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Lead Belly was born in Louisiana somewhere around 1888. Living the often violent life of an itinerate musician he found himself twice imprisoned for murder. In 1933 his reputation reached the Lomax family, who, after no small personal tragedy of their own, were traveling the Southern states, recording American work songs, ballads and blues in prisons, penitentiaries, and brothels. Moving around the country in their Ford sedan, John, and his sons John Jr. and Alan, set about recording such artists as Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters and Jelly Roll Morton. They came across Lead Belly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and with their state-of-the-art acetate disc recorder they cut several sides together over the next few months. They soon parted ways; Lead Belly to a fifteen year career as a solo artist, and the Lomax’s continuing their collection of folk musics for the archives of the Library of Congress, and the Works Progress Administration. Despite the difficult relationship between the academic Lomax’s and the hard-living blues artist, it is through this short-lived collaboration that Lead Belly’s work reached a wider audience, of which I count myself a part. My father, following a period of time working in the Caribbean after leaving school in 1964, had become interested in what was still at that time called ‘negro music’. A Presto vinyl record (PRE 689, 1965) containing a selection of Lead Belly’s early Lomax recordings, is one of the earliest artifacts of any kind that I remember from my childhood. For this project, I was interested in engaging with a populist folk tradition, in the hope such a strategy would enable me to think about electroacoustic composition in a new way. The sound material selected, was by necessity, lo-fidelity (A short promotional film made by Lomax and Lead Belly, found on YouTube). The surface noise in the piece, the glitches, and crackles, are inherent to the source material, and are intended to reference the sounds of old blues records, and to address issues of the value of distribution of heavily compressed audio on the internet, thought of here, as a repository of cultural memory. The piece was entirely constructed from Lead Belly’s voice and signature 12-string guitar.

I had arrived a day early for the Art of Immersive Soundscapes Forum. 8 hours by Greyhound from Winnipeg airport across flat rolling endless prairie. The Empire Hotel. The cheapest place in town. Next door to the liquor store. The room was $25 a night. It hadn’t been changed in 25 years. Everything run down, and battered. A Friday night. Alone in the prairies. I locked myself into my room. I scanned the FM radio frequency to search for company.










For BBC Radio 4 Drama. Directed by John Dryden.

Year: March 2006 – November 2006
Location: Whitechapel Gallery, London.
Worktype: 4-channel indeterminate electro-acoustic composition

3 versions iteratively produced over 2006.