Trying to write an introduction for Ian Nagoski’s piece below seems almost futile. Listening to the very special song by Vera Filipova and reflecting on Nagoski’s words is an experience in itself. Ian is not a conventional musician but more of a precision craftsman that weaves together history and layers of mystery that has been held in musical notes and compositions for decades. One of the things that drew us to Nagoski was his most recent album: To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-29. His passion, love, intrigue and steadfastness to these old records are qualities so unique we couldn’t help but take notice. Nagoski urges us to reflect on the international sounds and communities that helped to form the cultural landscape of America.
Here he takes us effortlessly into his world. His meditation on music love and discovering of old sounds is a welcome respite. Listen to the Filipova track below (embedded in the article) while reading Nagoski’s piece and let yourself sink into the words and world’s that he has so carefully produced.
To learn more about Nagoski please watch this beautiful short film produced in conjunction with the release of the record: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-29.
Listening, Love, and Time
by Ian Nagoski
Earlier this year, Harley Gaber and I were talking about composing music. The problem he felt he’d run into was that he’d been desperate to describe the very dramatic terrain of his lived experience, an experience which felt utterly huge and which had caused him to make overwhelming experiences for others so that they’d know what it was like. He warned me against my impulses to “invade” the consciousness of others, to make a music that would enter a person like a virus. Music and poetry cause delirium but the fevers they give are delicious because of a subtler set of triggers than the grandiose mind-invasion than the novice poet wants.
Ornette Coleman told an interviewer, “I don’t think about communication; I think about sharing.” That difference requires taking your foot off the throttle and changing your relationship to the destination. It can be felt.
Listening alone to music, the best experiences are very close to falling in love. There is the sense of recognition – “yes! You! There you are, just like I wanted you to be.” There is trust in one’s own feelings and desires. There is wonder and awe in another person – who they are and what they are capable of. And there is a moment of fulfillment that could not possibly have been predicted just a minute before. It’s great. And I keep going looking for it.
I had that feeling with a piece of Harley’s, a string quintet released in 1975, the year I was born, called The Winds Rise in the North. And I went looking for Harley a decade ago after having had that experience, but I didn’t find him until about this time last year. We became firm friends in our first phone conversation, and then this past summer he died. He sent me the manuscript of Winds Rise a few months before his death. It’s in my closet waiting for me to find it a home in an archive where it can be cared for and studied by others
It’s OK if it takes a little time. I am a slow and faithful person.
I arrived recently at page 830 of Rebecca West’s sprawling Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, written about her six–week trip in 1937. Page 830 is something like the three-quarters of the way mark. At that point in West’s travelogue, she witnessed an animal sacrifice fertility ritual in Macedonia which horrified her and caused to blow long and loud on foundational Christian principles of sacrifice and love, blasting through judgements of Augustine, Martin Luther, Mozart, Blake, Austin and Shakespeare, in the process of which she was compelled to quote from Sonnet 116:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove
It is, in other words, slow and faithful.
A decade after West was in Macedonia, a singer named Vera Filipova recorded four performances at the radio station of Skopje of what was by then the center of the Macedonia state inside the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia under Tito. Here (verafilipovamp3) is a folk song she recorded, and which I happened across in a box full of Macedonian records made some time before 1953 that someone traded to me. I keep going back to this song; there’s something special about it. I’m starting to love it. Nothing at present is known about Vera’s life. From the sound of her voice, she was young when Rebecca West was in Skopje, but how young? A child? An adolescent? Possibly there are still photos or recordings of her in some closet there, waiting for someone to care enough to look or ask. Maybe you’ll love it when you hear it and your love will be the love to carry it forward in your heart and memory. Maybe you’ll be the person to keep her alive when you hear her.
[song credit: “Kirajdjice Jabandjice” – Vera Filipova, recorded ca. 1950 Skopje, Macedonia. Transfer and restoration by Ian Nagoski]
Ian’s Website and places to purchase his releases from his favorite record stores:
• Brass Pins & Match Heads: International 78s
• Marika Papagika – The Further the Flame, the Worse it Burns Me: Greek
Folk Music in New York, 1919-28
• To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora,