Entangled Complicities in the Prehistory of "World
Music": Poul Rovsing Olsen and Jean Jenkins Encounter Brian Eno and
David Byrne in the Bush of Ghosts
Professor, University of New
Mexico and University of
Professor, University of Copenhagen
The label “world music” is today so
both in the academy and marketplace, that it is sometimes hard to grasp
how different the world and the music referenced by the conjoined term
once was (Born and Hesmondhalgh 2000, Erlmann 1996, Feld 2000,
Giannattasio 2003, Guilbault 1993, Martin 1996, Taylor 1997, 2007,
White 2011). A potent way to engage that history is through detailed
case study of early moments of conjuncture. We do that here to review
how academic practices of non-western music collection and presentation
were transformed by new regimes of “world music”
industrialization and representation. The study of these
transformations indicates how once-sharp contrasts became blurred
complicities that led to both contestation and critique.
The specific “world music” story we examine
concerns the intertwining of two LP recordings, The Human Voice in the World of
Islam (Jenkins and Olsen 1976a) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
(Eno and Byrne 1981). The former was produced through a nexus of 1970s
academy, archive, and museum ideals of academic folk music curation.
The latter was produced at the technological cutting-edge of
early-1980s Euro-American elite art-pop. To understand the contact
process, and the consequent ethical, legal, aesthetic, cultural, and
political discourses that were set into motion, we begin at the site of
Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer coined the term schizophonia
(1977:90) to refer to the splitting of sounds from their sources. What
he had in mind was the technological process of sound recording. The
nervousness of his schiz-word captured the modernist worry that
splitting means loss, a diminution in the relationship between a
“live” original and it's technologically mediated
double. But what about the possibility that schizophonia might signify
as much about amplification as it does about diminution? This takes us
to the considerably more complex dialectic that proceeds from the
ontology of the split, the possibility for new circulatory lives, for
new social and aesthetic meanings.
What happens when the contents of once-more-marginal
“ethnographic” recordings are renegotiated? What
happens when “other” voices and sounds are
variously edited, copied, or sampled for incorporation into highly
commercial pop or avant-garde productions with different aesthetic
agendas, global circulatory routes, and ownership regimes? What is
amplified by this kind of sonic recontextualization and resignification?
Feld’s “world music’” essays
(1988, 1994, 1996, 2000) argue that this is where schizophonia becomes
schismogenesis, a spiraling and intertwining mutualism of difference
heightened and difference denied. And what it produces is a discourse
of anxiety. It is the anxiety that “world music”
rests on economic structures that turn intangible cultural heritage
into detachable labor. It is the anxiety that this detachability
marginalizes, exploits, or humiliates indigenous originators. It is the
anxiety that elite pop artists and global corporations are
consolidating music ownership in centers of power while promoting
But Feld’s argument is that alongside the production of these
anxious narratives, “world music” discourse has
consistently, indeed, dialectically, produced a much more frequent
narrative, of celebration. Celebratory narratives see “world
music” as indigeneity’s champion and best friend.
Celebratory narratives see musical hybridity and fusion as cultural
signs of unbounded and deterritorialized identities. Celebratory
narratives see the production of both indigenous autonomy and cultural
hybridity as unassailable global positives, moves that signify the
desire for greater cultural respect and tolerance. Celebratory
discourse virtually proclaims “world music”
synonymous with anti-essentialism, with the hope of greater cultural
equilibrium amidst difference.
Kirkegaard, from a slightly different but similarly critical angle, has
since 1981 studied the development and contact of East African popular
musics –primarily taarab and coastal dance musics- with the
“world music” market. The celebration of otherness
is central to her research, and drawing on theories by Erlmann (1993),
Hannerz (1992), and Feld (1994), she has examined issues of cultural
identity (2002), tourism, (2001), festivalisation (2005), revival and
conservatism, and cultural flows. Her ongoing research highlights the
responses of “third world” artists to the
structures and conditions of global music production. Tracing the
disciplining effects of the asymmetric flows of communication, she
explores the production of desires among Western audiences for
“authentic” soundscapes in “small
countries” (Wallis and Malm 1984, Malm and Wallis 1993). Her
recent studies of WOMEX (World of Music Exposition), and its
antecedents focus on the continuum of diversity and sameness (2008,
2009, forthcoming B) examining how conservatism in “world
music” business practices lead to a renewed focus on
stylistic “roots” and historicized genres.
In 2004 Feld began to investigate the history of Brian Eno and David
Life in the Bush of Ghosts (henceforth MLBG), a 1981 LP
re-released as a CD in 1990 and in an enhanced 25th-anniversary edition
in 2006. His concern was MLBG’s
incorporation of sounds from Islamic religious discourse into popular
music, viewed as part of the larger Western avant-garde legacy of
primitivist and exotica projects (Bellman 1998, Born and Hesmondhalgh
2000, Erlmann 1993, 1996, Feld 1996, Hutnyk 2000, Taylor 1997, 2007,
Toop 1995, 1999). He focused on the censorship of
“Qu’ran,” the MLBG track where Eno and
Byrne used dance grooves to ornament an excerpt of Quranic recitation,
recorded in Algeria in 1970 by Jean Jenkins, and originally published
as the first track of the LP The
Human Voice in the World of Islam (henceforth HVWI).
In 2004, Feld presented his work on MLBG, HVWI and the
censorship of MLBG’s
“Qu’ran” track at the University of
Copenhagen. That work details how, both in the immediate moment of the
LP’s release, and then in the light of heightened
sensitivities following the Salman Rushdie affair, Eno and Byrne
ultimately removed this track from MLBG’s
CD reissues, even though they mysteriously refused to discuss the
matter for twenty-five years (Feld 2007, 2011). As Feld had only worked
on the story of MLBG’s
“Qu’ran” track, originally recorded by
Jean Jenkins, Kirkegaard offered to join him to research
MLBG’s two tracks that incorporate material from
“Abu Zeluf,” another piece from HVWI, recorded in
Lebanon in 1972 by the Danish composer and ethnomusicologist Poul
Kirkegaard went on to work with archival recordings and documents at
the Danish Folklore Archives, Danish Radio, Danish National Archives,
and to interview important witnesses to this history in Denmark. Feld
joined her to interview other key witnesses and to help interpret the
Danish documents alongside his interviews and related documents from
Jean Jenkins’ files at the Museum of Scotland. While drafted
in English by Feld, with a different Danish version by Kirkegaard,
(forthcoming, A), the collective effort is an analytic and interpretive
collaboration sited at the intersection of overlapping histories: of
“world music;” of “folk” music
collection in the UK and Denmark; of the International Folk Music
Council and International Council for Traditional Music; of the
(re)circulation of musics from the Islamic world.
