Vinyl Excursions: Scarce Sounds in Canberra

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Australia National University, June 2019

Happy Saturday! I’m sorry to never have completed my entries on my trip down under, especially considering how fantastic Hobart and IAG were in general. I still hope to post about some highlights. In the meantime, I’m finally enjoying an hour or so of downtime out of my box-filled house, so I thought I would finish this post on one of the highlights of my first week in Australia – a meeting with author and archivist Ross Laird, known to the internet community as Scarce Sounds.

I’d been in touch with Ross off and on since I first began the Ben Irving project in earnest roughly five years ago. He came up in internet searches as an expert on the Okeh records catalog, so I emailed him to ask if he had any record of the Ben Irving Orchestra (or any proof that Ben recorded and released any music). He got back to me quickly and thoroughly, running through expansive evidence that there was no record of anyone by that name in Okeh’s catalog.

I got back in touch with him earlier this summer in the weeks leading up to my trip down under. It turned out that as a longtime employee of the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, he was based in Canberra and would be in town when I was there for the IASPM meeting. We met up in his old haunt on the Australia National Uni campus to chat a bit more about where our respective projects had brought us.

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Ross Laird and a bottle of Mount Majura 2009. Canberra, 6/28/19.

In an unanticipated bit of hospitality, he and his wife invited me to their home in the suburbs, where I’d be able to see one of the most unique and expansive record collections in the world. At least, I saw part of it. He mentioned that he had a shed full of shellac records (not so nimble and as prone to weathering as vinyl) and an additional office/storage room other than the one I saw. Here are some photos.

Thousands of records from his archive (including very rare ones) are for sale on his Discogs page, Scarce Sounds. As he explained to me, Ross doesn’t view himself as a collector as much an a curator. Pursuant to the name, most of his records are rare and don’t really exist within the public archive. He aims to change that for many great overlooked artists from the Global South, then sending the recordings afield to other music lovers. It’s a worthwhile pursuit and a point I hope I can reach one day.

 

He sampled a bunch of 78s and 45s for me, most of which were still shrouded in mystery (most, if any information that exists about them on the internet, he put there), but my single favorite song I heard all night was a bubblegum pop song by Rita Chao and Sakura, entitled “Bala Bala.” The song has a driving baritone sax lead, fantastic female duo vocals, about 4 different words in the whole song, and I loved it to death. Some good Samaritan put a piece of “Bala Bala” on a supercut they uploaded to YouTube about ten years ago.

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Transmissions from Down Under (Week One)

Sydney

Sydney at night is something to behold.

Greetings from Australia! I survived my first 15-hour flight with minimal sleep deprivation. A colleague warned me that I’m not in the clear yet, though, so I’ll be cautious. I’m taking advantage of a cold, miserable Sunday night in Ultimo to work on my presentations for this week, which will be taking place on Tuesday at Macquarie University in Sydney’s northern suburbs and on Thursday at Australia National University in Canberra.

Let’s go to the tape:

Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


The Official IASPM Program is available now! My session is Thursday at 2pm (see p.56).

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More updates as I have time and reasonable access to WiFi. I’m the meantime, I’ll be trawling some of Sydney’s finest record shops and enjoying its nearly overwhelming amount of delicious Asian street food (in fully licensed restaurants, as they foreground in their ads). Here is a photo I took yesterday afternoon in the moment it hit me that I was, indeed, in Australia:

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The Birds (1963; dir. Alfred Hitchcock) remake nobody wanted. To be fair, that describes most remakes.

 

 

Down Under Summer 2019: Macquarie University (Sydney), IASPM (Canberra), IAG (Hobart), and More

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Rand McNally is really off the mark in the Simpsons Universe (see Borneo). I guess we shouldn’t expect much from a place where hamburgers eat people.

For the first time since 2016, I’ll be heading out of the country on academic business. This time, as I mentioned previously, I’m heading to the opposite side of the globe (ostensibly). I can’t wait to see the wonderful cities, meet the wonderful people, swim the wonderful waters, browse the wonderful record shops, and pet a wonderful koala. If you’re in any of these places when I am (see below), please get in touch.

As of now, I have three presentations scheduled.  I’m also planning stops in Cairns, Brisbane, and Melbourne, though I haven’t confirmed any talks or meetings yet. I will do my best to update this post, or post something new, should any details change.


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TUESDAY, JUNE 25 – SYDNEY, NSW
Macquarie University
“Music Video, Sense of Place, and the Symbolic Gentrification of Memory”
GeoPlan Seminar Series, W3A 501 Macquarie University
12pm – 1pm

Thank you to Drs. Claudio Minca and Maartje Roelofsen for inviting me to present some of my new research directions at their fine institution, and thank you to Dr. Chris Gibson for connecting me with them. This will be my first colloquium talk outside of the United States. PROGRAM HERE: Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


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THURSDAY, JUNE 27 – CANBERRA, ACT
International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Annual Meeting
4:30pm: “Violence, Memory, and Qualitative Research in Punk History”
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This will be my first time attending an IASPM meeting, and I look forward to discussing some of my findings from the research that culminated in Capitals of Punk. I’m also grateful to be presenting at the same conference with my friend and UTK colleague Nathan Fleshner. Naturally, we’re scheduled at the same time. This was the first conference I was accepted to in Oz, and it got the wheels moving for this entire trip.


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THURSDAY, JULY 11 – HOBART, TAS
Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Annual Meeting 
12:40pm: “Music Videos, Emotional Geography, and Pedagogy”
New & Emerging Research in Cultural Geography II (Tasman A)

Once again, I need to thank Joshua Pitt from Palgrave for calling my attention to this meeting, as well as the helpful and supportive IAG staff who encouraged me to apply (insisting that, yes, they do welcome geographers from all over the globe, especially North America). It’s a special treat to be able to present my newer research on Tasmania! Everyone who knows both me and Australia has told me I’ll really appreciate Hobart, which makes me even more excited.


I will have periodic access to WiFi, but I will do my best to keep in touch with those who reach out. See you all on the other side.