrated and non-narrated forms; re-broadcast on NPR and Pacifica networks from 1983-1990. Field recordings by Steven Feld; program edited, mixed, and produced by Scott Sinkler and Steven Feld. NPR cassette edition out of print; republished 1988, B side of cassette supplement to Yearbook for Traditional Music, 20. Re-edited 2001 and republished as track 10 on disc 2 of Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea.

1985 The Kaluli of Papua Nugini; Weeping and Song. 12" stereo LP, booklet with map, photographs, descriptive notes in German and English. Music of Oceania, Barenreiter Musicaphon BM 30 SL 2702. Out of print; re-edited tracks from this LP appear on discs 2 and 3 of Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea, 2001.

1987 gisalo, ilib kuwo:, heyalo, iwo:, four tracks originally published on Music of the Kaluli, and The Kaluli of Papua Nugini; Weeping and Song. Cassette, Southern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea Music Collection, 11 cassettes and book edited by Don Niles and Michael Webb. Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, 008.

1988 Example cassette tape to accompany the article "Aesthetics as Iconicity of Style, or, ‘lift-up-over sounding:’ Getting into the Kaluli Groove," Yearbook for Traditional Music, 20. B side contains non-narrated version of the 1983 NPR program Voices in the Forest.

1991 Voices of the Rainforest. CD/cassette, booklet with photos and descriptive notes. The World Series, Producer: Mickey Hart. Rykodisc 10173.

1991 bamboo jews harp, originally published on Voices of the Rainforest. Around the World for a Song: A World Series Sampler. Rykodisc 00217

1993 Excerpts, gisalo song, originally published on The Kaluli of Papua Nugini; Weeping and Song. Cassette example tape to accompany John Kaemmer, Music in Human Life: Anthropological Perspectives on Music. University of Texas Press.

1994 Kaluli song; audio remix of heyalo song and forest ambience originally published on Voices of the Forest. Jim Metzner, Pulse of the Planet, book and CD, The Nature Company. Recording; photograph and text (pp. 27-29).

1994 bamboo jews harp, originally published on Voices of the Rainforest. The Best of Both Worlds. Rykodisc 30298.

1995 Excerpts, gisalo song, originally published on The Kaluli of Papua Nugini; Weeping and Song; garden cleaning song, originally published on Music of the Kaluli. Cassette example tape to accompany William P. Malm, Music Cultures of the Pacific, the Near East and Asia, 3rd Edition. Prentice Hall.

1996 heyalo song, originally published on Music of the Kaluli. Les Voix du Monde/Voices of the World. Book and 3 CD compilation, edited by Hugo Zemp. Le Chant du Monde CMX 374 1010.12.

1996 rainforest ambient sounds, for the track "The Next Step," Mickey Hart, Mystery Box. Rykodisc 10338.

1997 Excerpt, Making Sago, originally published on Voices of the Rainforest abridged version republished on Music From Nature, CD to accompany the Music and Nature issue of the journal Terra Nova, 2(3); also distributed as Music From Nature: A Terra Nova Compilation. Making Sago was also republished in this form in 2001 on the companion CD to The Book of Music and Nature, David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, eds. Wesleyan University Press.

1998 Excerpts, gisalo ceremony, 1984 (previously unpublished). Danses du Monde/Dances of the World, book and 2 CD compilation, edited by Hugo Zemp. Le Chant du Monde CML 274 1106.07.

1998 rainforest ambient sounds, for the track "Space Dust," Mickey Hart & Planet Drum, Supralingua. Rykodisc 10396.

2001 Rainforest Soundwalks: Ambiences of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea. CD with booklet, photos, notes. EarthEar 1062.

2001 Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. 3CD box set with book, photos, notes. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies SFW CD 40487.

Linking Publications to Recordings: Further Resources for Teaching

Here is a list of my relevant publications keyed to the three most available recordings, and in some cases, specific tracks on them. Of course the CD packages themselves have ample relevant notes, and the Bosavi box set has a substantial booklet with both track notes and a historical overview.

VRF = Voices of the Rainforest
RS = Rainforest Soundwalks
BSV =Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea

1982 Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ->reprinted in an expanded 2nd edition, 1991. VRF 9, 10; RS 1; BSV-III:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; BSV-II:10

1984 Sound structure as social structure. Ethnomusicology 28(3): 383-409. VRF, RS, BSV

1986 Sound as a symbolic system: the Kaluli drum, in Charlotte Frisbie, ed., Explorations in Ethnomusicology: Essays in honor of David P. McAllester. Detroit Monographs in Musicology, 9. Detroit: Information Coordinators, Pp. 147-58. -> reprinted, revised, 1990, in David Howes, ed. The Varieties of Sensory Experience: a Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 79-99. VRF 9, BSV-III:6.

1986 Orality and consciousness, in Yoshihiko Tokumaru and Osamu Yamaguti, eds., The oral and literate in music. Tokyo: Academia Music, pp. 18-28. VRF, RS

1988 Aesthetics as iconicity of style , or, ‘lift-up-over-sounding': getting into the Kaluli groove. Yearbook for Traditional Music 20:74-113 and cassette supplement. -> reprinted, revised, 1994, in Charles Keil and Steven Feld, Music Grooves, 1994, University of Chicago Press, pp. 109-150. VRF, RS, BSV-II, BSV-III.

1990 Aesthetics and Synesthesia in Kaluli Ceremonial Dance. Journal of Dance Ethnology 14:1-16. VRF 9, 10; BSV-III: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 18.

1990 Wept thoughts: the voicing of Kaluli memories. Oral Tradition 5 (2-3):241-266. -> reprinted 1995 in Ruth Finnegan and Margaret Orbell, eds., South Pacific Oral Traditions. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 85-108. BSV-III:1,2,3

1991 Voices of the Rainforest. Public Culture 4(1):131-140. VRF

1992 Voices of the Rainforest, “Imperialist Nostalgia” and the Politics of Music. Arena 99/100:164-177. VRF

1993 The Politics of Amplification: Notes on “Endangered Music” and Musical Equity. Folklife Center News (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress) 15(1):12-15. VRF

Portions of these three short articles from 1991, 1992, 1993 were expanded and folded into the second part of a longer essay about the politics of music; it appears in two places:

1994 From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis: The Discourses and Practices of World Music and World Beat, in Charles Keil and Steven Feld, Music Grooves, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 257-289. VRF

1995 From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis: The Discourses and Practices of World Music and World Beat, in George Marcus and Fred Myers, eds., The Traffic in Culture. Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 96-126. VRF

1996 A Poetics of Place: Ecological and Aesthetic Co-evolution in a Papua New Guinea Rainforest Community, in Roy F. Ellen and Katsuyoshi Fukui, eds., Redefining Nature: Ecology, Culture, and Domestication. London: Berg, pp. 61-87. ->reprinted, abridged, 2001, as Lift-up-over Sounding, in David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaes, eds., The Music and Nature Book. Wesleyan University Press. VRF, RS, BSV-II, BSV-III.

1996 Waterfalls of Song: An Acoustemology of Place Resounding in Bosavi, Papua New Guinea, in Steven Feld and Keith Basso, eds., Senses of Place. Santa Fé: School of American Research Press, pp. 91-135. VRF 6; RS; BSV-II: 1,4, 8, 10.

1998 Kaluli Dance (with Edward L. Schieffelin). International Encyclopedia of Dance. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 80-82. VRF 9, 10; BSV-III: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 18.

2000 Sound worlds, in Patricia Kruth and Henry Stobart eds., Sound: The Darwin Lectures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 173-198. BSV-I.

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