“World music” was not quite a market category when MLBG was released
in February 1981 by Eno’s EG Records. But the label rather
quickly magnetized its way to the LP because of Eno and
Byrne’s mix of pre-digital ambient atmospherics, electronic
effects, multi-track processing and bass and percussion dance grooves
together with what they and others called “found
sounds,” excerpts of radio shows taped off-air, and from
ethnographic field recordings. MLBG’s
radio segments came from call-in shows featuring indignant hosts,
politicians, evangelists, and Christian preachers. The ethnographic
recordings came from three LPs, one a compilation of Islamic vocal
practice, The Human
Voice in the World of Islam (Jenkins and Olsen 1976a), one
featuring African American Georgia Sea Island singers (Moving Star Hall
Singers 1964), and one an anthology of popular Arabic singers (El
Atrache et.al., 1976).
While, in Timothy Taylor’s words, the MLBG LP
“more than any other demonstrated the usefulness of not just
other sounds, but Others’ sounds – sounds by people
from nonwestern places” (Taylor 2007:133), it was hardly
unique or original in this regard, coming more than ten years after
Holger Czukay’s experiments with “impossible musics
from unknown worlds” (Toop 1995:122) and being clearly
derivative of Jon Hassell’s “fourth
world” notion of a “coffee-coloured classical music
of the future” (Toop 1995:122-123), a concept manifest the
previous year,1980, on Hassell’s Fourth World-Possible Musics
LP, also a collaboration with Eno. Still, MLBG certainly
heralded a great deal of what was to come in the 1980s and 1990s under
the banners of “world music,” “global
fusion,” “world beat,” or
joins Eno and Byrne as art school rockers,
visual-conceptual-performance artists who came to concentrate on music.
Brian Eno’s solo projects clearly established him as an
avant-garde electronics and ambient pioneer influenced by Karlheinz
Stockhausen and John Cage (Tamm 1995). David Byrne similarly emerged
during the late 1970s as leader of the hugely popular art-rock group
Talking Heads (Steenstra 2010).
was recorded in 1979 and 1980, after Eno moved to Soho, in Lower
Manhattan, New York, from the UK and got involved with Byrne and New
York’s downtown performance scene. With Byrne he co-produced
Talking Heads’ More
Songs about Buildings and Food (1978) as well as Remain in Light
(1979). He then produced, co-wrote songs for and performed on Talking
Heads' Fear of Music
(1980). Like producer George Martin during the Beatles late 1960s
studio period, Eno became, through 1979 and 1980, a de-facto member of
Talking Heads, and on Remain
in Light and Fear
of Music one can implicitly hear the African and Arabic
music traces that relate to his and Byrne’s emergent
enthusiasm for non-western musics.
In an interview with KPFA’s Charles Amirkhanian in February,
1980, a year before the release of MLBG,
Eno presented the idea of “fourth world” music as
“music that is done in sympathy with and with consciousness
of music of the rest of the world, rather than just with Western music
or just with rock music. It’s almost collage music, like
grafting a piece of one culture onto a piece of another onto a piece of
another and trying to make them work as a coherent musical idea, and
also trying to make something you can dance to” (quoted in
Tamm 1995: 161). Likewise, he developed a line of thinking that merged
music technologies with bio-evolutionary metaphor: “What I am
arguing for is a view of musical development as a process of generating
new hybrids” (quoted in Tamm 1995:60).
From February 1981, MLBG
circulated widely in the US and Europe and was broadcast extensively.
In October 1990, the LP was re-released on CD in the US with its eleven
original tracks intact, plus an additional bonus track. In March 2006,
the CD was re-released in an extended 25th-anniversary edition with
additional sound, liner, and video enhancements. The re-publication
speaks both to the project’s commercial success and to the
durability of its makers. After a twenty-seven year break, Eno and
Byrne reunited in 2008 to record and tour with Everything That Happens Will
Happen Today (Helmore 2009).
HVWI, Jean Jenkins
and Poul Rovsing Olsen
The Human Voice in
the World of Islam, the source LP for three MLBG tracks, was
the first volume of Music in the World of Islam (MIWI), a six
LP anthology (currently available as three Cds) on music in the Islamic
world, edited by Jean Jenkins and Poul Rovsing Olsen. Published on
Tangent Records, it was accompanied by a book, Music and Musical Instruments in
the World of Islam, and major exhibit of instruments and a
festival at the Horniman Museum in London (Jenkins and Olsen 1976 a,
b). The project was funded and produced by the UK-based World of Islam
Trust. Jean Jenkins (1922-1990) was keeper of instruments from
1954-1978 at the Horniman Museum and was the major contributor and
editor of the Music in
the World of Islam project (Topp Fargion 1995,
Dijkstra-Downie and Bicknell 2007). Her collaborator, Poul Rovsing
Olsen (1922-1982), was both a composer of contemporary art music and a
scholar of Arabic musics, and was employed for the majority of his
professional career, from 1960-1982, at the Dansk Folkemindesamling
(Danish Folklore Archives, DFS) in Copenhagen. From 1969 he was also
employed as a teacher of ethnomusicology at the University of
Copenhagen (Olsen 2002:6-15).
Of the three MLBG
songs that take recorded segments from HVWI, track 3,
"Regiment" (credited to Eno, Byre, and Busta Jones, with arrangement by
Eno, Byrne, Busta Jones, Chris Frantz, and Robert Fripp), and track 8,
"The Carrier" (credited to Eno and Byrne) both incorporate material
from the song “Abu Zeluf,” sung by a woman named
Dunya Yunis. The song was originally recorded in Beirut in 1972 by
Olsen. “Regiment” draws on the song’s
first section, improvised in maqam rast; “The
Carrier” draws on a second section, a metered folk song.
Jenkins’ LP sleeve notes to HVWI identify Dunya
Yunis as "a
girl from a northern mountain village” in Lebanon. On the My Life in the Bush of Ghosts LP,
as well as subsequent CD versions, Eno and Byrne's list of "Voices"
cite the source as "Dunya Yusin, Lebanese mountain singer" (with her
surname misspelled). The original Tangent LP title and album number is
also cited, but Eno and Byrne’s notes do not identify the
song’s original recordist. New liner notes to the 25th
anniversary reissue (Toop 2006) misattribute the recording of
“Abu Zeluf” to Jean Jenkins.
