He Zemin/Huang Peiying - "Big Idiot Buys A Pig" (Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days)
Trust Dust-To-Digital to save the best, or at least the most sumptuous, for last. Until the last quarter of 2007, eachofthelabel’s releases unveiled a forgotten or never-noticed aspect of aural Americana. Then came the single-disc volumes Melodii Tuvi, a selection of late-’60s field recordings of Central Asian throat singing, and Black Mirror, a survey of music originally released beyond our shores on 78 rpm records that was curated by experimental musician and record store proprietor Ian Nagoski.
Victrola Favorites, the label’s third exposition of alien sounds, tops them both in terms of size, presentation and overall ambition. Its sequence of 48 78s is drawn from the collections of Seattle residents Rob Millis and Jeffery Taylor, known collectively as the Climax Golden Twins. The Twins have previously issued 10 cassette compilations of 78s, all dubbed Victrola Favorites, but this set isn’t just a greatest hits album; it’s more like having a private audience with the Twins in their listening parlor.
The cassettes came with no notation, just a Xeroxed image on a J-card, and were taped using a single microphone pointed at a phonograph speaker. The CDs, on the other hand, have been professionally mastered so that the shellac crackle is kept to a manageable level, and they come enclosed within a hardbound, 144-page book. Two pages are devoted to basic information about each track; the rest reproduce labels, sleeves, Victrola advertisements, and photos and cards that came with the records. It’s like a scrapbook with great production values, and productions values are certainly something that Dust-To-Digital knows how to do right.
But the label’s imprint upon this venture is limited to that production value; the personalities it projects are all Taylor and Millis. Putting these discs on and paging through the book is like having them pull out their scrapbooks while they spin records. The tunes aren’t grouped by theme or style, but by how good – or befuddling – they sound next to each other. Solemn ceremony rubs elbows with pure schmaltz; demented comedy abuts Mom’s-gonna-kill-us tragedy. Incidental music from a Chinese opera follows Congolese chanting, a frantic Turkish oud solo from the ’20s flows into a Korean bamboo flute piece from the ’50s, and some Zulu festivities give way to a simply gorgeous Indian melody played on tabla drums. A lot of the music comes from abroad, but not all of it; North Americans contribute some zippy Hawaiian guitar picking, ribald blues, shake-a-leg jug band music, and hair-raising gospel. The logic by which they flow is inscrutable, but unassailable.