Long-Lost Recordings From the Remote Parts of the World

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

In the mid-1980s, a documentarian named David Blair Stiffler travelled to the most remote parts of the Philippines to capture a series of field recordings—a fairly straightforward task made considerably more complicated by kidnapping at gunpoint and subsequent captivity.

Stiffler kept recording—and in the process, captured a series of incredibly candid aural portraits of people "living lives of extreme isolation" in the remote mountain regions of the Philippines. Some of the tracks are clearly well-known, rehearsed pieces. Others are completely spontaneous, like this lullaby sung by a mother. It's startling to consider the changes that have likely come to the places and people he documents in these tracks, recorded almost 30 years ago—as The Wire's Ian Nagoski writes, "with the rapid extinction of languages, spoken and musical, of ethnic groups around the world, documents of this kind are significant."

Held for 18 days amidst political turmoil in the region he was visiting, most of Stiffler's recordings were reportedly confiscated, and when he returned home, the owner of the record label that had sent him there, Folkways, had passed away. The recordings were never published—until this month, when the Numero Group published them for the first time as a record called Music From the Mountain Provinces.

The advent of streaming and iPhones and the internet and technology in general mean that we're far less likely to stumble upon music that's not ground down to a slick, iridescent sheen. It's nice to take a break from that, at times. [Spotify]