Saturday, December 31, 2011

4H Royalty: It's Gonna Be A Rock and Roll Blowout

Album art from 4H Royalty's Colossalalia

Today I offer this song for folks' New Year's Eve revelries: "Rock & Roll Blowout" by 4H Royalty

I had the chance to meet these musicians at this fall's BIG FEED on the Colorado high plains; "Rock & Roll Blowout" became the unofficial anthem for the weekend, a song that shares the honesty and inventiveness of our hosts at M12 art collective.

Last year 4H Royalty released Colossalalia, a record that the Denver Post noted was "steeped in a uniquely rural kind of swagger and desperation." Self-described as "neither 'revivalist' nor 'purist' in their approach," 4H Royalty's music is not concerned with the normal crucibles of stabs at rural "authenticity," put-on twangs, well-tread cliches. Instead, lead singer and lyricist Zach Boddicker creates song structures that alternate between narrative and lyric impulses, between honest emotion and off-kilter snapshots of rural and western life. 

Their live show matched the energy and wit of Colossalalia. 4H Royalty's lineup has settled into place in the last year - with drummer Robert Buehler, multi-instrumentalist Jamie Mitchell and bass player Andrew Porter joining Mr. Boddicker. These musicians are currently working on their new record, and, judging by their live show at the BIG FEED, this is a record to eagerly await in 2012. 

Here's another track from Colossalalia, "The Rosenberg Family Band," a song that, at least as I hear it, takes a tight country rock riff and then offers a surprising metaphor for the country music tradition, and the industry that surrounds it. Enjoy:

Friday, December 30, 2011

Woody Guthrie's New Year's Resolutions

Woody Guthrie's New Years Rulin's;

Another reason to look forward to 2012: the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth. A full year of events, publications, exhibits, and recordings are planned - all of which can be followed on the Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Website.

On the eve of the new year, folks can find Woody's 1943 New Year's resolutions on the excellent official Woody Guthrie site - please travel there to see a much larger image of the two pages reprinted above. Here's Woody's directives for the new year:
1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2012 Preview: Glen Hanson

From the press materials for Glen Hanson Gallery: Now and Then

[With a new year approaching, The Art of the Rural is pulling back on the reins and taking a much-needed breather. Instead of going silent for two weeks, however, we'll offer tidbits on the articles we are planning for early 2012. Much more information and commentary will accompany these links at that time. In the interim we will still provide updates on our Rural Arts and Culture Feed. The Art of the Rural will return to normal operations on Friday, December 30th. Thanks again for reading - and making 2011 such and exciting and inspiring year!

I had the pleasure of meeting artist, musician, writer, and curator Glen Hanson at the M12's BIG FEED this year, and learning more about his work. Mr. Hanson arrived in Yuma in a vintage truck camper that he had recently rebuilt; he planned to escape the cold weather in the upper midwest and travel through the country for a couple months. In keeping with his artistic spirit, Mr. Hanson set out without an itinerary.

A recent retrospective on the groundbreaking art space he opened in the Minneapolis Warehouse district can be seen in Glen Hanson Gallery: Now and Then (article with excelllent pdf here). This video also features Mr. Hanson's interpretations of classic country music:

Mr. Hanson was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; he lives in Minneapolis and also spends many months of the winter in solitude in South Dakota. That's where ArtOrg produced this video:

Folks can view his recent extraordinary bead work, which pushes at both the traditional and modern applications of this medium, at The Bockley Gallery site.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2012 Preview: Sahel Sounds

Max from Yonta Hande (Pulaar for "New Generation"); Christopher Kirkley, Sahel Sounds

[With a new year approaching, The Art of the Rural is pulling back on the reins and taking a much-needed breather. Instead of going silent for two weeks, however, we'll offer tidbits on the articles we are planning for early 2012. Much more information and commentary will accompany these links at that time. In the interim we will still provide updates on our Rural Arts and Culture Feed. The Art of the Rural will return to normal operations on Friday, December 30th. Thanks again for reading - and making 2011 such and exciting and inspiring year!]

