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Friday, November 19, 2010

What's on Harry's headphones?

As people who work with old things all day, it's easy to forget how historical materials, in addition to being fascinating on their own terms, can be incredibly relevant and versatile, depending on the perspective of the viewer.  Using the most exciting, culturally relevant event of the year, what follows is an exercise in  perspective. We are talking, of course, about the release of  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (Yes, we already went at midnight. Obviously.).

We here at the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections work surrounded by over 2,000 recordings released by Moses Asch on Folkways Records. When we decided to write a Potter-related post (and after we were done high-fiving in excitement),  we agreed that the best way to make the connection between The Boy Who Lived and our material was to take advantage of the world of sound at our fingertips and choose one album for each Hogwarts house. Each album was chosen with an awareness of the different qualities of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. These albums evoke emotions parallel to their corresponding houses.

Recording: Heart of Oak! by the X Seamen's Institute
Key Track: "Heart of Oak"
We imagine these shanties being boisterously sung by the courageous and loyal (and proud) residents of  Gryffindor tower post-quidditch win. The spirit of camaraderie and adventure  this recording is reminiscent of Gryffindor's ideals.

Recording: Goofing-Off Suite by Pete Seeger
Key track: Beethoven's "Chorale from Symphony No. 9," arranged for banjo by Pete Seeger
Hufflepuff is often viewed as the most benign (read: bland) of the Hogwarts houses. Poor Hufflepuff. In this recording, Seeger manages to take a canonized symphony and make it fun while maintaining the complexity and heart of the original. We believe Goofing-Off Suite is reflective of Hufflepuff's true nature: kind, honest and hardworking, all with a sparkle in the eye.

Recording: Indeterminacy  by John Cage and David Tudor
Key track: Lefebvre says, "You can't decontextualize this stuff, man." (but samples can be heard here)
Ravenclaw is rolling up one pant leg and listening to listening to this guy, telling you that "You just don't get it."

We looked at the Folkways Records Collection through the critical lens of Harry Potter and found that there's more than one way to look at what's in the stacks. Though this is a ridiculous example of the different “lenses” with which  researches can view historical material, we think it helps illustrate the versatility of the critical mind and its interaction with historical materials.

Oh, who are we kidding? We just wanted to geek out a little (okay, a lot).

- Nichole Procopenko and Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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