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.)