In terms of the presence of material from “Abu
Zeluf” on MLBG,
it should also be noted that “Regiment” became one
of the LP’s most commercially and aesthetically successful
tracks, and one of its most frequent airplay items over the
recording’s history. The strength of this track was heralded
a year in advance of the LP’s release, in a February 14, 1980
interview for Melody
Maker, where Brian Eno spoke to John Orme about the
BE: "The two tracks that work
really well for me are 'Moonlight In
Glory' and 'Regiment'. I think those are the two real achievements of
the album, and I think my synth solo on 'Regiment’ is
possibly the best I've ever played. People think it's a Fripp guitar
rip-off; it really is me on synthesizer."
Poul Rovsing Olsen
and the recording of “Abu Zeluf”
Olsen voyaged in February and March 1972 for a six-week recording trip
to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, supported by the
Carlsberg Foundation and the Rask Ørsted Foundation (Olsen
2002:9). The trip began in Beirut where he was to be met and
accompanied to the Gulf by a colleague, Simon Jargy, a French Arabicist
musicologist and Professor of Music at the University of Geneva. But
Jargy was in an auto accident just as Olsen arrived, so for his time in
Beirut, January 26 to February 5, when he departed for Abu Dhabi, Olsen
was hosted by Iraqi oud virtuoso Munir Bashir. Bashir is referred to as
a “good friend” in Olsen’s trip diary;
indeed, the two had a long multi-country relationship as connoisseurs
and curators of Arabic music and Bashir was a frequent visitor to
Denmark (Olsen 1983:1-2).
Olsen’s published diary entry for February 4, the day before
his departure to Abu Dhabi, indicates that he made a casual recording
at midday at Munir Bashir’s office, of a herlig sangerinde,
“a delightful singer,” named
“Dunia” (elsewhere spelled Dunya or Douniah),
described as a twenty-two-year-old
“protégée” of Munir Bashir
(Olsen 1983:5). The diary gives the impression that this was just a
chance encounter. Later in the diary Olsen mentions playing the
recording to positive reception (1983:10). Judging from photographs in
Olsen’s posthumous book Music
in Bahrain: Traditional Music of the Arabian Gulf (2002:
8,14), the original recording was made with a portable monaural Nagra
III reel-to-reel recorder. At the time the Nagra III represented
state-of-the-art technology for professional quality portable sound
On the original tape held in the DFS collection, Dunya Yunis is
introduced at the beginning of the recordings by Munir Bashir, whose
notes, given to Olsen later that evening in Beirut, identify her as
“Douniah” and her four selections as
“Ma’anna,” (3:30), “Abu
Zeluf,” (3:00), and “Shru’I”
(2:30). Along with the English notes are Olsen’s Danish
translations. Bashir’s English text gloss is: “You!
The pigeons who send their messages of love. You are the finest kind of
pigeons. I am sure that if you know the case of my love you should have
put me among the feathers of your wings. My body is easier for you to
bear than to bear my best wishes to send it to my sweetheart.”
How did Eno and
Byrne acquire “Abu Zeluf” for MLBG?
Looking through Olsen's papers in the DFS archive, we were specifically
interested to see whether he and Jean Jenkins had correspondence with
EG or Tangent Records, with Eno and Byrne, or with colleagues
concerning the incorporation of “Abu Zeluf” for the
two tracks on MLBG.
There was nothing to be found, but through inquiry it became clear that
many of Olsen's documents were turned over to the Danish National
Archive ten years after his death. There was also a large amount of
material held in family possession.
Olsen died a year and a half after MLBG’s
release. According to close associates, he was very occupied with
composing at the end of his life. All the same, we were initially
surprised to find nothing at DFS related to how Eno and Byrne
contracted to license “Abu Zeluf.” After all, Olsen
was a DFS employee at the time the recordings were made; he was
travelling as a DFS researcher, and depositing his recorded material in
DFS archives. His DFS collections were carefully annotated, and he kept
meticulous records about numerous professional matters. Most of his
letters are headed by DFS registration numbers. DFS posthumously
published his field diary from this recording trip, which he introduces
with the words “Anyone who wishes some knowledge of the vivid
background to this traditional material collected for the Folklore
Archive will, I think, get some pleasure from reading through the
following pages” (Olsen 1983:1). So why were there no
available DFS documents tracing the matters of license and copyright
that would clarify the contractual relationships of Olsen, DFS, EG and
Tangent Records, Jean Jenkins, and The World of Islam Festival Trust?
One of Kirkegaard’s first responses to the curiosities of
that question concerned an aspect of Olsen’s biography
perhaps less known to (ethno)musicologists, who are generally well
aware of his work both as a scholar and composer (Stockmann 1982,
Johansen 1983). After graduating in music theory and piano from the
Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1946, Olsen completed a law degree in
1948 at the University of Copenhagen. This was followed by composition
studies in Paris 1948-49 with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. But
on return to Copenhagen Olsen was employed for the next ten years by
the Danish Ministry of Education, where he specifically worked (from
1954) on the Danish Copyright Act. From there, in 1960, he began his
employment with the DFS, where he remained until his early death in
From the standpoint of his professional legal knowledge of copyright
issues it would be highly unlikely that Olsen didn’t pay
attention to the matter of permission for the use of this recording.
And equally unlikely that he would keep no documentation of the matter,
given his scholarly and administrative reputation for archival
precision. Moreover, it would be hard to imagine him approving of how
Eno and Byrne used the source recordings given his public stance on
“protection” of folk musics, well known both in
Denmark and international academic circles.
As a typical example, take a1978/9 interview with a composer colleague
where Olsen is asked of his interest in "ethnic music." He responds
with opposition to the label: "’Ethnic music' is a strange
expression. All music is ethnic in the sense that it originates from
people's reactions to life, that it comes from a certain environment.
This applies to the music of Stravinsky and Armstrong, as well as to
the North Indian instrumental music of Ali Akbar Khan and the East
Greenland songs of Maratse. But when we make expressions like "ethnic
music" we always think of foreign peoples from other continents. And
often enough we do so in a strangely condescending manner. The European
by force wants to expand his European faith all over the world. With
great idealism we cause disasters in the name of Christianity,
mercantilism, or Marxism. Music follows our idealistic crusaders who
wish to make the world one big Americo-European pop circus. It is
imperialism which has won when the Greenlander or South American Indian
makes 'rock' or 'folk' to his own guitar accompaniment. It is sad that
it is like this" (Gudmundsen-Holmgren 1978/9:97).
