Music is as long as it is wide. from the smallest pluck of a string, to the incessant groaning of all the human beings on earth just living their lives. Linear narratives are just not enough.
CAIFE distributed records for Disques Barclay, one of France’s most influential platforms. This week’s sounds come from a whole series of Barclay’s master tapes that were received in Ecuador for the pressing of Barclay 45s. Eduard Ruault, also known as Eddie Barclay, founded the record label in the 50s. He was known for having a good nose for music. He famously brought the incredible Dalida to fame, but is also known to have refused to sign Bob Marley.
This week’s tapes are just a cross section, a core sample, a sliver of what was going on around the globe while CAIFE was pressing records. From chachacha, to French westerns. From the jungles of Paraguay to the pyramids of Giza. This is a little taster of CAIFE records’ international section.
1. Intro (Musica Interncaional Orquestada — no alt. label) 2. Unknown 3. Lucia Mendez – Polvo 4. Unknown – La Invasion 5. Unknown 6. Salgado Jr. – Mambo Borracho 7. Francesa Epic Western 8. Jevita Mia 9. Les Stranpontins – Shame and Scandal in the Family 10. Los Guaranís – La Noche y tu 11. Unknown 12. Badabada Bing Bing 13. Jacques Brel – Bruxelles 14. Quinteto América – Mulata (Cumbia) 15. Los Trovadores del Paraguay – Cascada (Polka Paraguaya)
Before being a musical genre, complete with tonal structures and rhythmic conventions, pop music was just short for popular. It was not dictated by any aesthetic constraint, but simply had to be appealing to large groups of people. Pop music existed everywhere, and was different wherever you went. In the days before the internet fuelled globalization, popularity of one genre to the next varied from valley to valley, mountain to mountain.
When we talk about Ecuadorian popular music we are talking about hundreds of years of history. The cross-pollination of native musical forms and instruments with those of Spain which in turn had within them infused elements from across Europe.
When we speak of national identities, we tread a quagmire. The nations of the Americas are all very young: born out of the Royal Audience of Quito, a territorial division created by the Spanish that spanned a territory of one million square kilometres and reached the Atlantic ocean at the mouth of the Amazon.
This region was created in 1563 and subdivided into provinces controlled by the Spanish who used the Amazon River as a means of communication and transport. Inevitably, culture was transported up and down the river, and its waters became as much a cultural confluence as a fluvial one.
The lands of the Royal Audience of Quito were conceded over the years, mostly to the Portuguese, but also to what would become Peru and Colombia.
Ecuador became independent in 1822 as a province of Gran Colombia, which lasted nine years and then dissolved. It is only by 1831 that Ecuador became a formally recognized nation. The music we consider to be Ecuadorian is like water; it crosses borders freely and diffuses slowly from region to region; it pools in fertile ground winding slowly through the plains but eventually reaching the ocean. The instruments may change, the ensembles vary, but the Venezuelan waltz, the Colombian and Ecuadorian pasillo, and the vals Peruano, are all deeply connected.
There are however, certain genres that have become inseparable from the cultural fabric of this region. Today’s mixtape/show focuses on two (of many more) Ecuadorian musical forms: musica mestiza, and musica criolla.
Musica mestiza took the basic structures of indigenous musical forms and adjusted the ensembles; replacing clay drums with wood drums, interweaving flutes, guitars and other lute-like instruments that evolved into charangos, ronrocos, requintos, and bandolines; the sanjuanito is the most famous of the latter’s forms, but the albazo, and tonada are also heard everywhere, from tiny radios, to street performers.
The tonadas and albazos are considered to be the great grandchildren of the yaraví, three and six count, story-laden structures. The tonada tells stories of loss, filled with wise phrases about the cruel relentlessness of time. They often carry a sort of drunken swing to them, with sharp emotional melodies, switching from minor to major and back again, the tonadas have survived with great strength, taking Hammond organs and Casio keyboards under their wing over time.
