Longing for the Past: The 78 RPM Era in Southeast Asia
272-page hardcover book with 4 CDs in slipcase
Inspired by the Vietnamese aria form vọng cổ meaning “longing for the past,” Longing for the Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia captures a distant musical and historical era in Southeast Asia through an extensive collection of early recordings and scholarship.
The box set features 90 tracks of restored and re-mastered 78 rpm recordings organized onto four CDs, offering listeners a rich, yet diverse, aural tour of nearly six decades (1905-1966) of music in the region. The CDs are beautifully complemented by a 272-page hardcover book of annotations and essays by prominent ethnomusicologists, as well as vintage photographs, postcards, and record art. Collections such as this one are particularly special, because aside from bas-reliefs and ethnocentric European travelogues, early colonial recordings are some of the oldest extant sources of Southeast Asian musical history. As one of the contributing authors, David Harnish, states, “most of the recordings available in this collection are either relics of history or are antecedents of the traditions we can still hear today,” and several of the tracks are of music or musical instruments that can no longer be found in Southeast Asia (59). The specific focus on the 78 rpm genre also contributes to studies of colonization and the sound recording industry while harkening back to a time when Southeast Asian borders were in flux.
The accompanying hardcover book begins with a preface and introduction, detailing why the 78 rpm format was chosen and how European colonial involvement in the region was integral in developing a recording industry in Southeast Asia. “Part I: The Record Industry in Southeast Asia” discusses the emergence of this industry in two parts. In “The First Wave,” the focus is on colonial record companies and how European and American attempts to establish themselves in the local marketplaces led these labels (Gramophone, Columbia, Victor, Pathé, Odeon, and Beka) to record almost any type of music. This resulted in the extremely large pool of 78 rpm recordings from which this set is derived. The second section, “The Rise of the Local Labels,” then examines how European record companies acted as agents and the inspiration for local Southeast Asian entrepreneurs to create their own local labels (Chap Kuching, Chap Singa, Pagoda, Toe Na Yar, Irama, and Lakotananta).
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