Christopher Kirkley frequently travels from his home in Portland, Oregon to western Africa, in an effort to document the region's extraordinary diversity of musical expression. His Sahel Sounds site offers an audio travelogue of sorts from these journeys and brings these musicians work to audiences around the world. 

One of his collections of this work, Music from Saharan Cellphones, has just been released on vinyl (downloads here) via Mississippi Records. I can't recommend this record (as well as this year's Ishilan n-Tenere) highly enough - please follow the links to learn more. 

Folks who may have been at the M12's BIG FEED have heard my consideration of this music (and its transmission) alongside the Alan Lomax recordings of Fred McDowell. I'm looking forward to sharing all of this in greater detail in 2012. 

Here's the Kickstarter video from Mr. Kirkley's successful campaign to bring Music from Saharan Cellphones to vinyl:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Coming Home, Coming Back To Your Senses

Film still of Emily Vortuba of The Elberta Alert community newspaper; Back To Your Senses

This week's look into the work of the emerging farmers at the Stone Barns Center For Food And Agriculture and the community architects of Studio H leads naturally to news of an artist and filmmaker who's proposing a television series to feature the stories of such folks who've managed to turn their work into their passion. 

In her Back To Your Senses project, Andrea Maio has also taken a leap of faith herself, leaving the confines of the academy, as well as the comforts of urban art scenes, to return back to her roots in northern Michigan. Ms. Maio has produced work for This American Life (the much-loved piece about a girl from small-town Michigan who was pen pals with Manuel Noriega) as well as her own documentaries which have been widely screened across the country: Burn This Boat (a journey with boat punks down the Mississippi River) and Sleeper Lake Fire (a film made of one night with "a philosophical crew leader on one of Michigan's largest wilderness fires"). 

Ms. Maio has turned to Mobcaster, a new crowd-funding source created especially for television projects, to both reach potential viewers and appeal for their support to help bring this series into the world:

Please travel to the Back To Your Senses site to learn more about the stories Ms. Maio will bring to light - and to find out how to help support this project. You'll also find there a blog that links the philosophies of BTYS to her experiences filming, and a series of regular updates on the project. For instance, in her most recent update, we learn of her shoots at Northern Latitudes Distillery and The Elberta Alert community newspaper, both headed by folks who came back to rural Michigan to live in a place that they loved, and make their work their life's work.

With Ms. Maio's permission, I'd also like to share a portion from our correspondence - as I feel that her situation is indicative of what many young artists are facing at this particular moment. As everyone from small towns to policy groups are working to reverse "the rural brain drain" and revitalize a sense of place, we find here a creative and inspired individual looking beyond the city and the university -- and wanting to find a way, much like her subjects, to do something she loves in a place that is meaningful to her. We need people like Andrea Maio in our communities.

"I kept lurching along, never managing to become financially stable or finish artistic projects. My parents shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for an arts education that exposed me to a lot of wonderful stuff and beautiful people, but didn't help a lick with the practicalities of being a professional independent artist during a time of economic uncertainty. The institutions that cared so much about me as a student, aren't in the position to care about me as a working adult. They've employed me part time, without benefits, they have asked me to sign contracts that protect them, but take away my rights, they've (I hope inadvertently, but I fear not) asked me to work for free, and often at my own expense to develop curriculum for their students, with little or no community support.

So, I, like the people I am trying to feature with this series, have lost trust in the ability of organizations and institutions to provide me sustenance, and I want to figure out how to provide that for myself. What are my primary needs? How can I meet them on a day to day basis without depending on a system that probably doesn't have my back? But without becoming a separatist whack-nut either? What does sustenance mean to me? I believe that paying attention to what really gives us pleasure (a kind of savoring a bite of the chocolate as opposed to eating the whole box, or really tasting the crisp early winter air on your walk instead of staying inside for days in front of your heater) can lead us to these sources of sustenance."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Studio H: Designing & Building Skills For Rural Youth

Studio H students, at the grand opening of the Windsor Farms Market

Today we feature an "In Brief" report on an inspiring project that we will discuss in far greater depth at the start of 2012: Studio H.