The albazo, or cachullapi, is a tad faster than the tonada. Albazos are meant to energize the festivities when dawn has finally arrived, hence the name ‘alba’-zo. Not to play favorites but albazos have always had a big impact on my ears. The dynamism of the bombo, and rim, and the inevitable groove that it sends your body into. They have a gallop about them. Albazos can be heard all over the Americas in varying forms. The chacareras of the Southern Andes, and even some Venezuelan and Peruvian vals. These songs transmit the feeling of a hopeful future, energizing and positive.
The sanjuanito, or San Juan, is in 2/4 and has the feeling of a quick and short stepped-march. Its origin is not certain; some scholars believe it to be rooted in an ancient ceremonial dance, a celebration of the summer solstice, Inti Raymi, which became known as the San Juan after the Spanish conquest. However, Raul and Margarita Harcourt, the famous French musicologists believe that the San Juan is a derivation of the huaynito, an Inca musical form that spread throughout Ecuador in the brief 30-60 year Inca conquest. But there was, for a long time, a tendency to overestimate the influence that the Inca empire was able to have in its short occupation of what is now Ecuador.
The sanjuanito is born from festivals with ornate characters, parades, processions, theatrics, and fireworks. The streets are invaded by creatures from another world, like the Aya Huma, a two faced devil with a giant headdress, wearing bull skin chaps, goat hoof shakers hanging from his belt, and bells around the ankles. What I mean to say is that sanjuanitos were made for marathon parties, built to make the participants last, for week-long bacchanals, celebrations of cosmic wealth, abundance, sacrifice and homage to the gods.
Of these three forms, the tonadas are heard most often and tend to be mislabelled sanjuanitos or pasacalles. Slower than the albazo, tonadas became hits in the cantinas. They aren’t all sadness though, alternating from minor to major, they convey a sense of hope and expectation, that is bound to be dashed by tragedy.
Musica criolla, was a term coined by the criollos to distinguish their music from the music of the natives and mestizos. It was surely a move motivated by the false ideal of European superiority. Musica criolla adopted popular musical forms from Europe and integrated them into a local context. This brought the Viennese waltz to our shores, and made the paso doble the preferred dance of the European settlers in their ballrooms. However, these European genres struggled to remain ‘pure’ and eventually became intermixed with their native counterparts. The pasillo emerged, borrowing the rhythms of the waltz, slowing it down, and giving it the cadence and tone of the sanjuanitos and tonadas. The pasodoble, on the other hand, quickened and adopted the manner of a San Juan, thus becoming the pasacalle.
The term criollo (‘creole’ in English), comes out of a racial discrimination based on percentages of pure European blood. The criollos were full blooded Europeans that had been born in the Americas. Musica criolla was the same; European music born in the Americas.
It must be said, that as time goes by, these superficial distinctions recede into the tides and cultures blend and cross-pollinate in ways that unify them for the future. To us, the distinction is an aesthetic one, and not a very significant one, to the point that in our time pasillos, pasacalles, sanjuanitos, albazos and tonadas can fit nicely together into a solid playlist.
There is a tendency to view the idea of a musical genre as something fixed, parametrized, something that can be defined by tempo, but in fact every musical genre is a continuum, a process. The process has not stopped, and in a way this is a glimpse into the origins of the process. Today there is a new mestizaje going on. Just like it has always been, the process of creating musical culture continues, and with it come new tools, ideas and platforms which have the potential to enrich and also decimate our local culture. The roots of Ecuadorian popular music are of a constant and vibrant interplay of the seemingly disparate.
On October 1st, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture celebrates a national day in honour of the pasillo Ecuatoriano, and though I’m all for celebrating our musical forms, it seems unjust that the pasillo would be the only one to have a day in its honour. Our mixtape this week, again from the unlabeled section, is a selection of six Ecuadorian musical genres. Tonadas, sanjuanitos, albazos, pasillos and pasacalles. Some of these tracks are instrumentals, and none of them were labelled, so I had to play this mixtape to all the willing ears to see if they could identify any of the songs, and they did; these tunes run deep in the collective mind.
1. “Poncho Verde” (Instrumental) – Unknown (Tonada) 2. “Ay Caramba” – Mendoza Suasti (Tonada) 4. “Huashca de Coral” (or “Peshte Longuita”) (Sanjuanito) 5. “La Naranja” – Unknown (Tonada) 6. Unknown (Albazo) 7. “Romance de Mi Destino” – Valencia (Pasillo) 8. “Cuatro de la Mañana” – Valencia (Tonada) 9. “Mi Adoracion” -Fausto Salgado (Pasillo) 10. “Chola Cuencana” – Duo Benitez Valencia (Pasacalle) 11. “Ayayay Cuando Me Muera” – Fausto Salgado (Tonada)
This week’s tapes are from the unlabeled section. Sloppy recordings off the radio. Live takes, b roll, and outtakes, some of which I’ve identified, but most are untitled. All four tapes were in a bag together, for no apparent reason. The only connection I could find is that they relate somehow to love, its ups and downs, from infatuated teenagers, to jaded middle aged drunks, expectation, disappointment, all told through a gaze that quietly expresses the social fabric of those days. Some of them drenched in noise.
We start with a tragic bolero sung by a woman who is evidently offended at a greedy man, and accuses him of not being legal, not even with himself. More than heart broken she sounds like she wants to take that guy to court. This tape was mostly bits from the radio, from sometime in the 1960s and its about 46 minutes long, As I neared the end, an abrupt cut led me into the voice of a woman whispering to an unknown lover’s ear. You can tell she’s really up close to the mic, “I’m yours,” she whispers, “What are you waiting for? Don’t wait. Life is for living, day to day, second by second; its too short.”
You can feel the butterflies in her stomach.
It is such an intimate recording, not meant for my ears or yours, but for and from two that we’ll never know. She is so daring. She knows what she wants. Her voice is filled with courage and presence. Which is so different to the roles cast for women in the romantic genres of the time. Could I find out whose voice I’m listening to? Does it matter? Her words are a window into a whole whirlwind of possibilities: who knows how many events unfolded from this very recording. An office romance? An affair? Or was it the love of her life? Could they have had children? Where is she now?
The stories we tell about our lives are irrevocably tied to love, and love in our societies has often come to be governed by moral standards set by religion. There is an absent presence of religious piety that hovers in the background of these tracks, like the tape noise, but quiet; silently defining the contours of expression and the way it is expressed. These aren’t songs bout marriage, or courtship, or sex, or even falling in love. They are songs about the mishaps, the aftermath. Songs about resignation to a tragic fate. Like a desperate troubleshooting manual for a rocky love life. The innocent maidens infatuated, in search of their prince, but strangely aware of their future disillusions. The drunk lonely bachelors crying over their mistakes at a bar. The guilt, the pain, the burden of life, the human drama; the melodrama.
There are songs of devotion to a loved one that remind me of Sufi poetry. Not in their tone but their content, the metaphoric drunken stupor that is love, but could be God, or maybe just wine. It could be all three or just one at a time. But unlike Sufi poetry our drunken cantors seem to be wailing, on their knees, crying “why me?!?!” to the skies. Suffering, guilt, betrayal, rancor, and the death of a loved one. Love, though sweet, is so often a torment, a source of infinite pain. The clashing juxtaposition of cheery tropical rhythms with the rancorous words of a jaded lover, wishing you eternal damnation.
Hasn’t it been forever since the broken hearted sought consolation through music?
The question is what came first. Did the moral codes shape our lyrics? Or are they deeper expressions, of more primordial ways of being that the church only reflects back at us in the form of rules that we’re supposed to follow? Is it in our nature to seek salvation? A bit of both, most likely.
Radio Recording of woman singing a Bolero (unknown), whispers, Benitez y Valencia singing “Quiereme Mucho,” and a song about loss (featuring Biluka, on the orange leaf). Eduardo Brito follows in a pitched-up vocal track recorded at a really slow tape speed. A painkiller commercial for Cefalina, and then the “Cumbia Bendita,” sung by another woman whose name I wish to find out. We cut to a radio non fiction piece about the Holy Marianita de Jesus, Ecuador’s first saint, and her precocious virtue, meshed with reversed recordings of the choir of the Casa de la Cultura del Ecuador (CCE). We follow with “Mi Primer Beso”, a song bout the conditions that must be met before a first kiss will be allowed. Aulo Gelio (Named after the Roman lawyer and writer) aka Aut Shock, pitched up due to the tape speed, singing ballads about loneliness. We close with yet another unknown female singer, emphatically stating that she is over her ex., because he is criminally infamous, and belongs in the jails of oblivion.
