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Collection Omaha Indian Music

Album Technical Note

The four-inch wax cylinders heard on this album were rerecorded onto magnetic tape using a modified Edison Home Phonograph. The machine accepted styluses varying in size to accommodate the different size and condition of each cylinder. Because the revolutions per minute at which these field recordings were made often changed from day to day, sometimes from cylinder to cylinder, the technician rerecording them decided an appropriate speed for each cut considering the industry norm for cylinders of this type and period, the distortion level audible at different speeds, and the characteristics of the music itself. This determination of speed depended in part, therefore, on the "ear" of the technician, and cannot be regarded as absolutely accurate. The technical demands of the phonograph also directly affected the performances. Listeners should keep in mind that the performers on this record directed their voices into a horn and were asked not to move about or make extreme changes in the volume of their singing, even though both may have been the custom. They may also have been asked to shorten or change long songs to fit within the three-minute time limit of the cylinders.

Other problems surfaced during the final filtering of the cylinders. Removing surface noise revealed fluctuations in speed and pitch, and accentuated skips, sudden starts, and abrupt endings which were either flaws in the original cylinders, or the results of deterioration over time. Filtering also aggravated certain distortions of sound, such as harmonics or overmodulation. Despite these technical difficulties, the vitality and timelessness of the performances shine through.

Erika Brady
May 1984

About the Omaha Indian Music Album Box Cover Art

The album cover was based on this sketch by George Miller, who sang two of the love songs on the album. The inscription reads, "Mun-za goo ha, Instha-thabe's father. Ni-ke-a-niniba represented. Only the pipe stems are shown not the pipes. The eagle feathers are also represented in the picture." Miller sketched a series of tent paintings for anthropologist George Owen Dorsey, which the latter included in his monograph on Siouan cults. (Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, George Owen Dorsey Collection, ms. 4800)

Reproduced from Dorothy Sara Lee and Maria La Vigna, eds. Omaha Indian Music: Historical Recordings from the Fletcher/La Flesche Collection. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985

Mun-za goo ha Sketch by George Miller
Omaha Indian Music Album Box Cover Art
Studio portrait of George Miller, one of the performers on the record. Courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph No. 4026.
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