When Contributing Editor Rachel Reynolds Luster passed along news of Studio H, she mentioned something to the effect of "this is like The Rural Studio for high school students" - which is a helpful point of comparison for folks familiar with that group's work in Alabama. The spirit of Samuel Mockbee can be found here, as can the unique vision of Studio H's directors: Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller. Both are extraordinarily accomplished architects, designers, and writers who, through their Project H Design organization, have made a commitment to bring their expertise out of the university grounds and into the lives of teenagers in Bertie County, North Carolina. 

This is such a rich and vibrant project that only a much more in-depth article can do justice to the work of these students and visionaries, but, for now, we encourage folks to visit Studio H, meander through their excellent blog, and learn more about their projects.

In addition to this, we were very excited to learn that a documentary film project is in the works on Studio H, led by the creative team of Christine O'Malley and Patrick Creadon and writer Neal Baer. They are currently seeking funders through Kickstarter to bring the story of Studio H to viewers across the country. Please find their campaign introduction below:

Here is a selection from the Studio H mission statement:
Studio H is a high school design/build curriculum for rural community benefit. The one-year program is offered to Junior-year students of the Bertie County school district in North Carolina, providing college credit, a summer job, and a hands-on opportunity to build real-world projects for the community (in this, our first year, we’ll build chicken coops and a farmer’s market in downtown Windsor!). By learning through a design sensibility and “dirt-under-your-fingernails” construction skills, we’re developing creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and capital to give students the skills they need to succeed, while building the assets the community needs to survive. Given the opportunity to engage within a public education system, we believe the next generation will be the greatest asset and untapped resource in rural communities’ futures.

Related Articles:
Rural Studio and the 20K House
Striking the Epicenter in Rural America
Filming the Land Arts of the American West
M12: A New Vision for the High Plains
Richard Saxton's Vernacular Landscapes

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finding Sustainability In "Generation Organic"

From the 2011 Young Farmers Conference; Maggie Starbard, NPR

Many thanks to the folks who have shared news of this report by Dan Charles broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday: "Who Are The Farmers of 'Generation Organic':"
For decades, as young people have been leaving farms behind, the average age of the American farmer has been rising. The last time the government counted farmers, in 2002, the average farmer was 55-years-old.

But there's a new surge of youthful vigor into American agriculture — at least in the corner of it devoted to organic, local food. Thousands of young people who've never farmed before are trying it out.
Mr. Charles's piece proceeds to tell the story of The Young Farmers Conference, hosted by the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, New York. Located 25 miles north of Manhattan, the Center is a fully-operational farm that works to train farmers and design public outreach programs that communicate the benefits of "healthy, seasonal and sustainable food." In particular, the Center is charged with a mission to bring this message to children, that next generation of consumers and potential farmers. 

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Film by Local Projects from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

The Center fosters some extraordinary rural - urban connections, and, as exemplified by their introduction to the Young Farmers Conference, they also focus in detail on that other aspect of farming - the fact that farming is a business. The Center is also raising a new generation of rural entrepreneurs. 

All of these facets of the mission revolve around what Dan Barber, of the well-known Blue Hill restaurant and farm, shares in the video above: that "you need to be inspired by a place, and have that place become a part of that experience."

This is echoed in the voices of those emerging farmers who participated in the 2010 conference:

Voices from the 2010 Young Farmers Conference from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

More than most media produced about "generation organic," or whatever one wishes to call this movement, this video gives me great hope. As a child of the Farm Crisis, I lament the extent to which the sustainable agriculture movement is portrayed in a pastoral, romantic light -- a kind of soft-filtering of Wendell Berry's hard truths.