There are four women whose names I’ve been unable to find, and I am still looking for any clues as to who they are. If you know anything please get in touch: [email protected].
Olga Gutierrez was born in Quimilí, Santiago del Estero, Argentina in 1928, and came to Ecuador in 1962. She had been invited by the president to sing in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh. She toured throughout Latin America, making a name for herself as a brilliant singer and performer, but it was in Ecuador where she left her most indelible mark. Gutierrez performed scores of Ecuadorian classics and her recordings have survived her; her voice becoming an iconic part of Ecuadorian popular music.
During her time in Quito she met Hector Jaramillo, Homero Hidrovo, and Eduardo Erazo, who at the time played as a trio called Los Brillantes. She joined them at which point the group became Los Cuatro Brillantes, and they went on tour spending a lot of time playing music in Mexico and Nicaragua.
It is unclear how Olga Gutierrez and Carlos Guerra came to collaborate, but, judging from the date of her arrival to the country, she must have recorded these pieces quite soon after her arrival. Guerra was almost 30 years older than Gutierrez, and by the time she came to Ecuador his songs were established hits in the local scene.
Olga Gutierrez would go on to settle in Guayaquil, and become the voice for hundreds of Ecuadorian classics, and she became known as “La Reina del Pasillo Ecuatoriano.” In 2004, she became a naturalized Ecuadorian citizen.
Sadly, Olga Gutierrez passed away merely weeks before the restoration of these tapes began. She died in Guayaquil on March 10th of 2015, but she will undoubtedly be remembered for giving her voice to so many Ecuadorian classics.
Carlos Guerra was Born in Quito on the 27th August, 1896. he was a self taught multi instrumentalist who wrote his music mainly on guitar and piano. He became famous for co writing “Esta Guitarra Vieja,” a classic albazo.
It is said that Guerra and Hugo Moncayo had been drinking and playing music in an underground pub called El Murcielagario (the bat cave). The pub was hidden in the basement of the first house of La Ronda, and was a regular meeting place for many of the city’s bohemians. Hugo Moncayo had a rush of inspiration in which he wrote the lyrics, Guerra’s inspiration followed and he sat down on the piano, and so a hit was born.
He was one of the founders of SAYCE, the first Ecuadorian institution devoted to protecting author’s rights. He was also a regular on La Ronda, the street on which he was born and lived and where a lot of cultural and bohemian life in Quito took place. Artists, poets and musicians all intermingled while crafting the growing city’s culture.
Guerra became known for his pasillos, pasacalles, tonadas, albazosand aires tipicos, Ecuadorian musical genres in 3 and 6 count, derivations of the pre-Columbian Andean yaravi.
He passed away in 1992; he was 96 years old.
This week’s tracklisting:
1. Secretos: Pasillo (Carlos Guerra / Hugo Moncayo) 2. Sostenme: Vals (Carlos Guerra / Rosario Sansores) 3. Al Oido: Pasillo (Carlos Guerra / Enrique Echeverria)
4. Arpita de Mis Delirios (Traditional albazo) 5. Esta Guitarra Vieja: Albazo (Carlos Guerra / Hugo Moncayo) 6. Esta Pena Mia: Pasillo (Carlos Guerra / Pedro Miguel Obligado)
From amongst the hundreds of tapes, one man’s name had a way of resonating a bit louder than the others. Perhaps it was the myth of him. A name I had heard my whole life, a man whose music had marked my mother’s childhood, and who had held me when I was an infant.
Raul Emiliani was a remarkable man. Born in Bologna, Italy in 1918 to a family of Roman descent, he was a young boy when he began to play the violin. It is said that during Mussolini’s regime, Raul and his brother Emiliano were summoned by Il Duce himself to entertain the then visiting Adolf Hitler.
Needless to say, Raul left Italy as a result of the fascist rule, which considered people of his ethnicity to be less than human. He left with a violin on his back, by boat to the new world, and somehow he ended up in the Andes. A place that he came to love very deeply. In Quito he got his license as a player for the National Symphony Orchestra, and began to make his name, not only as a violinist, but also as a pop composer, director, and teacher.
The man was handsome, and had a voice deep like a well. His skill with the violin is impressive. To my ears, he is a virtuoso, undoubtedly a maestro. He plays music of such detail and speed with such ease, it has always blown me away.4
While in Ecuador, Maestro Emiliani became good friends with Carlos Rota, my grandfather. They seem to have understood each other. Carlos was a very airy man, focused mainly on the workings of the mind, largely ignoring the appeals of the heart. Raul, on the other hand, even now, 26 years after his death, radiated the energy of an enormous heart, warm with fire and passion. Kind, and tender, sensitive, delicate, yet piercing like a shrill and perfect tone on a resonant E string.
Perhaps they were a good balance for each other. One all talent, no ambition, and the other all ambition, no talent. Carlos claimed to have found the talent of the Maestro, which may well be true. Whatever the case, It was through CAIFE that Emiliani made his first attempts at putting his music to the press.
It seems like Raul was caught between two worlds. One of symphonic virtuosity, and another of pulp fiction, pop culture, and musical consumption. He began to write a series of ballads, and chachachas, to fit the sounds of the time, maybe even become hits, and bring in some cash.
With the help of CAIFE, Raul Emiliani recorded a series of singles drenched in innuendo, moons and rockets, and the monokini which apparently was all the rage at the time. For those of you who don’t know, the monokini was a one part bikini, that is, a topless bathing suit for women that was supposed to be the thing during the sexual revolution. Clearly, society couldn’t handle the monokini, but Emiliani’s two singles about such a tantalizing subject, have survived the dust:
Raul Emiliani, however, was best known as a virtuous violin player. During the 1960s he was the director of the Quito Symphony Orchestra and took up posts as a teacher and scholar at Conservatorio Antonio Maria Valencia in Cali and various posts throughout the south of Colombia.
I contacted one of his previous students who spoke fondly of the pedagogic method Emiliani had created, and of the signature “gypsy cut” with which he interpreted all of his music.
There is no doubt in my mind that Emiliani was a virtuoso. I played the viola for 10 years, and I am baffled by the dexterity and freedom of his fingers. Not that my skill is any measure of virtuosity, but at least it gives me an honest measure of the skill that I lack. Raul’s playing is butter, smoothness of the best kind, at velocities unheard of to my 50bpm fingers. The way he slides into tone, so far ahead that it sounds like he’s slightly behind. His playing is raw gitanity. It is light-footedness and detachment, it is present moments passing into warm remembrance with immediacy and flow. A river. Perhaps his virtuosity is the sensuous relationship with the instrument, and his sheer passion, a sharp shrill like a caring knife cutting melodies through the air, buttered in analog warmth.
If you search “Raul Emiliani” online, you’ll find few results, most of them pertaining to the Raul Emiliani String Instrument line created by Eastman Strings. The Eastman Strings “Raul Emiliani” run in the $4,000 range, which means, they are instruments to be reckoned with. High quality, good wood, professional hand made instruments. that is to say, this is no cheap line of violins, but a serious musical enterprise run by master luthiers. On the web page a single paragraph states:
“In Memoriam: Raúl Emiliani was an Italian-born violinist, composer, and arranger. His work as a pedagogue contributed to the development of numerous fine instrumentalists. Professor Emiliani died in 1989.”
I contacted the company, wondering if it was the same man. To my surprise I received an email almost immediately from Rubén Salazar, Head of Orchestral String Sales at Eastman Strings, and he confirmed that he had been Emiliani’s student in Cali in the late 70s and early 80s. He said that when he first arrived at Eastman Strings in 2005 he decided to pay homage to his former teacher by naming the company’s top instrument line after him. It was indeed the same man.
