Standing on the verge of narrative, this piece gestures towards and troubles the romanticism inherent within the “discovery” of the blues (and other black musical forms). The work actually began by creating an entirely fabricated synthetic environment from field recordings and synthesizers that engaged the romantic documentary function of field recordings in the production and reproduction of “social” or “natural” environment. In the 1930’s and 1940’s archivists and field recorders like the Lomaxes situated the blues within discrete and “untouched” black environments—the Mississippi Delta, the rural South, and black work farms and prisons of the Deep South—that were exotically threatening to the white listenership that aurally consumed them. The “documentary drive” of these recordings involved a “fantastical substitution” wherein the blues became a functional witness to black abjection for the appetites of the taperecorder. This fixation on the truth-content of blues’ lyrics has positioned black musical subjects as the unmediated bearers of “truth,” and hence partially negated the complex legacies and gestures of black musical performance.
The central narrative figure of this piece, John Hurt’s 1928 retelling of the emblematic Staga/Stack O’ Lee, is heavily processed, chopped up and inserted into different synthetic sonic environments that draw attention to its form and the gesture of its (re)telling as an act, a performance. The narrative content of the song and the form are shattered and reconfigured into non-narrative or not-quite-narrative loops that strain against its ostensibly diegetic function as a recording of a story. Hurt’s voice is abstracted on some level into a sound working within a larger musical context rather than standing in as a lone witnessing subject. To these ends this track attempts to engage or reengage Hurt’s sound as an artful retelling and hence serve as a retelling (itself) within that legacy of black music.