In 1988, David Blair Stiffler risked life and limb to document under-recorded cultural groups living lives of extreme isolation in the mountainous Philippine regions of Nueva Ecija, Aurora, and Luzon. These are the fruits of that expedition.
In the grand tradition of ethnographic recordings that made up the majority of Folkways' vast and significant catalog comes Music from the Mountain Provinces. By the mid-1980s, David Blair Stiffler was already a most-decorated recordist, with eight Folkways LPs under his belt. These are among the most obscure documents in the entire Folkways catalog and that’s quite a distinctive accomplishment, given the illustrious company in that discography).
His focus here to fore had largely been Central and South America, capturing sounds from largely-hidden rain forest civilizations, including the Palicour, Miskito, Arawak, Warrau, Cuna, Choco, and Pipil tribal and cultural groups. He would match this flair for the unknown and undocumented in his expedition to the Philippines. Although the works of Jose Maceda and Nicole Revel heavily documented much of the Philippines’ countryside inhabitants with a thorough and sober effort protracted over the decades. Stiffler brought his own panache into the equation, capturing gorgeous and revelatory moments from some of the archipelago’s least visited regions. Even without the harrowing tale of himself and his crew being taken hostage, contained within is a rare aural experience.
These masters, originally intended for release on Folkways, were shelved when Stiffler returned home to news of Folkways founder Moses Asch’sdeath. After the tragic event of last winter’s disastrous and deadly Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda), these documents are even more priceless.
“Our journals and recording equipment were ultimately confiscated and stolen by the MNLF rebels. We escaped with a single cassette, the clothes on our back, and our lives.”—David Blair Stiffler
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This is a brief one. I'm too stupid and poorly-travelled to be an authority on Philippine mountain music played by tiny culturally isolated tribes but this is the record for me this week. You want this LP If you care about people who, like David Stiffler, in their tireless search for such rare indigenous music, had their journals and recording equipment confiscated and ultimately stolen by the MNLF rebels in the mountains. "We escaped with a single cassette, the clothes on our back, and our lives".
That cassette is now pressed onto high grade vinyl by the ceaselessly passionate crate-diggers at Numero Group for our lazy privileged delight and, like only the very finest traditional folk music, is built around hypnotic repeated phrases, utilising natural reverberation and simple, earthy harmonies that almost emotionally slay me for the day. I can feel the breeze in the trees and smell the trampled soil on the ground - this is one of those really magical records. For this week only, stick yer soundtracks up your arse and buy something proper earth-bound.
8/10 Tim Collins Customer review, 6th August 2014
After reading this LP's description I was fascinated by it straight away, I sort of bought it on impulse because I thought I owed it to the guys who risked their lives recording this stuff. When I got this in the post, I opened it up to find a nice little insert describing; in more depth, the endeavors of 'David Blair Stiffler' and a couple of paragraphs for each track giving you an insight into the indigenous tribes and their instruments. At first I thought the record sounded a bit eerie, the way the instruments come together in a repetitive cycle that sort of had me in a trance. There's a surprising amount of depth to each of the tracks, you can often here people talking and laughing and shushing, whilst the tribes play their instruments in a seemingly improvised manner. Some tracks are very rugged with abrupt pauses and a continuous wave of intermingled sounds, whilst others are softer and more simplistic, with women singing together (or alone) revealing the limitations of their voices in a charming sort of way. Overall it was an adventure from start to finish and I think the blokes who recorded this achieved what they set out to do because even though I'm not gonna be spinning this everyday and singing along, It's definitely had an impact on me. If I could use one word to describe it, that word would be therapeutic.
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