Alessandro Bosetti went to Africa and, like many travelers, he brought along some CDs. He also brought along some recording equipment. He played the CDs — which contained largely abstract music by the likes of Kevin Drumm, Ryoji Ikeda and Harry Partch — for locals and he recorded their responses. Then he grafted the two sets of audio together, playing simultaneously what his test audience heard and how they responded, often with imitative zest. To hear children mimic the flutter of microsound, or a single voice echo the rhythms of digital percussion, is to hear electronic music’s equivalent of Graceland, the Paul Simon album that found common ground between American and African pop.
I once had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African vocal group whose performance on Graceland was among the album’s highlights. I asked him what the nonsense syllables were that his group sang, and he explained that he and his group were imitating animals. God knows what animals were imagined by Bosetti’s interviewees.
In the process of constructing what he titled African Feedback, Bosetti has produced what would easily be one of the year’s most compelling documentaries if the audio were accompanied by video, and also one of the year’s best commercial releases… were it not entirely free. A 45-minute rendition of this cross-cultural exploration is available courtesy of the Third Coast Festival (MP3). More info at thirdcoastfestival.org and at Bosetti’s site, melgun.net. A book based on the project is reportedly due out later this year from the publisher Errant Bodies (errantbodies.org). (Special thanks to Aaron Ximm, aka quietamerican.org, for having recommended Bosetti’s African Feedback to me.)