-- Le Chant du Monde LDX 274 675 (distributed by Harmonia Mundi)
Issued in 1990 by the Ethnomusicology Department of the Muse’e de l’Homme in Paris, this book/CD set presents a cross-section of different types of musical instruments. The examples represent many parts of the world, and are drawn primarily from the collections of French ethnomusicologists such as Geneviève Dournon, Gilbert Rouget, Simha Arom, Hugo Zemp, Trân Quang Hai and others.
The 36 tracks are arranged in the usual four categories. Aerophones make up the largest number of tracks, followed by idiophones, chordophones, and membranophones. In some cases, there are multiple examples of one instrument type. For example, we hear wooden trumpets from central Africa, metal instruments from Tibet, and a bamboo trumpet from India. For reed instruments, we hear an oboe from Tibet, a double clarinet from India, a triple clarinet from Italy, and an ensemble of bamboo clarinets from Guyana, as well as a mouth organ from Thailand and an accordion from Italy.
The booklet is 120 pages in length, with text in French and English. Each language’s text section is slightly less than one-third of the booklet, with the largest third being a set of very good photos in the middle of the booklet. Twenty-five of the 90 instruments shown can be heard on the recording. However, the remaining eleven tracks feature instruments not illustrated (no explanation is given).
After introductory essays, each instrument recorded receives excellent documentation in summary form (up to a page long). The commentary is by Dr. Dournon, based on knowledge gained from working with the original field recordists and their notes.
There are more than 150 instrument types (according to the Sachs-Hornbostel classification system), and most of those can be sub-divided even further. Therefore, a recording of 36 instrument types is hardly even representative of the vast diversity of musical instruments in the world today. Only six examples of drums are given; two of those are from Benin and three from India—just a little skimpy! One wishes that the Museum had produced a more comprehensive 3-CD set as they did some years later on “Voices of the World.” (This single CD is an expanded edition of an LP released some years earlier.)
Nevertheless, the examples that are included are uniformly excellent in terms of sound quality, and the notes are thorough enough to be useful for individual or class study. The CD is an excellent compilation of instrumental sounds which can be difficult to find, such as an anklung (shaken bamboo tube) ensemble from Java, an ensemble of “talking drums” praising a chief in Benin, a flute with a vocal drone from India, bamboo clarinets from the Amazon, and stamping tubes of the ’Are’Are people in the Solomon Islands. Also included are more commonly heard instruments such as tabla drums from India and a gamelan ensemble from Bali.
If you can get only one CD to demonstrate the diversity of instruments around the world, make it this one. And if you or your library already have a large collection of ethnomusicology recordings, get this one anyway for the sheer pleasure of amazing sounds as well as for the detailed documentation.
--reviewed by Paul Neeley
Published in Vol.1, No.4 of