We are not having a serious discussion about the "sustainability" of this movement (culturally, economically) until we've brought the mass of new urban-born farmers into discussion with those farmers and communities rooted in their rural place, until we have "conventional" and "organic" farmers sitting down at a table together. Too often the urban/university-driven dynamic to this movement can seem to slight, or outright condemn, those farmers who have lived for decades on the land. That attitude is the least sustainable element of the movement.

Yet, when we hear this diverse group of young farmers explain their motivations, we can't help but be heartened. As we look forward to 2012, I hope to bring more news of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and The Young Farmers Conference.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rural Poetry Series: Lorine Niedecker's Calendar

photograph by Bonnie Roub; from the Electronic Poetry Center

As the year draws to a close, we say goodbye to our focus, over the last few months, on the "calendar poems" of Lorine Niedecker. More information on this series can be found here; and, again, we encourage folks to pick up a copy of the excellent Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy. 

I like a
loved one to
be apt in
the wing.

Sweet ekes
of soft drips--

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Weekly Feed: December Ninth

[Editor's Note: Folks, one of the new editions I am proposing for AOTR in 2012 will be a weekly Friday feature that expands on the rural arts and culture links we offer in our Facebook feed. My thought is that it's useful to use Facebook as a resource to get the word out quickly, and then return in more depth to these pieces on the AOTR page itself. Aside from also sharing our AOTR articles, I am planning to use the Facebook feed in 2012 as easy and accessible location for rural art and culture news and resources. Thanks again for reading AOTR - and have a great weekend.]

 • We learned from Roots of Change about the Farmers for the Front Range 2012 calendar, which features local farmers as pinups. Here's Susan Clotfelter writing in the Denver Post:
Fort Collins collaborators Liz Gaylor and Kelsi Nagy had been chatting up the concept for about a year and got serious about it last summer. With a few weeks of time, $15,000 in credit-card money and the help of photographer Darren Mahuron, they created the first "Farmers of the Front Range 2012 Calendar" — all in a few weeks.
"We love the farming community and Colorado, and we want to get more people connected to it," said Nagy. Bad news about industrial food, such as the "Food, Inc." documentary, makes people feel powerless, she added. "So supporting these local, living economies are one way we can take back control."
Each month features a photograph of people you may have met who produce vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, or honey, along with an epigram, a recipe, and a description of the farm and farmers. Gaylor and Nagy plan to return all or most of the profits for the 2012 version to the featured farms.
The Revivalist: Word From The Appalachian South carried word this week of the premiere of Moonshiners, a reality television show following the lives of moonshiners - and featuring the legendary Popcorn Sutton:

• Last week we discussed Excavated Shellac and its critically-acclaimed recent release Opika Pende: Africa at 78rpm. This week Randall Roberts of The Los Angeles Times Pop & Hiss music blog offered this look into the life and work of Jonathan Ward:
Jonathan Ward's music room in his second-floor Angeleno Heights walk-up is a tight, comfortable space with three walls full of records and itsy speakers hung high on the walls in acoustically precise intervals. The 39-year-old writer, archivist, collector and perhaps most important, listener, has just received his copy of a project that has consumed him for the last 14 months. “Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM,” is a four-disc, 100-song collection and companion book of never before compiled regional African music from the early 1900s through the '60s. Much of it is culled from fragile original shellac recordings that have miraculously survived a journey across space and time to land on Ward's shelves.
He pulls out a recent acquisition: a Mauritanian record that he places on the turntable. The speakers fill the room with hiss and crackle, and a female voice moans while a high-lonesome stringed instrument meanders along. It's profoundly moving and resurrects long-buried voices within its crackling grooves.

• Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, spoke last Sunday at a farmers' march in Zuccoti Park about the need for local, organic, and family-scale agriculture. (Portions of Mr. Gerritsen's remarks can be seen here.) Kerry Trueman offers an in-depth write-up on the event in Grist:
Today, the bronze bull -- that icon of the OWS movement -- is the lone farm animal you'll find in the financial district. And the barricades are back, but only to keep Zuccotti Park's mic checkers in check. That surprisingly fertile concrete plaza has yielded a bumper crop of grassroots activists, to the discomfort of (most of) the 1% and the shills who bill them. But the voices of farmers -- a.k.a. the 1% that grows the food that 100% of us eat -- have been largely missing from this movement to reclaim our democracy, despite the fact that food has become a commodity that enriches a few at the expense of the many.
That all changed this past Sunday, though, when a group of farmers from around the country marched to Zuccotti Park accompanied by their allies: food justice activists, community gardeners, and other advocates for a more equitable, ecologically sound, re-localized food system.
• Thanks to Maegon Mayes for leading us to this entry from by Claire O'Neill on NPR's blog The Picture Show that considers the contemporary and historical context for prison mug shots. The present: The Slammer, one of many new publications that exclusively features the mugshots of arrested individuals; the past: Pictures From a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture (Temple University Press), written and edited by Bruce Jackson, the James Agee professor of American Culture at the University of Buffalo. Here's the historical comparison:

The Appalachian Media Institute has been dedicated to teaching media skills to local youth for decades; in the age of new media and digital storytelling, AMI stands as an organization training a new generation of media artists - and also telling stories that can reach from the hills of Appalachia to a global audience. Folks can read about their mission here, and view below their Movie of the Month: Fire in a Jar, a film by Casey Castle, Dwayne Goble, and Misty Humphrey. They examine the art and culture of moonshining in Appalachia (and banjo legend Lee Sexton also makes an appearance): 

• On the subject of digital storytelling, our friends at Epicenter led us to discover Cowbird, an absolutely gorgeous new site that features audio and visual diaries and "sagas:" individual stories that revolve around a common event or theme. The first saga they've gathered tells the story of Occupy Wall Street. Cowbird has just launched; here's how they explain their mission:
Cowbird is a simple tool for telling stories,
and a public library of human experience. We are a small community of storytellers, interested in telling deeper, longer-lasting, more nourishing stories than you're likely to find anywhere else on the Web.

Cowbird allows you to keep a beautiful audio-visual diary of your life, and to collaborate in documenting the overarching "sagas" that shape our world today. Sagas are things like the Japanese earthquake, the war in Iraq, and the Occupy Wall Street movement — things that touch millions of lives and define the human story.

Our short-term goal is to pioneer a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events and universal themes. Our long-term goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons, available for this and future generations to look to for guidance.
• Through we learned of the upcoming exhibit Rural America Contemporary Artists at The Arts Center of St. Peter in Minnesota. Ed Lee offers an article on the show, and it's national network of rural artists in the St. Peter Herald; this work is curated by Brian Frink, an artist and professor at The University of Minnesota-Mankato. 

Please stay tuned for more information on this exciting show. Until then, folks can view the Rural America Contemporary Art open group on Facbook here for additional information; included below is Silver by Gregory Euclide, one of the artists on display. Fans of indie-rock will notice that his distinctive style is also behind the gorgeously-layered album cover on the most recent effort by Bon Iver:

In Brief: Regional Relationships

Two aspects of A Map Without Boundaries; Regional Relationships

Today we will introduce some work that we will be covering in greater detail soon: the Regional Relationships project. We're focused on bringing rural-urban and rural-international considerations to light, and it's very exciting to encounter these artists making multimedia art from such exchanges. 

A Map Without Boundaries, RR's first project, is a mail art installation by Matthew Friday that considers the cultural, environmental, and even aesthetic effects of the networks of abandoned mines in southeastern Ohio - and his project asks for RR's audience to become participants in the creation of a larger exhibit. RR's current project is Greetings From The Cornbelts by Claire Pentecost; the Chicago-based artist is connecting corn production in the fields of northern Illinois and with those of Mexico. Her field work in Mexico will be presented in postcards, posters, and written documentation.

