Field Recording: Jatinegara Dangdut (December 2010, Jakarta)

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A few years ago, not far from Jatinegara Stasiun, I visited a spot close to the railway tracks that was full of javanese street dancers dancing to traditional gamelan music, night markets with trucks full of chickens, cabbage, leles (catfish), and dangdut played live on blown-out speakers to a haphazard crowd of people drinking warm beers, amidst older ladyboys, shy widows, and old men dancing on gravel in bare feet. Much of the audience of this musical medley sat on the railway tracks, often shaded from the street lights by the shadow of trees.

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Traditional Javanese Dance under a highway


Every so often, a piercing alarm bell would go off, and there would be a rumble and a vibration on the tracks, heralding the distant arrival of the trains. Perhaps it is a Singaporean response to be extremely cautious and very alarmed by the thought of sitting on a live railway track – in 2009 there had been a well-publicised case of a young Singaporean couple being gruesomely killed when they sat on the KTM railway tracks at night and had been unwittingly crushed by the train – so my instinct was to steer completely clear of the tracks once I realised that it was actually a live railway track with numerous trains passing every hour or so. But even as the alarm bells rang, the indonesian motorbikes and bajajs continued gaily rumbling over the tracks as if it were of no concern – until the very last perilous moment! When the kerapa api came blazing through the tracks. No accidents occured, and after the trains had gone, people would file back onto the tracks to listen to the street dangdut by dark. People were generally very friendly and came over to talk to us, probably curious also because we were the only visible “bules” or “japanese-looking people” who had wandered into this area, and they tried to get us to dance with them. I put my recorder in my pocket and this is the sound of the live music coming out of their blown speakers:

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Jalan Pissangang (Banana Street)


See also:

Documentations: Allah Akbar / In Excelsis Deo / Huat Ah Heng Ah – Other devotional recordings from Indonesia and Malaysia
Documentations: Newton Circus Getai (歌台) in Singapore

Field Recording: French Rap and Derbouka on Paris Metro (12 October 2012, Paris)

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This is another recording of street buskers in Paris. It seemed to me as if most of buskers on the streets and travelling through the metro system seemed to play typically “Parisian” music, or jewish or romanian sounding music. But one group that I saw on the Paris Metro whilst on Ligne 8, from Strasbourg St Denis to Concorde was slightly different – it was a rap and breakdancing group. Technically speaking, this was the musical equivalent of some unfeasibly loud youngsters getting on the train, blasting some music and wildly rapping and dancing along to it – except, that they were actually doing it for your listening pleasure! OLE OLE S’IL VOUS PLAIT! The tight-lipped commuters, women and men in dark coats and gloves sat dangerously still and quiet, staring straight ahead, whilst the group rapped and then beat enthusiastically on the derbouka, and one of them danced, somewhat dangerously, within an invisibly demarcated space on the train. Neither musical group nor trapped commuters seemed to know what to do with each other. As the train pulled into the metro station for Concorde, the group disembarked, and as the pneumatic doors whoosh open you can hear the strains of another more classical busking group just outside the cabin on the platform. And as the train pulled out of the station, one could see the two groups of buskers walking into each other on the same platform…

Field Recording: Mariachi band on autobus to Teotihuacan (2 June 2012, Mexico City)

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Last year I made a madcap trip to see Teotihuacan within ONE MORNING. I kept notes on my phone on how this was done. I got up at the crack of dawn, wormed my way to the Terminal Autobuses del Norte via the metro (its on Line 5), bought an autobus ticket for 35 pesos, and looked for the one bus with another tourist boarding it (signage quite poor there and somewhat confusing, abandon hope all ye non-spanish speakers who enter here…) Got on a bus that said PIRAMIDS with a picture of a pyramid on it. I was dropped off at Teotihuacan at around 7.30am, was allowed to enter despite most public signs saying that it is only open at 9am. After a significant amount of walking and puffing and even more walking, I reached the peak of Pyramid of the Moon at 8am. This skillful time maneuvering was made possible thanks to a tip from my old schoolmate Paul (who was also coincidentally in Mexico at the same time??) who told me they would let visitors in early. This helped me avoid the tourist crowds before they start coming in massive droves of buses – and I was one of the first to scale the peak of the piramids that morning.

Here’s a recording of a live mariachi band that forced its way onto the autobus from the terminal to Teotihuacan. There was also a jelly seller, and a knives seller on board. I didn’t really care for the jellies (??) or the knives (???), but the band was quite funny and IN YOUR FACE, and in an extremely cramped bus with most of the people going on their normal lives with far too many baskets and bags. When the band started up in that cramped space, on the faces of the people around me I could see the tensing up of the teeth-clenching muscles, eventually followed by stoic resignation. Basically, everyone was trapped as their captive audience, and the band fought hard to be heard over the roar of the engine. The quality is not so great because it was obviously recorded on a very noisy bus, but I’m still uploading it in case anyone ever wondered what a bus ride to Teotihuacan would sound like…


P6025010 Oh and this is me with a random overfriendly trinket seller in Teotihuacan.


The reason why I am suddenly digging up all these because yesterday I attended the Substation Conferences and did an audio recording for them, and while I was there, I realised that the moderator for the roundtable discussion was someone whom I had seen speaking at another forum (Hello Ai Lin, if you ever see this!). I wanted to see if I could find the recording I had made of that other forum, but could not find it, because I think the audio file is trapped on a hard drive that I broke while I was in Paris and which I left in a drawer in London….

Nevertheless I did find the physical notebooks with the notes on those talks, as well as a whole bunch of other audio files and half-written descriptions and notes of trips to various museums/galleries such as Museo Nacional de Antropología (Mexico City), National Museum of Korea (Seoul), and other things in Hong Kong, etc. I’ve started pushing some of these draft entries online, and ONE DAY I WILL COMPLETE ALL THE BACKDATED DOCUMENTATION! But for now I should really get back to proper work…


See also:
Other posts from Mexico –
Retroalimentacion (Facultad del Artes Gallery, UAEM)
Don Porfirio – El Senor de la Bestias
La Pulqueria (San Fellipe Tlamimilolpan)

New posts on Documentations –
Notes on the “The Cost and Value of Heritage in Singapore: The Belitung Shipwreck and Bukit Brown” (14 April 2012, Mochtar Riady Auditorium, Singapore Management University)
NUS Museum’s Prep Room

Field Recording: “Hava Nagila” (27 September 2012, Paris)

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Dug up a bunch of old recordings while looking for something else – here is a jolly recording of a large Jewish street band and women’s choir singing “Hava Nagila” just outside the Palais de Tokyo.


See also:

Other audio recordings from Paris –
Field Recording: Paris Gypsy Band on the Metro, 11 September 2012
Field Recording: Paris Musique Kiosk, 9 Sept 2012

Field Recording: Paris Gypsy Band on the Metro, 11 September 2012

Photo by Elio Germani

Photo by Elio Germani


While we were on the metro from Palais Royal Musée du Louvre to Gard de L’est, this energetic band of gypsies whom we had also seen playing on another street (probably near Marais area) suddenly burst in to play their parisian mariachi song. These guys work really hard! Rain or shine, they’re still roving all over the place playing their song! As we disembarked at Gare de L’est, they crossed over and were just starting to play in another car of the train, but one of them saw us and waved back saying “Au Revoir!”

Field Recording: Paris Musique Kiosk, 9 Sept 2012

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Just a brilliant day at the park, with a big band playing in the kiosk. In the middle of the recording, a very small child walks into my leg and looks up at me, perplexed as to why my leg has gotten into his way. His mother can be heard coming over, apologising and then whisking him away…