The Singer of Tales

This is a post about transcription.

In 1942, Béla Bartòk, as he was working at the transcription of the folk songs and folk poems recorded in Yugoslavia in the 1930's by Professor Milman Parry (and his student, the future folklorist Albert C. Lord), published a text in The New York Times about the way oral transmission of poetic tradition produces constant changes in the identity of this tradition : "The differences on the one hand and the identical parts on the other hand will show what parts of the words (or melodies) are more constant, what parts are more subject to changes, and to what degree. The reader must have in mind that folk-songs are a living material; and, as every really living thing or being, subject to perpetual changes, preserving constancy only of certain general formulae."

As we can ear these songs today, through their written representation, actual renditions and recordings, we experience the "transcription-effect" : orality brutally irrupts into the field of the recorded and the written. An object tries to enter a code that excludes him. Transcription is a struggle from literacy to orality, from the field of oral transmission to its own score, and from this score to other scores.

In the following songs, a voice contains many voices. In fact, it contains all the voices that carried these songs to their trancription. Perfectly immemorial, they've never been so close.
Antiquity faces us.

Selection of Folk Songs from the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature recorded in Yugoslavia by his student Albert C. Lord between 1933 and 1935

Selection of Béla Bartòk's transcripted scores of recordings from the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

Performer and Performance : The Role of Tradition in Oral Epic SongLecture by Albert C. Lord, Harvard University, 1989.

Hungarian Peasant Songs, Béla Bartòk, 1917 (performed by Zoltan Kocsis)