As another example of Olsen's protectionist sentiments and anxiety
about culture change and emerging indigenous musical fusions with
Western pop, one can cite "The Others," the chapter on acculturation,
contact, and development in his 1974 introductory text Musiketnologi:
"The question could be posed if ethnomusicology as it is known still in
1974 is performing a kind of neo-colonial activity, if in fact the
present Master race (Herrefolk) in ethnomusicology consciously
emphasize those traits in the cultures of the developing countries
which keep them from development…In these very years we can
detect the existence of active forms of spiritual neo-colonialism
backed by power relations and economic factors. The West and its
followers in the rest of the world consciously or unconsciously
exercise an influence, which seeks to transform the other into the
image of the West. The Euro-American musics spread, sometimes in light
disguise, across the larger part of the globe, and succeed primarily
because they represent the rich and the powerful. The new music of the
third world is a result of a spiritual neo-colonialism, and all speech
about its connection to progress is but an effect of Western
know-it-all. Let us remember that ‘progress’ is a
typically Euro-American concept” (Olsen 1974:137).
How are we to gauge this somewhat paradoxical position, critical of the
conservatism of some ethnomusicologists on the one hand, yet equally
resistant to musical interaction and change on the other?
Teresa Waskowska Larsen, currently writing a biography of Olsen,
indicated in conversation that it was highly unlikely that Olsen would
in any way have approved of Eno and Byrne's use of his and Jenkins'
recordings. Indeed, in her view, Olsen was almost a "fundamentalist"
when musical styles were in question. She stressed, parallel to
Kirkegaard's impressions from the academic writings and
Olsen’s professional legacy in Denmark, that he strongly
believed in preserving what he believed to be the
“authenticity” or “purity” of
the musics he was involved with collecting or documenting.
Nonetheless, the “protectionist” stance
with which he was associated can and should be complicated by
Olsen’s position and practice as a composer of contemporary
music. A colleague who worked with him at DFS, Morten Levy, also both a
musicologist and composer, confirmed Olsen’s generally
protectionist attitude on folk music and his negativity toward popular
music. But he also stressed, in conversation with Kirkegaard, the
potential counter-force of Olsen’s identification with elite
avant-gardism in contemporary composition. He said it was therefore
possible to imagine Olsen being less restrictive if he believed MLBG was a serious
This was also the initial perspective offered to us in a 2004
conversation with Danish radio journalist and Freemuse NGO activist Ole
Reitov in his characterization of Olsen’s first response to
the “Regiment” track on MLBG. Indeed, it was Reitov
who, six months after the LP’s release in 1981, first played
the “Regiment” track to Olsen at his DFS office,
and solicited his reactions on the spot and on tape. Reitov remembered
Olsen’s response as measured but positive in the sense that
he understood the recording to be a musical experiment.
Piqued by the tension or contradiction here, that of measuring
experimental excitement against purist protectionism, one can also cite
a corroborating complexity in Olsen’s own compositional
influences, where orientalist procedures, like uses of sounds and
ornamentation or references from Arabic or South Asian music, took on
an avant-garde front, for example, in the “Indian
Dancing” section of the piano work “Many Happy
Returns” from 1971 (Opus 70), or, going back as early as
1951, his hommage to the Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan in
“Nocturnes” (Opus 21).
However “protectionist” in his approach to what
was, at the time, largely called “folk music,” it
was well known in Denmark and elsewhere that Olsen was no nationalist.
Nor was he in any way intellectually or musically provincial. And
despite his deep respect for local musical traditions, he was certainly
not in the mold of those in the Nordic countries then who construed
folk music research to be the search for the authentic past of
Scandanavian music. Olsen, rather, had a life-long artistic and
intellectual Francophile profile, hardly typical in Nordic musical
composition or scholarship then or now. And in 1970 he was pro-European
common market. In his radio programs and newspaper columns of criticism
for Berlingske Tidendes
Kronik, he railed against Danish politics and art clinging
to old nationalist and regionalist ideas. Deeply criticizing those who
chose the comforts of smallness and insularity over the possibilities
of discovery, he instead chose the model of internationalist humanism,
urging engagement with modernity beyond locality. This multicultural
humanist stance was also the much-recalled side of Olsen that made him
active in shaping the new scope of the International Council for
Traditional Music, formerly the International Folk Music Council,
during his presidency 1977-1982 (Stockmann 1982).
Further to the
heart of the matter
After mapping the broad surfaces of questions and contradictions posed
by this affair, we contacted Olsen’s widow, Louise
Lerche-Lerchenborg. Long active in the field of contemporary classical
music, Lerche-Lerchenborg has also looked after Olsen’s
estate and personal archive. She was not surprised that we could not
find any documents related to contracts or negotiations between Olsen
and DFS with Eno, Byrne, and EG Records on the one side, or Jenkins,
World of Islam Trust, Tangent Records and its manager Michael Steyn, on
the other. She told us that she had a letter to prove that the
arrangement whereby the recordings were licensed had entirely been made
between Eno’s EG and Tangent Records. Neither Jenkins nor
Olsen, despite their status as editors and recordists, were ever
consulted. She also made it clear from the outset that Olsen was
unquestionably angry and embarrassed by the use of his recording for MLBG.
Lerche-Lerchenborg’s vivid remembrance was that
Olsen’s annoyance was directly related to the feeling that
his personal integrity was blemished by the matter. He was upset that
he would be seen to have violated an honor agreement with and for a
singer he didn't really know, a young woman no less, a matter of social
concern in an Arabic cultural context. Additionally, she suggested,
there was the embarrassment this incident could cause him with his
friend Munir Bashir, as well as with the community of professional
researchers in ethnomusicology, who typically prided themselves on
their ability to protect the rights of those they recorded. The issues
were compounded, she said, by Olsen’s professional
visibility, since he was, at the time of the incident, also the
President of the International Council for Traditional Music.
Finally, Lerche-Lerchenborg confirmed that Olsen was never sent a copy
of MLBG by
Eno and Byrne, or by Tangent when it was released in February 1981. He
only discovered the existence of the recording later, probably in
August of 1981, when the “Regiment” track was
played for him and his reactions solicited in a interview at his DFS
office with Danish radio journalist Ole Reitov. Only after this
exposure did Olsen actually acquire the LP, which remains with
Lerche-Lerchenborg to this day.
This is the background to the letter that Lerche-Lerchenborg showed us
from Olsen to Michael Steyn, head of Tangent Records, written on
January 18, 1982, almost one year after the publication of MLBG, and six
months after the Ole Reitov interview and , and six months after the
Ole Reitov interview and Olsen’s first encounter with the LP:
Thanks for your letter of November
23nd. I will answer it in
a short while. To-day (sic) only this: You know probably that a kind of
Rock record uses stuff from our Islamic album: Brian Eno/David Byrnes
(sic) My Life in the
Bush of Ghost (sic), Quite popular in Denmark these days.
What about copyright?
