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This Week in Sound

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Slowing Down Among the Pygmies (MP3)

Much of the music on Alan Morse Davies‘s recent album, It Is Glorious to Make Electricity for Socialism, will be familiar to readers of this website, because the set is a collection of material he produced throughout last year, some of which was covered here — including his super slo-mo distillation of “Gloomy Sunday” ( and an homage to Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson ( At least one of the collected pieces, though, had previously evaded my attention, “Pygmy Polyphonics (Protracted).” The parenthetical gets to the core of Davies’s method. At he puts it in the album’s liner notes with far too much modesty, the piece “is a slowed down field recording of pygmies.” But there are many pre-existing sound recordings, and many speeds at which to slow them down, and the beauty of Davies’s accomplishment lies in how the plaintive indigenous voices are revealed as elegant layerings in his glacial reassessment:

[audio: |titles=”Pygmy Polyphonics (Protracted)”|artists=Alan Morse Davies]

Full release at More on Davies at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , / Comments: 5 ]


  1. Alan Morse Davies
    [ Posted March 23, 2010, at 11:42 am ]

    Thank you Marc. For everyone else, here are my original public comments:

    No-one knows at what stage the various Pygmy cultures developed polyphony… I like to think that it was sometime before it developed in the West, although I have no evidence to support that. It’s incredibly complex stuff, without the rigid structures imposed upon it by Renaissance composers or the 20th century minimalists. I wanted to slow it down just so I could really appreciate what was going on, so I did.

  2. Alan Morse Davies
    [ Posted March 23, 2010, at 12:25 pm ]

    This is a note for the people that want to know what polyphony is, if you know this, don’t read it. Until the 12th century in western culture there was only one melody, one song sung by everyone. No chords, no harmonies, no syncopation. This may not be true. Anyway, we do know that the christian church felt that harmony was the work of the devil, and banned singing of harmonies until the Renaissance. It started in France with Perotin in the 12th century, spread to most of Europe in the late 14th century, and finally reached Portugal in the late 16th century. When the church finally allowed this music to happen, some of the most astonishing music in human history was produced. Here’s a link, have a listen, it’s 100% political because queen elizabeth 1 wanted to outdo the Italians but it`s also genius… 40 voices in a circle by Thomas Tallis, polyphony and counterpoint from 1570 performed by Huelgas Ensemble:

  3. Alan Morse Davies
    [ Posted March 23, 2010, at 1:02 pm ]

    If you like the previous post I’ll post Antoine Brumel’s “Earthquake Mass” from 1510. Sparks, tangents, madness, beauty.

  4. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted March 23, 2010, at 1:33 pm ]

    Definitely, man. Do up the Brumel. I love the “Earthquake Mass,” all the shifting layers.

  5. Alan Morse Davies
    [ Posted March 23, 2010, at 2:04 pm ]

    Antoine Brumel must have felt like an alien in his own time… here’s the “Earthquake Mass” from 1510 performed by Huelgas Ensemble. It’s better than good.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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