Please follow the links to learn more, and to discover how this work can find its way to your doorstep: Here's their introductory notes:
What: Regional Relationships commissions artists, scholars, writers and activists to create works that investigate the natural, industrial and cultural landscapes of a region.
It is a platform to re-imagine the spaces and cultural histories around us. An invitation to join in seeing what we can learn—and learning what we can see—by juxtaposing spaces and narratives that are usually kept apart.
Why: Popular beliefs about human geography are composed of binary oppositions like “urban” and “rural” and “cosmopolitan” and “provincial”. These divisions naturalize synthetic borders and harden political boundaries, obsfucating their cultural function. 
Applying a regional lens encourages us to think more expansively about the disparate geographies that might exist within the space of one small town or across continents and oceans.

Published works will be sent to subscribing individuals and institutions on a semiannual basis.
These Regional Relationships projects contribute so much to the new kinds of dialogue that we can cultivate about rural and urban linkages, and about how rural places find connections of culture, economy, and practice with other places far removed from their local fields. This site is highly recommended, and we'll be expanding in greater detail on their work soon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rural Tracks: Early December

Harry Smith's Celestial Monochord

Today we begin a new series on Art of the Rural that seeks to serve as a resource for the wide range of music expression -- rural and urban, past and present, national and international -- waiting to be explored in libraries, record stores, and online.

We really value our readers' input, and we'd like to feature folks' suggestions in this space as well. What music has been moving, inspiring, or challenging you lately? If this music has emerged from rural place, or points toward rural-urban or rural-international connections, we would love to hear about it -- and share it. Please feel free to post your ideas (with links, if possible) on the Facebook thread for this piece, or send us an email at artoftherural at Thanks!

I'd like to begin with a few selections that Dust-To-Digital recently shared on their Facebook page. Some Crazy Magic: Meeting Harry Smith is an short animated film that puts to image John Cohen's story of first meeting the man behind the Anthology of American Folk Music. This extraordinary piece was created for the American Standard Time blog by Drew Christie -- and there are others to be explored on his site:

Mr. Christie and AST editor Greg Vandy also produced this gorgeously filmed interview piece with John Cohen. :

American Standard Time Presents John Cohen from colony on Vimeo.

The Dust Busters also make an appearance alongside Mr. Cohen; longtime readers of this site may remember our piece on Down Home Radio -- its editor Eli Smith is a member of TDB. Folks can see an interview with Mr. Smith and TDB at The Jalopy Theater here, via Brooklyn Independent Television. Below, The Dust Busters offer "Black Bottom Strut:"

Last weekend The Daily Yonder shared the music of 2/3 Goat. Here's lead singer and mandolin player Annalyse McCoy, who hails from Inez, Kentucky, in an interview with Jeff Bigger:
"Music is such an integral part of Appalachian culture and tradition," said McCoy, who grew up in Inez, Kentucky and also works as an actress in New York City. " As a child of Appalachia, I felt that there was no better or more natural way to "give back" to try and help my community than through song. Amid all the destruction that mountaintop removal causes -- all the thousands of miles of streams that have been buried, all the remaining water that's been tainted by heavy metals -- there is purity and light left in Appalachia; there is Hope."

The good folks at Dust-to-Digital also shared this extensive feature on another Kentuckian, musician and folk archivist Nathan Salsburg, who is currently working to archive a massive collection of 78 rpm records found in a house in Louisville. Mr. Salsburg has released two of our favorite records this year, the earlier Avos (guitar duets with James Elkington) and, just last month, Affirmed - a solo guitar record that finds a meditative center within the legacies of many of the Kentucky Derby's Triple Crown winners. Please see our archive for our previous pieces on Mr. Salsburg's work with Root Hog or Die and the Alan Lomax Archive/Cultural Equity; here, from Affirmed, is "Back Home in Bogenbrook:"

I was excited to recently discover the music of Blaze Foley, a musician who spent a good deal of time living in a tree house in rural Georgia before moving to Austin and living an itinerant lifestyle as perhaps the most bonafide Outlaw of that country music movement. He was the inspiration for Lucinda Williams's "Drunken Angel," the subject of some recent CD reissues, and his music has also happily reappeared on vinyl. Here's the trailer for the Duct Tape Messiah documentary, followed by a song that never really gets old, Blaze's "Oval Room:"

Part of what we hope to achieve with Rural Tracks is a kind of unexpected and meandering path that leads to some unlikely but revealing comparisons -- for instance, considering Harry Smith alongside Blaze Foley.

