In 1948, Moses Asch founded the incredibly influential Folkways Records label to record and share music and sounds from around the world. Along with bringing the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Elizabeth Cotten to wider audiences, Folkways, acquired in 1987 by Smithsonian, also issued incredible sound recordings from the Ituri rainforest, Navajo Nation, Peru, and many other locations and indigenous peoples across the globe. (In fact, the label provided several tracks for the Voyager Golden Record, now 12+ billion miles from Earth! Researching that project with my partner Tim Daly, a DIY musicologist himself, I’ve become absolutely enchanted by Folkways. If any of you dear readers have Folkways LPs collecting dust, I’d give them a wonderful home.)
Along with music, Folkways released LPs with poetry, language instruction, nature sounds (frogs! insects), and other field recordings. I recently discovered this curious Folkways release from 1964, Sounds of the Office, featuring a time clock, electric typewriter, adding machine, thermofax, pop bottle machine, and of course “coffee break.” It reminds me of an early avant-garde tape music composition! You can hear two samples below and more at the Smithsonian Folkways site.
“The sounds of the office are essentially sounds of paper and machines. Here are some of them, in a rough chronological sequence, from the start of a day to its end, or at least the end of the morning,” wrote the recordist Michael Siegel in the album liner notes.
It’s interesting to imagine how a contemporary version of this album would sound.