Tuesday, March 28, 2006

real work

I've started in doing the transcription of another musical event I recorded. The guy I'm working with is very forthcoming with in-depth explanations and background information on the Medumba poetry we're translating into French.

There are 2 singers this time, and it's interesting to hear people contrast and compare them. One is deemed too repetitive. My transcriber said, "it's okay to sing whatever crap comes to mind while performing at a funeral because all you need is a good groove. For a recording, you should sing something important - maybe a story." The other singer did improvise a few stories, so we find his sections less tedious. (Believe me, transcribing spontaneous language is no picnic.)

My transcriber also has some controversial views on other matters. He says that "the message" is the most important thing in a musical performance. My primary music teacher sometimes says the most important thing is "the sound," but sometimes he says it's "rhythm." (We can't assume he means the same thing by "rhythm" that someone with a B.Mus. does. And what's "the sound", anyway?)

In a classic field linguist's conundrum, my transcription of Medumba song is made more exciting by the fact that my transcriber has no front teeth. This means it's hard to distinguish between alveolars and postalveolars - a.k.a "t,d,s,z" and "sh,zh." This issue created a serious problem for students of North American languages early in the 20th century. While it turns out that many of these languages do have a staggering number of consonants, these pioneering linguists were often confused by the challenge of distinguishing between how the language was "supposed to" sound and how it sounded in the mouths of their aged and toothless informants.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I decided to move, finally. I now have a two-bedroom apartment with indoor plumbing. Unfortunately, the water's no more reliable than the electricity, so I have to keep a couple of barrels of water saved in case nothing comes out of the taps. Both water and electricity in Cameroon were privatized (probably in the '80s). Disaster. A British firm does the water, and an American firm does the electricity.

Anyway, when I was staying with that family, I didn't have a decent place to work - transcribe recordings and stuff - when the need to do that arose. Also, now, I can get some quiet if I feel like it.

On Sunday, I participated in a music competition with one of the groups I'm associated with. I think everyone was satisfied with the proceedings, but I didn't see anything that looked like comparison or judging. I'll ask them tonight about how it all works.