Please follow the links at the start of this piece to share your suggestions; we will publish them in subsequent updates to this feature. Thanks again for reading The Art of the Rural.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter Colds & The New Yorker State of Mind

Selection from Paul Steinberg's 1976 New Yorker; Daily Yonder

Well, last week we experienced some major technical problems and this week your humble editor is weathering a winter cold. I'll be brief today, in the hopes that we can get back on track Tuesday with the schedule of pieces planned to take us up to the close of the year.

In the midst of last week's period offline, there were a number of excellent articles published on The Daily Yonder: Julie Ardery brought The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project to light and multiple writers covered facets of rural America's disabled population here and here (rates of disability are 80% higher in rural areas). 

Today Bill Bishop has produced a response to a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline (the Yonder led they way in covering this issue over the last few months) - it's a must-read analysis of how the New Yorker minimized the outpouring of civic action by Nebraska citizens and lawmakers and instead suggests that Bill McKibben and a handful of environmentalists stopped the planned course of the pipeline.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Language Of Natural Gas Leases

The Ely family on their land in western Pennsylvania; Ruth Fremson, New York Times

This morning Ian Urbina and Jo Craven McGinty of the New York Times have published "Learning Too Late Of Perils In Gas Well Leases," the latest installment in the NYT's Drilling Down series.

While much mainstream press on natural gas drilling, or "fracking," has focused on environmental impact, these writers have taken the time to address the immediate local, and rural, issue at stake here -- many of the families and landowners signing these leases are not properly informed by landmen and lawyers about the terms of their legal agreement. 

In my home region of the Ohio Valley, the influx of new natural gas leases has been the story of 2011, yet the profound tragedy of this newfound wealth is that some of these landowners will be living with the fine print of these agreements for decades. Their land, environment, lifestyle, and even the earning potential for the natural resources they own, will be dramatically affected. Sadly, the work of Mr. Urbina and Ms. McGinty is a sign of things to come, what is set to be a chronic point of discussion for decades in rural America. 

Here is the introduction to their piece:
After Scott Ely and his father talked with salesmen from an energy company about signing the lease allowing gas drilling on their land in northeastern Pennsylvania, he said he felt certain it required the company to leave the property as good as new. 
So Mr. Ely said he was surprised several years later when the drilling company, Cabot Oil and Gas, informed them that rather than draining and hauling away the toxic drilling sludge stored in large waste ponds on the property, it would leave the waste, cover it with dirt and seed the area with grass. He knew that waste pond liners can leak, seeping contaminated waste.  

“I guess our terms should have been clearer” about requiring the company to remove the waste pits after drilling, said Mr. Ely, of Dimock, Pa., who sued Cabot after his drinking water from a separate property was contaminated. “We learned that the hard way.”
If folks are living in an area that still being courted by natural gas companies, this is absolutely essential reading; beyond the local dynamics of this story, we encounter here an early volley in a concern which will no doubt snowball in size as drilling starts to occur in earnest in these areas - and lawsuits, community action, and, hopefully, a national conversation emerge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: Out Of All This Great Debris

[Editor's Note: I am working for the next few days on a borrowed PC, as the AOTR Macbook is currently under repair at a local shop. The style changes to these posts will be corrected when I am reunited with this laptop and its editing software. Thanks for your patience!]

November Twenty-Second

The end of autumn comes, and one by one the plants in their little stations and many small creatures hole up and turn to sleep. We feel a great longing for that sleep, in the woods, in the very air and the soil that nightly grows colder, a little less kindly. The year's great living settles to its close, and not alone because the harsher cycle demands it, but because it is in the nature of most things to rest. Winter has a meaning beyond the meteorological one; it is that surcease must compensate all this perfervid existence.

