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A bit of a digression about Process

This may not be a very exciting story, but I want to share some of how I've been spending my time and allowing my recordings to entertain me lately.  I've been to Bulgaria 26 times and counting, and made recordings of some sort on all but the first trip.   My first recordings were made in 1978 (on a $40 Radio Shack recorder), and the most recent were several videos I took last summer.  Three of these trips were formal research trips (including one funded by IREX and one by Fulbright) of 3 months apiece, on each of which I recorded about 50 90-minute cassette tapes.  The others ranged from a week at the shortest, to a month or more, with correspondingly less recorded material.

This means I have a LOT of recordings!!  Now, the three biggie trips (1980-81, 1985, and 1988) are documented to a fare-thee-well: big, fat 3-ring binders stuffed with an inch and a half of pages each.  (I would go back to Bulgaria and friends would tell me my Bulgarian was better, and ask me what I'd been doing.  "Oh, listening to my tapes," I would say.)  These contain complete transcriptions of all the songs plus notes on everything people said that I found potentially interesting (and we didn’t stop the tape recorder between songs, mind you — if you do that, you ALWAYS miss things, because usually the singers don’t “decide to sing something", tell you about it, and wait till you’re ready before they start singing!  A song will start in the midst of a conversation, often while people are talking.  Or they may sing lightly, and decide to continue; or sometimes they will “try a song out” first (and not want you to record the trial — but we quickly learned to let the tape recorder run, because if it does go well they won’t want to repeat it.  So you record everything and figure you can pick and choose later!)  I’ve also made a short "index" listing for each session (date, what tape number, names of the singers, and a listing of the songs and interesting discussion points, with very little comment), and lists by first lines for each trip.  And a few other forms of lists, depending on what struck me as useful at the time.

Recordings, rel neatI’ve been wanting to make a map showing everywhere I’ve recorded, and also to have a master inventory of everything I’ve recorded, so I recently started to work on this.  But...projects always seem so much simpler when you get the idea, than they do when you start to implement them!  For the informal trips I made after about 1990, when I was primarily “visiting with friends” but also recording, I have a very spotty set o’ documentation.  Some of these are transcribed and indexed as carefully as the big trips, but be painfully honest, there are some I have never actually listened to.  All I know about what’s on them is the location and possibly the date — whatever I wrote on the label to identify them.  Some of them are very neat; others look like this:
Recordings, what does this sayand, after all these years, even I can’t figure out exactly what that means!

Around 2000 we started using a Sony minidisc recorder.  When we came home from a trip, Dick would usually make computer files fromRecordings, wozzis the recordings, and we would erase the discs so we could re-use them.  Even later we started using a Zoom recorder, again saving the material to our computer so we could re-use the memory chips.  Now, cassette tapes can have labels stuck onto them, but minidiscs and (worse yet!) files on the Zoom recorder are much harder to label when you are “in the field”.  To complicate matters, I never got into the habit of keeping good external “research notes” in any organized fashion.  I’ve never been too good at writing and talking and gathering up equipment, etc., etc., all at the same time!  That is merely “difficult to do” on a formal recording trip; when you’re visiting friends and having becomes downright impossible!

So here I sit, surrounded by piles of sometimes barely-identified objects, trying to identify a variety of objects positively and make a good list of the contents — which for my present purpose means listing location, date, what tape number/disc/whatever it’s on, how many songs I recorded in that place on that date, and a very cursory description of the informants, usually as simple as “8 women born between 1917 and 1942.”

Where am I with it now?  In retrospect I would say that, because I already had Lists galore, I breezed through the material up through 1988 (though at the time it seemed pretty slow and painstaking, but then....I was inventing my system as I went along).  But then I got to about 1992, and things slowed down and got way more difficult.  I’m now up through 2001, with something between sketchy and full info for all the trips since then, and man! but it can take me days to finish listing one trip!  (On what date DID I go to X in 2001?  Oh, maybe my calendar will tell me....nope, I didn’t make notes in the calendar!  In the more recent years of digital cameras, the date on my photos helps...)  I guess it's fair to say that I'm coming down the home stretch, I have 7 or 8 more trips to do, then I can start merging all the trips into one humungous Master File.

The Good News is that, in the course of doing all this, I discovered that I can still make the minidisc machine work.  And yes!! I left the sound system set up so that all I have to do to record something is play it (no plugs to chase down and rearrange)!  I made the delightful discovery that no, the fact that my Tablet has a pretty strong magnet in it does NOT seem to have damaged the tapes that have spent under it or piled on top of it (magnets, you know, erase cassette tapes! but evidently this was not strong enough to do damage).  And, I’ve been getting reacquainted with tons o’ Good Stuff to post here.  Just the other day I played a 90-minute collection of some songs I find particularly beautiful (solo harvest songs, sedenka songs, and “table songs” — sung as entertainment at some festive occasion) and found that I wanted to just post ALL OF THEM!  Well, bit by bit.

So, if you’ve gotten this far, thank you for humoring me by reading my rant about what my days have been filled with lately, and now....I think I’ll get back to it, so I can finish the List and get to the eventual Map, and have more beautiful, interesting songs for you!

5 thoughts on “A bit of a digression about Process

  1. Cecilia Wirth

    Martha, everything you're doing is such a treasure and probably will be more complete than you think. On this first (or second or third) time through, index what is obvious and each time you'll have a bit more.

    I can't wait to hear the songs, but I also love the details of who, where, when, why or what for. And to read about HOW you went about this beloved work is getting to know you better.

    Thank you SO much (and I'll keep saying that)! Ceil

  2. Laura Bush

    Martha, I'm so impressed with the lifelong love and devotion of travel to Bulgaria and researching of the singing and lives of those you've gotten to know there! And now, the work involved in organizing all these treasures...and your desire to share them with others who love the music of Easten Europe! My admiration of your work is boundless and I am so looking forward to hearing and reading more of your work. I've read your book, Listen, Daughter, and Remember Well and loved it! Wondering, if you would, to please send the list of other books or articles you've written and where I could find them. Also, could you use some help in any way? I'd love to be with you to help in any way I could, any way to make things now go more smoothly or efficiently? Perhaps we can write to each other privately or off-line. Here's to your ongoing work and the happiness it will bring to so many! Yours in Balkan love and ambiance, Laura Bush

  3. Martha

    I never cease to be amazed....I put something up that I think no one will be interested in, and I immediately get two or three good comments! I love this, and it gives me courage to "just post it, don't worry if I 'should'"... Thank you both for writing.

  4. Cindy

    Wow! Well, although to me, it seems like an almost incomprehensible project, I think you can make a go of it! I think you like huge overwhelming projects, actually!! I think your brave to take it on, and wish you luck, although I doubt luck has much to do with it...maybe a lot of patience and a love for this music!!

    1. Martha

      Right, Cindy - a huge, sprawling task of endless detail!! Right now I've started to digitize tapes that have not been digitized - these are all from my short trips and much of the material is not "important" (though what I'm doing as I write is more songs from one village where I worked a lot in 1988), but I feel it needs to be done. I'm also updating some old text files to the current version of my word processor....and I can do the text file updating while the recording goes on in the background. Multi-tasking!


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