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Music

Technology and folksong



The following is quoted from a paper presented at a conference held at the University of Mississippi on "Folk Music and Modern Sound".

The position I take here is essentially a "technological deterministic" one. At a conference in 1979, I first presented the hypothesis that each major technological advance in mass communication media helped to produce a folksong revival: in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the introduction of movable type and metal engravings resulted in a revival to which the printig of broadsides, chapbooks, and songsters contributed greatly. Offset and gravure printing, invented a couple of centuries later, contributed to another folksong revival; the invention of the sound recording machine, and later the disc phonograph record, each produced major folksong revivals; the widespread use of inexpensive radios produced still another revival and reinforced and continued the impetus of the phonographically inspired revival. Nor is the end in sight with the introduction of the tape recorder and long-playing records in the 1950s and 1960s; still standing by but ready momentarily to take its proper place in the succession of technological advances contributing to the present folksong revival is the video tape recorder, needing only a reduction in bulk and price to insure its position.

It is important to note here that each successive technological advance produced media which improved upon the communication potential of its predecessors while not replacing them. In a sense, as pointed out by D. K. Wilgus and others, the phonograph record is a direct descendent of the broadside which, however, continues to live on in sheet music, song books, and song folios. Note, too, that my position is diametrically opposed to the oft repeated one that the printing and recording of folksong freezes its form and content so that it ceases to be folksong. I believe, instead, that each successive communication revolution has speeded up its circulation through space and time. Nor have frozen texts and tunes resulted from such use of mass communication channels. They have supplemented rather than replaced, reinforced rather than displaced, fed rather than swallowed, the oral tradition.

He said all this before the Internet became widely available to the public! (What, you mean to say you weren't on the Internet in 1982? I was!) In any case, web browsers were still some way in the future. I imagine he would have included that as another one of those technological advances.



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