1948

“It is a convenient coincidence (some might say too convenient) that the three events informing the structure of this book – Pierre Schaeffer’s initial events with musique concrete, John Cage’s first silent composition, and Muddy Waters’s pioneering electric recordings – all occurred in the same year: 1948.” (xix)

“The beginning is never the beginning. Before 1948, there was 1947, and so on. Nevertheless, thought finds it useful to indicate ‘here’ or ‘there’, ‘now’ or ‘then’. The thinking of this book accordingly begins in 1948, in three different places: the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française in Paris; the Muzak Corporation in Fort Mill, South Carolina; and the Macomba Lounge in Chicago. By taking up its task and its story in these three locations, this book starts to construct a claim: that something changed as a result of what happened in these three places, in this one year. What this book proposes is that the events in Paris, Fort Mill, and Chicago were the iconic symptoms of a change in music, a change to music as it had been conceived and practiced, primarily in Europe and North America.” (3)

“Aristocrat released Waters’s 1948 single, ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’, backed with ‘I Feel Like Going Home’, a version of a song that had made the rounds back in Coahoma County, Mississippi, and traveled north with Waters. When Son House recorded it in 1930, he called it ‘My Black Mama’. When Robert Johnson cut it in 1936, it was known as ‘Walkin’ Blues’. Waters himself recorded two versions of Alan Lomax in 1941, and at that time called the song ‘Country Blues’. ‘I Feel Like Going Home’ repeats the chord progression and most of the lyrics of these earlier renditions. Waters even retains the repetitive bent-single-note opening of the Johnson and House versions. Most of what makes the 1948 version different, most of what allows it to blaze a new trail in the expansion of American music, follows from a simple technical fact: electricity. The string bass accompaniment – provided by Ernest ‘Big’ Crawford – is still acoustic. But electricity forces the performance to adapt. Not only does Waters swap his acoustic guitar – the iconic instrument of Delta blues – for an electric guitar, but also – unlike the previous recordings, captured (sometimes literally) in the field – ‘I Feel Like Going Home’ is a modern studio recording.” (24)

Seth Kim-Cohen, In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art. New York: Continuum, 2009

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