Despite the way our research re-opened what were
issues about Olsen’s embarrassment, late response, and
complicity in this matter, Lerche-Lerchenborg graciously provided
documents to help us put the story together. Searching her personal
archive, she found that there was no reply from Tangent’s
Steyn to Olsen’s January 18 letter for six months, until June
15, 1982, just weeks before Olsen died of an aggressive and recently
discovered cancer. In that June 15 letter Steyn acknowledged
Olsen’s of January 18 and apologized for his late reply. He
informed Olsen that Tangent had been consolidated with Topic Records as
of the previous October, 1981, and that royalty statements for the last
nine months were forthcoming. He assured Olsen that all future business
with Topic would be handled as per the original Tangent contract. His
concluding paragraph, in its entirety, is as follows:
As far as the Brian Eno LP is
concerned, I originally made
no demand for payment, believing that the publicity value would be very
good. However, their record has sold very well, and I am negotiating
with EG records for a fee. Will report further as soon as I am
Notice that Olsen’s question to Steyn,
copyright?” is not answered; offered instead is a response
about compensation and an excuse about publicity. As a lawyer with
experience in the copyright area, Olsen would certainly have known the
difference between inquiring about the more complex management of
copyright and the less complex matter of compensation from fees.
The questions that must be asked here are obvious: what kind
of contract did Jenkins and Olsen have with Tangent Records? How could
their recordings be given freely by the record company with no regard
to the copyright concerns of recordist or recorded? How could Jenkins
and Olsen, both experienced professionals, be party to a recording
contract with no clear protections about republishing, permissions,
clearances, licenses, and payments to performers?
Did Jenkins and Olsen not know, or simply relinquish their rights? Did
they not pay attention to gaps between standard arrangements of the
time and their responsibilities as collectors, not to mention their own
The letter that Lerche-Lerchenborg showed us is the only document
revealing that Eno and EG Records were granted gratis permission
because of a judgement solely by Tangent’s Steyn that the
arrangement was good publicity for the Music in the World of Islam
series. When Steyn, who died in 1999 and left no further paper trail on
this matter, admitted to Olsen that he was negotiating with EG Records,
it was already seventeen months after the LP’s publication,
and six months after Olsen’s inquiry. Ultimately, all Tangent
got in settlement from Eno’s EG Records was a single one-time
payment of £100. Steyn, likely embarrassed, took no
administration fee for Tangent on this sum, splitting it 50%-50%
between Jenkins and Olsen as compensation for the one song each
recorded that was taken for MLBG.
Contracts, or the
In fact, there is a production contract for Music in the World of
Islam. But it was only made between Tangent Records and
The World of
Islam Festival Trust, as outlined in a March 17, 1975 letter from
Tangent’s Michael Steyn to Paul Keeler of World of Islam
Festival. There is no signed contract between Tangent and Jenkins and
Olsen. All that exists is an unsigned and undated draft contract
between Tangent and Jenkins, copies of which were found both in
Lerche-Lerchenborg’s archive and Jenkins’ personal
files. This document indicates that Jenkins and Olsen, as editors,
recordist-collectors, and annotators, are to be paid royalties on all
sales of individual LPs, cassettes, and LP and cassette box sets. The
royalty figure is 10% of UK sales and 7.5% of external sales. These
royalties were to be adjusted according to the percentage of
contribution to the LP recordings, and these proportions totaled for
the overall royalty on LP and cassette box sets.
Working through Jean Jenkins personal files at the Museum of Scotland,
Edinburgh prior to their being catalogued, Feld found Music in the
World of Islam (MIWI) royalty statements from Tangent
publication in 1976 through March 31, 1981 (the last statement date is
May 18, 1981). Volume 1, The
Human Voice in the World of Islam, is
indicated as the LP with the most equal percentage of recorded
contributions from the two collaborators.
Jean Jenkins thus received 80.6% of the overall royalties and Olsen
The total reported units sold through March 1981 are:
These figures indicate that without question MIWI was a huge
success in its first five years, indeed a complete rarity in the world
of both recordings of Middle Eastern music and scholarly
ethnomusicology or folk or documentary recordings. Tangent’s
statements report total royalty payments through March 1981 of
£4,418.87 to Jean Jenkins and £988.08 to Olsen.
Such figures are highly atypical for that time of the level of
royalties that were personally paid to collectors and publishers of
“ethnic” or “folk” music
documents published in an academic fashion. And they only represent the
worth of the albums during their first five years, indeed precisely to
the moment when Tangent became Topic, and when My Life in the Bush of
Ghosts appeared and could potentially have contributed
Follow the money
Despite the lucrative royalties paid from sales of MIWI in its first
five years, there is no indication that any of the performers recorded
by Jenkins or Olsen shared in their earnings. Yes, this was typical
practice for many recordist-collectors at the time, but given the
commercial scale of the project it is still surprising that royalty
compensation for artists is nowhere considered. Indeed, the matter is
only clarified obliquely, in a February 17, 1976 letter from Jean
Jenkins to Salman Shukur, a performer on the Lutes
volume (LP 3) of MIWI.
Obviously an anthology of this
kind rules out the possibility of
royalties being paid to individual musicians, because the sales do not
normally approach the point where this is commercially
feasible…If I were to share with you royalties receivable on
your 3 1/2 minutes, in the light of expected sales it is unlikely that
you would get more than £15 to £20, but as I am
sure you would find the money useful, I am prepared to offer you
£50 in full and final settlement for the use of your 3 1/2
minute recording, as under no circumstances will Tangent Records be
liable for any payment whatsoever to individual musicians. They also
must be indemnified against any possible claim for the use of copyright
material – which in this case is highly unlikely anyway.
Jenkins made just over £4418 in royalties in
the first five
years of the MIWI
recordings. Taking that five-year figure to a
per-minute basis (£4418 -/- 250 minutes total =
£17.6/minute x 3.5 minutes ) Mr. Shukur would have made about
£62 in those first five years after publication. But
exactness of per minute compensation is not the point here. The point
is that the musician is treated as a nuisance, an unruly child whose
ownership or compensation concerns are dismissed by rude scolding
(“Obviously…,” If I were to
share…” ) and patronizing language (“as
I am sure you would find the money useful…”).
Notice, too, the final sentence; how ironic given what happened to
copyright material with MLBG.
In a final paragraph to the letter Jenkins reminds Shukur that he is to
come to London and perform briefly at a private showing and at the
opening of the Music in the World of Islam exhibit. She tells him that
the curator of the museum will be writing and will offer hospitality
and a fee for his two performances. The same brusque tone continues:
“As we are not a wealthy institution, but only a poor museum,
we will do the best we can for you – but please
don’t expect too much (our oil is not flowing yet). However,
you will be heard by a number of people who may be both useful and
important to you – the same goes for the record, you realize.
