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Escaping through the Sounds of the West

Aug 25 2020

Max on the Northern California coast. (Photo credit: Hailey Szybunka)

By Maxwell Klotz '20, '21 MA
Hometown: Stanford, CA
Major: Human Biology B.A., Earth Systems M.A.
Production Researcher, Galatée Films

Out West Student Blog

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Over the course of the summer, I have been able to settle into the rhythm of my remote internship with Galatée Films. Every week, I research a new topic related to the music of the American West, ranging from the origins of the accordion to the materials involved in making a Shoshone drum. I also check in with my French supervisors from Galatée Films on a weekly basis. I look forward to these meetings, when I can showcase the work I have done and display my favorite research gems. The historical information I find will assist the filmmakers in faithfully representing the historical time period of The Photographer. 

I spent this past week researching all types of nineteenth-century music from the American Southwest. Starting with indigenous music, I used the online Smithsonian and Library of Congress archives to find recordings of music from tribes in Arizona and New Mexico. Using my best pair of headphones, I put on the Smithsonian Folkways album American Indian Music of the Southwest. The album featured music from several tribes, including the Zuni and Taos Pueblos, the Navajo, and the Hopi, as well as the Havasupai, a tribe who have lived in the Grand Canyon for hundreds of years. As I listened to tracks like “Havasupai: Stick Game Song,” I recognized the triplet rhythm of the singing mixed with unfamiliar percussion instruments.  I took note of the various genres of songs on the album, ranging from love songs to gambling songs to ceremonial Rain Dance songs.

I then moved from American Indian music of the Southwest to settler music. Southwestern music has a number of cultural influences, including Anglo, Celtic, Central American, African, and Native American. Cowboy songs are the most famous American music from this region, so I immersed myself in the guitars, fiddles, and banjos of this genre. 

This summer has given me exposure to a wide range of digitized historical research materials. I have combed through musical reports from the Library of Congress, instrument archives from the Smithsonian, and American Indian artifacts from the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. I have also learned the importance of reaching out to experts for guidance. Throughout my internship, I have been in contact with archivists from museums around the country. After reading an ethnomusicological profile of Shoshone music, I have exchanged emails all summer with the author, who is eager to share her work and expertise. While my physical mobility is limited during these times, I enjoy being able to explore the West through its historical sounds.

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