It is so strange the way a person’s mark can be left on the world in such obscure and disconnected ways. At least to the outside observer, Raul Emiliani’s virtuosity lays encapsulated in a cryptic message, in the form of beautiful instruments; his name side by side that of Stradivarius, yet his music, the sound he purveyed, the art of his fingers, has vanished without a trace. Gone. Only a series of clues remain, guiding those who are willing to look, to uncover the virtuosity of a man buried by time.
According to Rubén, nowadays a lot of the top players in the Northern Andean region, and perhaps throughout Latin America received training from Raul himself.
One day I came across a recorded interview, Pinceladas Musicales, where the host, a man with a tinny radiophonic voice introduces the Maestro, as a purveyor of pure musical spirituality. After concluding that all music is about love, he tries to coax Raul to tell the story of the mysterious Nathalia. When the host starts to make unwarranted assumptions, Raul interrupts him, so he may stop rambling. The Depth of The Man’s Voice made me check the tape speed. Could it really be that deep?
My mother came in to listen to the tape, and she told me that this voice didn’t sound right, and it was true; it turned the tape was playing fast; that his voice was even deeper.
Thank you to Paulina, Ruben Salazar and Francesca Rota for their help with research and resources.
This weeks audio starts off with two of Emiliani’s orchestral singles:
“La Luna El Cohete Y Yo” (Chachachá) and “Monokini” (Cumbia)
Emiliani directed the orchestra and wrote the two songs, which were meant to be ballroom hits. Though they are not characteristic of his personal style, they embody his flexibility, talent, and even his sense of humour.
We continue with 4 violin pieces recorded by Raul Emiliani and Hector Bonilla:
“Nathalie” (by G. Becaud / Pierre Delanoe) “El Canario” (F. Poliakin) “Para Tus Lindos Ojos” (Alfredo G. Martinez) “San Juanito” (desconocido, Ecuadorian folk song)
We end with a short radio interview featuring Raul’s music, accompanied by Maestro Hector Bonilla’s piano. We start with “Aria Y Rigodón”, a classic whose author I have been unable to identify. We then go into an interpretation of an Ecuadorian folk classic “Chola Cuencana”, beautifully interpreted and embellished with gorgeous trilling arpeggios. After a short commercial break, we return with “Ligia” a piece written by Raul himself dedicated to a beautiful woman, a good friend’s fiancé, whom he appreciated greatly, it has the feel of a gypsy fantasy, with Hungarian undertones, and a fierce energy.
History is the story of what we remember. But sometimes we forget what we’ve forgotten.
Music history is no different. We view history through a narrow telescope, and the vision it gives us is minuscule in comparison to the unspoken totality.
Time has left many singers unsung. It has buried the stories of millions of music-makers who lived their lives somehow removed from the eyes of history.
Folk traditions are the bits of sound and information that outlived their authors, in name and body. We consider their chord progressions and lyrics as authored by the anonymous, when in fact it is our narrow memory that made their authors nameless.
Last year, my grandfather, Carlos Rota, passed away. Carlos was a strange and difficult man; eccentric does not quite cover it. To some he was too far on the fringe, and to others a misunderstood genius; the two encounters I had with him failed to confirm either hypothesis. After his death, when I entered his old office, I got as close as I would ever get to him, and what I found was an incomprehensible tangle of a man, filled with ambition, obsessed with history, business, glory, and paper.
The office, a four room flat in the north of Quito had been used almost solely for storing paper media. Buried in it, we began to find all kinds of oddities from the past. Twelve typewriters, US army food rations, a library of conspiracies, and three and a half tonnes of newspapers dating as far back as 1957.
We dug for a long while before we reached the tapes. Box after box of labelled original recordings on half-inch analog magnetic tape. Bosch, Audiotape, Barclay, RCA, Scotch. The tapes had been buried under newspaper for 45 years, preserved by the dry Quito air, and the newspaper had kept them away from the light and dust. The collection was in surprisingly good condition.
It turns out Carlos had founded and owned a record label in the late 50s and 60s; the tapes were the stored catalogue of all their recordings. The label was called CAIFE and it specialized in Ecuadorian and Southern Colombian music and served as a distributor for larger international record labels like Barclay and RCA Victor in Quito, Ecuador.