Incidentally, Tangent have agreed to send you half a dozen free copies
of the record when it is out.”
One can also find in the archive of Jenkins’ correspondence
some letters indicating another dimension of the possible worth of this
project. On June 2, 1981, the UK Mechanical Copyright Protection
Society Ltd.'s Licensing Department responded to inquiry from Lost Ark
Productions concerning use of up to five minutes of music from the Music in the World
of Islam LPs for the Steven Spielberg film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The proposed fee was
£4000. On June 10, Lost Ark Productions declined the proposed
that “the asking price was somewhat steep” (Davage
1981, Carr 1981).
Other items of Jenkins’ correspondence also make clear that
she was in no way naïve about the commercial potentials of
recorded music and about the licensing of it for secondary markets. For
example, Jenkins received a November 23, 1981 letter from Anthony
McNicoll, an archeologist at the University of Sydney. McNicoll reminds
her of meeting in Afghanistan in 1976, and tells her that he is
co-directing a dig in Jordan, to be the subject of a TV program on
Australian ABC TV. He requests permission to use “a few short
bursts” from the MIWI
records. “I realize that
there may be problems which prevent you from giving permission, but if
it is at all possible, I would be most grateful. If we can use them,
please let me know what credit(s) should be given.”
Jenkins wrote back promptly, on December 8, 1981:
In so far as using music from my
Islam records, I
can give you permission to do so under the following conditions:
Credits: Recordings Jean Jenkins and Tangent Records. ABC undoubtedly
has a standard fee per second of music used. I cannot tell you
precisely what it will be, since I know that it varies between the UK,
USA, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, etc. (in all of which some of my
music has been used on television films). I would expect the money for
the exact timing to be sent directly by bank transfer to my account at
Lloyds Bank, Cox’s and King’s Branch, 6 Pall Mall,
London SW1. Account number 2653486. Alternately a cheque could be sent,
but I think you will find that all television companies prefer the
direct bank to bank method.
Here a number of points need to be underscored, aside
Jenkins’ reference to “my Islam record,”
in stark contrast to Olsen’s “our Islam
album” in his previously cited letter to Michael Steyn.
Jenkins was well aware of the licensing and payment standards for
secondary uses of recorded material. She doesn’t ask what
tracks, how much time, what context of use, or anything else indicating
concern with stewardship or advocacy for those recorded. She assumes
that the material chosen will be her recordings only. She asks only for
credit for herself and Tangent; she does not ask for any credit for the
recorded performers. She does not ask for credit for the record series,
or the specific LPs. She makes clear that she has made similar business
deals with other TV companies. And in that context refers to the use of
field recording excerpts as “my music” making clear
her proprietary sense of ownership at all levels.
the business of MIWI
The background to the Jean Jenkins-Poul Rovsing Olsen collaboration for
Music in the World
of Islam dates to a collegial friendship that
developed from the 1960s. In early letters found among
Olsen’s correspondence in the Danish National Archives, we
read how Jenkins, already a folk music recording entrepreneur, took on
the mentoring role, counseling Olsen about how to be an independent
folk music collector outside the academic circuit at the moment of his
transition from employment at the Ministry of Education to the DFS. In
Jenkins’ 1963 and 1964 letters, written either by hand or on
Horniman Museum stationary, she encourages Olsen to bring recordings to
the UK for sale and indicates that this is a good method for financing
travel and research, an alternative to the way Olsen was financing his
early recording trips by writing critical commentary for newspapers. In
a letter dated June 16, (probably 1967), she wrote:
The BBC is interested in the
tapes. They pay
between 1.11 and 1.10 per minute, so you can pay all the costs of such
a trip that way, having the newspaper money for other
That Jenkins was well in touch with the financial
potentials of music
recording and secondary licensing for commercial purposes is clear in
these and other documents. In keeping with the practice of the time,
she assumed, and advised Olsen that collected recordings were the
exclusive property of the collector, and that her rights as recordist
and physical owner of original field tapes also included all and any
rights to reproduce, circulate, sell, and profit from such recordings,
without prior or sustained contract with, the expressed consent of, or
obligation of compensation to those musicians whose voices or sounds
When she developed the MIWI
project ten years later, Jenkins wrote to
Olsen on March 12, 1975 about her decision on a structure for the LPs,
and his participation in royalty shares:
The records I have decided to do
on a typological basis.
That is, I am thinking along the lines of ‘Flutes of the
Islamic World,’ ‘Drums of the Islamic
World,’ ‘Reed Instruments of the Islamic
World,’ and two on stringed instruments, one of which may be
called ‘Lutes of the Islamic World.’ Obviously the
reason for this approach is that it is quite impossible for us to
include records of music from each locality or country, and we do not
wish any area to feel ‘left out in the cold.’ This
means, of course, that you and I will have to combine our recordings,
and we will share the royalties on a pro Rata
While Olsen accepted the plan, correspondence makes it
clear that he
was unclear if not uneasy about his academic position in the project
and his vague business relationship with Jenkins and Tangent. On
December 3, 1975, he wrote to Jenkins:
We have to find out about my
position in the whole business.
No need to tell me that I do not act as a kind of assistant to you
– I know that this is not your idea. But then it would
certainly be reasonable, if we found a subject, where I held the
responsibility so that the last word would be mine. Say the
Olsen is referring to the academic seminar planned to go
with the MIWI
exhibit and book/LP publications. He wanted something of his own in the
enterprise. Aside from his important scholarly bibliography for the
book, Olsen was to be given the lead role in this more academic
colloquium, but later he was cut out of the planning, and then the
event was cancelled, Olsen informed in a curt letter from the World of
Islam Festival’s Performing Arts organizer (Ross 1976). In
the following six months, Olsen became more agitated by the lack of
contract and clarity in ownership and royalties and the diminished
scholarly dimension of the project. He wrote to Tangent’s
Michael Steyn on official DFS letterhead on June 23, 1976, requesting
an accounting on the share participation:
I know you are busy and that you
are doing important and
interesting things. But when you find the time for it, please do not
forget to send me the note about the “minutage” for
the six Islamic records.
Steyn answered on August 3,1976:
I must apologise for the very long
delay in writing to you
– I cannot believe that it is August already. The whole year
seems to have been dominated by my involvement with the World of Islam
Festival, in addition to which I have moved house. However, you will be
pleased to know that the records have been quite successful, with sales
now standing at approximately 1500 of each of the six. Cassettes are
also out, but they were unfortunately rather late. I have not yet had
time to complete the ‘minutage’ but I really do
hope that I will be able to send you all information concerning
percentages and timings etc. in the very near future.” He
signed the letter: “ Hoping that your patience will last a
little longer, and that you are flourishing.
