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Dust to Digital: Five essential sets from the label-publisher whose Instagram is a musical goldmine
Phonographs, shellac discs, dusty 45’s, and archival videos curated and presented by Lance and April Ledbetter.
For the past 20-plus years, the Georgia-based archival imprint Dust-to-Digital has been mining the past for musical and visual gold. Along the way, the company, founded by the wife-and-husband team of April and Lance Ledbetter, has established itself for the ways in which it has crafted covetable objects and artifacts — and celebrated esoteric musicians.
Founded in 1999, the Grammy-winning concern is best known for its CD sets, which are often tucked into exquisitely designed hardcover books with breathtakingly deep images and text.
“I realized there’s so much great music that’s just buried out there, and there’s this curiosity that drives me to try and piece it all together,” Lance told Atlanta PBS affiliate WABE about their mission.
Dust-to-Digital is best known to civilians for its Instagram feed, where the team regularly posts sublime moments of musical expression from around the world.
Below, five stellar projects that Dust-to-Digital has produced.
Dust-to-Digital’s first release, Goodbye Babylon, was a shocking first statement. Here, we’ll let Brian Eno tell you about it (via a story in the Observer). Eno described it as “a six-CD box set compilation of obscure religious and gospel music from the first half of the 20th century … It comes in a beautiful wooden box with a fantastic 200-page booklet with Bible verses, lyrics and a really great scholarly essay. I love this kind of archaeology of the beginnings of music, in this case soul and rock ‘n’ roll … One of the Goodbye, Babylon CDs just features hair-raising sermons, the greatest hits of pastors. Of the songs, I particularly love a track called ‘When Was Jesus Born?’ by Heavenly Gospel Singers, which just makes me want to sing..”
I listen to the wind that obliterates my traces …
A 184-page hardback book with 2 CDs and 150 photographs reproduced in full-color, this miraculous project was produced by the Pasadena sonic and visual artist Steve Roden, whose collection of old, weird ephemera was gathered through late-night eBay and early morning flea market sprees.
The discs feature 51 vintage recordings from 1925-1955. Coupled with the photos, all of which feature musicians interacting with their instruments, the release will take you places you never knew existed. Below, hear Laurie Anderson discuss it during a Zoom session with Brian Eno, Simon McBurney and Nitin Sawhney. It’s the best $15 you’ll ever spend.
Opika Pende: Africa at 78
Hundreds of reissues over the years have focused on the wildly inventive electric music coming out of the African diaspora in the 1960s and ’70s. The archivist and writer Jonathan Ward has focused on the source material: the earliest known 78 rpm records pressed on the continent. Opika Pende is an extension of Ward’s great blog Excavated Shellac, and delivers one of the most consequential archival releases of the past few decades.
Writes Ward in his liner notes, “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.”
Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days
This early Dust-to-Digital release is basically a mix CD created by collectors Rob Millis and Jeffery Taylor of the Climax Golden Twins. Melding shock-of-the-old recordings of Burmese guitars, Chinese Opera, Persian folk songs, Fado, Hillbilly, Jazz and Blues, it comes with a visually stunning hardcover book of images from sleeves and other extant recording material.
Music of Morocco from the Library of Congress: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
In the 1950s, the writer Paul Bowles started recording Moroccan musicians that performed for him and his posse of expats — Brion Gysin, Tennessee Williams, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso included. Famously, Bowles recorded the famed Master Musicians of Jajouka. But he also recorded a bunch of other musicians, and Music of Morocco explores this fascinating and musically explosive moment.
Oh, and: Here’s the promo clip for Roden’s “I listen to the wind …” The photos in this book are brilliantly curated, and one-of-a-kind.
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