Sunday, November 15, 2009

Work, the way it should be

(i had to take down the video/song because it would play every time you arrived here)

Created by four postal employees who were recorded as they canceled stamps at the University of Ghana post office in 1975. Their whistle-and-stamp song was recorded by James Koetting.

"These men are working, not putting on a musical show; people pass by the work place paying little attention to the "music." (I used to go often to watch and listen to them and they gave the impression that they thought I was somewhat odd for doing so.) The four men making the sounds you hear are workers canceling letters at the University of Ghana post office. Each letter must be canceled by hand, a boring task that these men make more palatable by setting the work to music. Twice a day the letters that must be canceled are laid out in two files, one on either side of a divided table. Two men sit across from one another at the table, and each has a hand-canceling machine (like the price markers you may have seen in supermarkets), an ink pad, and a stack of letters. The work part of the process is simple; a letter is slipped from the stack with the left hand, and the right hand inks the marker and stamps the letter - a repetitive task by anyone's standard but one made for setting to music since it is rhythmic (or can be made so) and it produces audible sound.
This is what you are hearing; the two men seated at the table slap a letter rhythmically several times to bring it from the file to the position on the table where it is to be canceled (this act makes a light-sounding thud). The marker is inked one or more times (the lowest, most resonant sound you hear) and then stamped on the letter (the high-pitched mechanized sound you hear). As you can hear, the rhythm produced is not a simple one-two-three (bring forward the letter - ink the marker - stamp the letter). Rather, musical sensitivities take over. Several slaps on the letter to bring it down, repeated thuds of the marker in the ink pad and multiple cancelations of single letters are done for rhythmic interest. Such repetition slows down the work, but also makes it much more interesting for the workers.
The other sounds you hear have nothing to do with the work itself. A third man has a pair of scissors that he clicks - not cutting anything, but adding to the rhythm. The scissors go "click, click, click, rest" [...] a basic rhythm used in popular dance music. The fourth worker simply whistles along. He and any of the other three workers who care to join him whistle popular tunes or church music that first the rhythm.
These post office workers provide us with a modern example of work music in Africa, but there are many raditional forms of it. Drummers may be sent to the fields to provide rhythm for workers harvesting or weeding crops; men pulling a fishing net might sing to coordinate their efforts; women using poles to beat down the dirt floor of a house might sing and stomp in rhythm. Sometimes the music is intended to help the workers work together, make the task go faster, or keep the work steady; it always makes the work more fun."

And it makes people like me start bawling like a baby.

via RK,
via this via that
via this

1 comment:

Tim Foil said...

Very excellent!

I hope you won't mind if I link to this...will go great with my new semi-regular feature, "Sound Cellar."

Hope I don't crash your site with all my traffic!!

I see that the original link came from WFMU...aren't they the best? I always think of you and RK when I listen to Seven Second Delay and The Best Show...I figure you guys get your NYC fix over there!

Hope you're well,