For many beings in the great packed store room, autumn represents finality. They will be thrown out complete as waste, all the annual plants, the ephemerid insects. They have their chance at immortality, I know, through seed and egg. But individually the time for them has come, the time to go. For species on the wane, each autumn, perhaps, represents a step toward extinction. So be it; it is written.

But out of all this great debris new forms will be made, as in the first place life took its origin in ways mysterious to us, and alighting like light from a star upon a dark dead world informed the water and the rock itself.

More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.

Rural International: Excavated Shellac

Felix Sunzu's Vejika 78 rpm record; Excavated Shellac

[Editor's Note: I am working for the next few days on a borrowed PC, as the AOTR Macbook is currently under repair at a local shop. The style changes to these posts will be corrected when I am reunited with this laptop and its editing software. Thanks for your patience!]

As folks who check in to our Facebook page may have already noticed, Excavated Shellac - an excellent online site for international vernacular music - has posted a series of thanksgiving videos from across the globe. Here's some gorgeous polyphonic singing from the village of Politsani in Albania:

The work of Excavated Shellac unites both our concerns on the rural - urban dialogue as well as the dynamics of international rural experience; Jonathan Ward's efforts to bring 78 rpm recordings to the digital realm have also expanded to include a few releases with the outstanding vernacular record label Dust-to-Digital. Last year's global review of sting music from the 1920's to 1950's in Excavated Shellac: Strings is joined this year by Opika Pende: Africa at 78rpm, a large and gorgeously presented collection of music from the continent, presented across 4 CDs and a 112 page book. This music has never been issued on CD, until now.

Here's Mr. Ward, in an excerpt from his introduction, followed by "Tu Nja Tengene Elie" by Mbongue Diboue Et Son Ensemble:
It is truly astonishing to consider the tremendous variety of music that was pressed to shellac discs on the continent of Africa. Popular songs, topical songs, work songs, comic songs, songs of worship, ritual, dance, and praise—the sheer range of musical styles resists any easy categorization. Further, African geography itself resists boundaries. The boundaries of cultures and languages are often far more complex than political boundaries. Complicating things further, entire countries seem to have been skipped over by both commercial 78 rpm record companies and ethnographers during the 78 rpm era. No doubt it was the same with many cultures. But that doesn’t mean that 78s weren’t everywhere, even in remote parts of the continent. By the mid-1960s, 78s were still a popular if not preferred medium in much of Africa, as a significant amount of the population still used wind-up gramophone players.
"Tu Nja Tengene Elie" by Mbongue Diboue Et Son Ensemble by dusttodigital

Alongside these releases, I would highly recommend paying a visit to the Excavated Shellac site and then also linking to their Facebook feed, which will offer, quite literally, a whole world of music to explore. What's so striking about meandering through this online archive is the immediacy and intimacy of the experience; like the song of family and friends gathered around a table in Albania, we find ourselves in the midst of a communal experience.

Ultimately, we also find ourselves far from the soft-focus rhetoric of "world music" as it was previously marketed - or at least as how I understood the genre as a young person. While part of the aim of those earlier releases were to suggest that we were living in a global artistic marketplace, there was also a bit of a "It Takes a Village To Raise A Child" sheen to it. Too easily, it became background music, or a soundtrack for a very different kind of film.

Exploring the work of these musicians on the Excavated Shellac site, we're faced with music and performances that ask for a deeper connection - a credit to the work Mr. Ward has done as a collector, audio archivist and curator. He describes this sense best himself, in his introduction:
It’s been my philosophy that good music is best when it is shared. Of course, nothing beats that feeling, say, when you alone break open that box from Turkey or Indonesia, place the fragile platter on the turntable, only to feel your hair stand on end when the music begins. The feeling that you’ve never heard anything like this before in your life; it transports you to a place where words are irrelevant. But part of that feeling is thinking how you’d want to share that with others, to have them feel exactly the same way. This music – old music – never sounds “old” to me, personally. In fact, I believe that it is music of THE FUTURE. Our future.