Music from the future

So yesterday I had an experience I’ve been waiting for the last thirty years or so. I heard the music of California in the far future as imagined by Ursula Le Guin and Todd Barton.

When Le Guin first published her book Always Coming Home, a vision of life in the Napa Valley centuries after the end of the world as we know it, it included a cassette tape, “Music and Poetry of the Kesh”. The book and tape together cost what was then a stupendous sum, something like $25–more than I could afford to spend out of my own pocket, even if I could find a bookstore that carried it. I daresay my mother vetoed buying it for me just as she vetoed buying me a Batmobile when I was in kindergarten. (Nope, still not over that.) So I purchased the mass-market paper edition as soon as I saw it, but I never had a chance to hear the music.

Thanks to the magic of mp3 downloads, it’s playing in my ears right now. The instrumental pieces sound rather California New Age, like something you’d hear on an acoustic-only episode of Hearts of Space, but the vocal pieces sound, to me, convincingly tribal. They are sung in Le Guin’s invented language, and they sound to me like the music of people for whom making music, singing, participating in music, is the default; it is music which belongs to the singers, the instrumentalists, rather than to specialists, experts, professionals, pop stars. It is not so much a performance as a participation: Work song, lullaby, sacred chant. I like it. I like it very much.

(And if you’re interested in listening, you can find samples or buy the whole album here.)

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4 thoughts on “Music from the future

  1. Erik

    Nice… i have that box set, from back in the day – and in the way of technology, I barely have anything left to play the cassette on, and haven’t listened to it in donkey’s years :( I shall have to rectify that soon.

  2. Mam Adar Post author

    Thanks for commenting, Erik. I’ve added a link to the site where you can buy the mp3 album, for those who want to go that route. I need to replace my copy of the book, actually; it split in half the last time I tried to read it.

  3. Erich Schneider

    When ACH was published, I was a high school student and member of the Science Fiction Book Club. They offered the slipcase edition with the cassette as one of their monthly selections, and I picked it up then. From that day forward it has been one of my favorite books – I listened to the music over and over again (my college friends made jokes about the “Kesh music” I listened to all the time) and eventually got that copy of the book signed by Ms. Le Guin.

    I’m glad to see there are other people encountering and enjoy the music 30 years later.

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