CAIFE had surged as a result of increased availability of high fidelity gear in Ecuador. My great grandfather, an Italian radio engineer who had been sent to Ecuador in the 30s to establish a high quality radio network, had become the representative of RCA Victor in Quito, and by the time Carlos had hit his mid-20s and was ready to take on the world, all the cards were lined up for a record label to be born. And so it was.
The history of CAIFE is not quite clear, but for about 10 years, CAIFE recorded, pressed and distributed thousands of 12” and 7” vinyl at 45 RPM. At first, the cost of recording and producing stereo records was prohibitive, which meant that the CAIFE catalogue was largely monophonic. However, by the late 60s stereo was growing up. This meant that the audiophile standard for recording was beginning to shift away from mono, and stereo systems and tapes were becoming more affordable. However, it seems as if the technological transition might have been too much for the small label, and by 1970 CAIFE had closed down.
I wanted to hear the tapes, and began to dig deeper into the piles in search of a tape player. In one of the boxes, I found an old reel-to-reel, an ancient Grundig TK20 from the 1950s, and I took it home along with some tapes. When I plugged in the machine, I heard the sound of the electronics warming up, tubes. I strung the tape through the heads like an amateur, and switched the knob into gear.
Recorded at 15fps (feet per second), the tape was too fast for the TK20 which could only do 3.5fps. This made Olga Gutierrez’s voice sound distended, beastly and in slow motion. The old circuitry hissed as it warmed the sound through its circuits and tubes making the tones sound impossibly rich; I was astounded by the depth and proximity of her voice, those extended deep bass tones of the transposed guitar sounded like nothing my digital ears had ever heard.
I recorded it and increased the speed digitally, listening as the melodies emerged in real time… By then it was April, and by May I would have left Quito. Only a year later did I get to dig deep.
The first cluster of tapes I got my hands on was in questionable shape. There were about one hundred tapes, uncovered, no plastic, no boxes, and they were stuffed into an old leather suitcase covered with hotel stickers from all over Colombia and Ecuador. Although some of the tapes had been labelled in the past, the scotch tape that had been used to tape the typewritten paper labels onto the reels, had lost its stick and most of the reels were bare, unidentified mysteries.
The suitcase was a tangle of obsolete media, a complete unknown. I searched for months before I found a working reel-to-reel, an Ampex Atr-700. I cleaned the oxide gunk out of the heads, fixed the transformer, dusted all of the connections, and then began the long process of digitizing the audiotape.
It became clear that the tapes could contain absolutely anything. I found old hits and demo reels that had been used for mailing promoters and radio stations, but I also found recordings of my grandfather’s telephone conversations; it seems he had configured his TK20, via a series of strange German cable adaptations, (3, 4, 5 and 7 pin din) to tap his own phones just in case he caught some dirt on somebody that he could use in the future.
There were also extensive recordings of radio interviews and perhaps most strangely, an archive of his incoming phone messages that he had taken the time to comment. The deeper I dug, the more strange my grandfather appeared to be, and the less I seemed to know him. But I felt a strange camaraderie for him, as though I was tying the loose ends of his life.
I never knew grandpa, and from what I know of him, I am not sure I would have wanted to. But I cannot do anything but thank him for the gift he accidentally gave me. The music on those acetate reels had me from the start:
A full orchestra in a room with one microphone, live, the VUs saturating, botched takes and retakes, imprints flowing virtuously from the souls of polished session musicians; odds and ends, broken edits, failed jokes; interesting bits from long dead radio hosts, and also, finished, complete pieces, recorded beautifully, the matrices that had been used to press the records.
Vivid. Warm. Crackling sound.
For about three weeks, I spent all day everyday in front of the reel-to-reel, loading and playing as many tapes as I could, listening to the stream from the past, getting in touch with the sound of another generation, so far yet so close to mine.
Memoria Analoga details the process of rediscovering the CAIFE catalog and the artists that made it, 45 years after it was buried under three tonnes of newspaper.