A letter of assurance from Jenkins to Olsen follows, on
August 12, 1976:
…Our friend Michael
Steyn is still alive but
frantically busy and to a large extent this business is concerned with
selling our records and I think that you would prefer him to be busy
about this rather than to write letters! I have not got a contract
either but I know that he has finished selling the first 1,500 of each
record and that he has re-pressed another 1,000 of each and that these
are almost finished as well, so that although his production costs have
been very high at least the sales seem to be going equally well.
Three months later Jenkins again wrote to Olsen, on
November 19, 1976:
I rang Michael and he told me that
at long last he had managed to
complete the minutes on each record which belong to each of us,
together with a statement of accounts up to the end of September, and
he also tells me that he sent you a cheque for £500. I do
hope that this has arrived safely. Of course I know that at
today’s rate of the £ this is probably chicken-feed
to any Dane but perhaps it would be a good idea to come over here and
spend it in England…
From 1977 the correspondence between Jenkins and Olsen
quickly, then ceases, after many years of frequent and collegial
exchange. Friends acknowledged that by 1978 the two had gone in very
different directions. The last letters Jenkins wrote to Olsen indicate
distress that he was no longer in touch.
Jenkins had other reasons to be distressed. Her employment was
terminated at the Horniman Museum and the separation was acrimonious,
leaving her vulnerable, angry and, by all accounts, quite bitter. She
took consulting and curation work where she could get it, and did not
do another major exhibit until 1983, in Scotland. After her death in
1990, Jenkins’ collection of instruments, photographs,
recordings, and documents was donated to the National Museum of
Scotland by Anne Zeeberg, her long-time Danish friend, executor, and
Olsen, on the other hand, was, from 1977, increasingly aligned more
with scholarship than collecting, becoming a major presence in
professional ethnomusicology, his presidency linked to the
transformation of the International Folk Music Council to the
International Council for Traditional Music. He was also increasingly
involved in contemporary art music composition. In the last five years
of his life he was an internationally visible and well-acknowledged
cosmopolitan in both the intellectual and musical senses. At the same
time he too had disappointments, particularly around the lack of
academic acknowledgement in the form of a regularized professorial
It is evident that Jenkins and Olsen fell out in the end, opting for
different academic and personal styles of scholarly presence. As Anne
Zeeberg put it: “She was kind of a sharp person who was
either very good friends with people – or not good
friends.” This might be the reason why Jenkins and Olsen did
not confer about MLBG
or take any mutual action in response. Jenkins,
of course, certainly had a serious professional and personal stake in
this matter too given the inflammatory use of her recording of Quranic
recitation on MLBG, and the protest and ultimately the self-censorship
that resulted (the subject of the companion piece to this article, Feld
Back to the radio
As Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg tried to help us work out both the
chronology of who knew and did what and when, we discovered that she
had a cassette copy of a program with journalist Ole Reitov presenting My Life in the
Bush of Ghosts. It was broadcast by Danish Radio on P3,
the rock channel, likely on a program called Rock News, in March 1986.
The first portion of the tape of thirteen minutes is an interview with
Olsen and the second portion an interview with Brian Eno. The Olsen
interview is in Danish and edited from the taped conversation made in
August 1981. The Brian Eno portion, in English, was recorded in
Stockholm on November 4, 1985. Here is Kirkegaard’s annotated
translation of the Olsen interview, with commentary in brackets
indicating paralinguistic features that would be evident to Danish
(after listening to “Abu
Zeluf”): What she is singing is a classical Arab
form of poetry, which I believe [it is audible that he is looking down,
possibly to his notes] is called “Abu Zeluf” [he in
fact says ‘Zaluf’]. It is a kind of poetry sung by
Arabs, women and men, when they meet and socialise for a whole evening,
when they improvise poems for each other, play for each other and sing
for each other. Originally a drum should have accompanied the singing.
There was no drum at that event in Munir’s
– ehhh – at Munir’s office, so that is
why there is no drum in the recording. And apart from that, I was so
struck by the fantastic GO [a typical Danish use of the English word
from the time indicating power and drive] that dominates her singing,
so in fact I do not think that the drum is lacking.
drums were added later…Apparently others –
for instance Brian Eno – felt that her song could be
elaborated. What do you think of this idea?
PRO: [After listening to “Regiment” on MLBG;
very heavy breathing] Yeees, Ehhh – In a way I do think
– [pause, sigh] – I perhaps have an ambivalent
attitude here [big stress]. On the one hand I think that really people
should be allowed do what they want [big stress]. If you are inspired
by a piece of music to create something else then it is - ehhhh
– why shouldn’t you do that [extremely powerful and
emotional stress]. Something new comes out of it and it means that what
she did in fact had a life-giving power. This has been done many times
and should you not do that [again a huge stress]. The only concern I
have on this is – and this is generally speaking –
that in fact I would be a bit sad, if the whole world gradually would
just become some kind of grand cocktail. If all the different forms of
local style – let’s say dialects and diverse
musical languages – would all constitute a higher or lower
kind of unity. It is wonderful that there are all these different
experiences of what music is [stress], what music means to people and
how music can sound - the different ideals. But – ehhh
– hopefully it is only to be pessimistic to think that it
should come that far.
you think that this kind of adaptation of an original thing can
possibly make another kind of audience listen to the original
[Sigh] I don’t know [sigh]. One can only hope. You have
to do that…. [sigh]. It will depend on how much significance
of the original recording has been preserved in the adaptation
– ehhh – in this case you could think so
– there is after all so much of her typical Lebanese [sigh,
sigh, sigh] mountain singing – ehhh, ehhh – idiom
left here. So if you are taken by the adaptation, then maybe you would
also like to listen to the original. I hope so! [in firm voice]
When put on the spot about the
track’s use of his recording of Dunya Yunis singing
“Abu Zeluf,” Olsen was circumspect and reserved.
The key word he used to describe his response was
“ambivalent.” But as we listened together to this
portion of the interview Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg pointed out that
Olsen’s word choice was diplomatic at best.
According to Lerche-Lerchenborg, Olsen traveled to London five times in
1975-6 to work with Jenkins on the editing of the recordings. At that
time he communicated with Dunya Yunis’ family through Munir
Bashir. He asked permission to publish the “Abu Zeluf
“song and told them that the recording would only be
published on MIWI
and also used for a scholarly broadcast.
Juxtaposed with the Olsen interview is a later conversation between Ole
Reitov and Brian Eno, recorded in Stockholm on November 4, 1985. It is
also worth presenting in its entirely because of the way it reveals the
aesthetic ideology that grounds Eno’s practice of
incorporation and fusion. Key discourse frames are underlined.
BE: I think that there’s
a big danger with just being
attracted to the exotic you know; one so often hears things that have,
that are pop records with a bit of African drumming, or, it just
becomes a kind of gloss on the music, or the fashion for having a
gospel choir singing your backup vocals, that kind of thing. And
I’m always so nervous of doing something like that, I never
want to do that because I think, I think its kind of an insult to the
music that you’re borrowing to do that with. Because you know
like I know someone recently who’s making a record
– I shall not name him—and he knew I was interested
in gospel music and he’s a rich pop star and he said to me
‘I want the best gospel group to sing backup vocals on my
song, tell me which is the best gospel choir’ and I said
‘I’m not going to tell you, I’m not going
to tell you who that is because I don’t think
that’s a good idea to use them as your backup
vocalists.’ So yeah, I’m not so keen on the fusion
idea unless of course it’s a genuine –, you know
there are genuine fusions as well which aren’t so
intellectual as that. Because really what that is that style of fusion
is, it’s an intellectual notion that yes, I’m just
going to put these two cultures together, it will be terribly exciting
and everyone will think I’m really liberal for doing it.
there’s some fusions that are very interesting like
the music of Bo Diddley was a good fusion of Western and African
popular musics. Then some of the rappers have been good fusion
merchants as well. But those seem a little bit more innocent than this
thing you get from slightly intelligent clever English musicians who
think that they would like to put a few exotic ingredients into their
your own case, for instance, My Life in Bush of Ghosts, I was
always interested in that; how, when did you come across The Human
can’t really remember; I had that record, I bought that
whole series of records when they came out, because I love Arabic
music, any of it, I guess I listen to it more than any other culture
music apart from my own, um, I listen to a lot of Arabic music, and I
love that album in particular, I thought that was a beautiful record.
you ever have sort of second thoughts about the use of some
music done by some people you’ll never meet and
you’ll never know, whether they would like it or not, or
whether it would be quite natural for them?
I didn’t think I …what I thought about it
was that I must at least make it clear who the people were and which
records I had taken it from, which I did on the cover of the album
because I thought it would be, it would be very rude just to take the
music and not, um, give any credit for it. But I thought about it,
like, I thought, if somebody did this to my music what would I think,
you know if some Arabic person took a couple of lines of one of my
songs and put them in an Arabic pop song, and I thought, I’d
be absolutely thrilled (laughter), I would! It would be like a
wonderful thing to happen. And I couldn’t honestly conceive
of any of those people making an objection. Now of course all these
people were contacted where it was possible. We couldn’t
contact Dunya Yusin (sic) but we contacted the record company, Tangent
Records, and asked them if they thought it was ok to use it so we
didn’t do it completely without asking permission, but
sometimes it wasn’t possible to find people. But this is,
it’s tricky, I know it’s a tricky area, morally,
because, um, you know, how do you…of course, we earn money
from that record.
that’s what I thought, I thought I don’t
think this can do the people any harm because mentioning those records,
I mean, I’ve met so many people who said, ‘oh yeah,
after that record I bought The
Human Voice in the World of
Islam and, and for many people that opened up a door to
music of another culture.”
After their 1985 conversation, and its radio broadcast
in Denmark in
1986, Eno wrote to Reitov from London, a handwritten and undated letter
in early 1987.
Do you think it would ever be
possible for me to find a copy
of the complete Dunya Yusin (sic) tape from the musicologist? Also,
would it ever be possible for her to hear what I did with her singing?
Or do you think her father would want to shoot me?
Reitov responded about four months later, in late Spring
anticipating Eno’s appearance in Copenhagen for his August
moonlight concert titled “An Opal Evening.” He
It’s been years since
our short meeting in that cold hotel
room in Stockholm talking about the famous Dunya Yusin (sic) tapes.
Well, the interest of the tapes have never left me. But it has been a
little difficult. The complete tapes exist and are stored – a
bit too well – in the Danish Archives of Folklore. To get a
copy is impossible, but I have had correspondence and personally met
Mrs. Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg, who is now the copyright holder of the
tapes. Mrs. Lerchenborg was married to the composer/musicologist Poul
Rovsing Olsen who recorded Dunya Yusin (sic). And when he died some
years ago his wife took over the rights. But physically the tapes are
with the archive. Mrs. Lerchenborg, who is very active promoting
contemporary classical music, has agreed to opening up the archive so
that you can listen to the tapes if you are interested. Unfortunately
the rules for copying are extremely hard. So you won’t be
able to get a copy. The problem is that there unfortunately are some
hard feelings about the dealing of rights in connection with
‘My Life…’ Tangent Records claim that
they were only paid 100 Pound Sterling, half of which went to Denmark.
Mrs. Lerchenborg and her husband felt that Dunya Yusin (sic)
–not being asked- should have had some compensation or say.
I’m mentioning this so that you understand the problems
I’ve faced when I suggested that the tapes might be of
further interest than to the shelves of the archive. I
suppose that Tangent simply did a very bad deal and that the
musicologist never realized that his original contract could be used
that way. Anyway, that is history now…
another Bush of Ghosts
The 1981 and 1985 interviews, the 1986 radio broadcasts, and the 1987
letters reveal Danish Radio and Ole Reitov’s critical
position in exposing the depths of the “Abu
Zeluf”/”Regiment” drama. Reitov was
employed full time at Danish Radio, and in charge of world music at the
time of MLBG’s
appearance in 1981. A music journalist with
Africa and India interests, his programs were broadcast on P3, the rock
station. Speaking to Ole Reitov in recent years and benefiting from his
efforts to help us track audio and written materials related to this
case, we became more critically aware of how Danish rock radio and
world music journalism was central to animating this story’s
contacts and conflicts.
First, consider Reitov’s role in presenting the MLBG LP to
Olsen, and soliciting his on-the spot reactions. Olsen’s
response reveals how unaware and unprepared researchers once were about
scholarly complicity in musical commoditization, about their inability
to “protect” recordings and those recorded, about
new regimes of copyright, circulation, and valuation.
Second, focus on Reitov’s role in soliciting serious
reflection from Brian Eno. If “ambivalence” was a
key word in Olsen’s response, it was equally a key frame for
Eno’s discourse. Notice how Eno foregrounds aesthetics and
then comes around to ethics and morality and finance, each phrasing
revealing more ambivalence. But ultimately it is Eno, not Olsen, who
brings up the anxiety that “insult” to the
“borrowed” music might not be mitigated or balanced
by one’s “love” for it, and the
recognition that making money from the use of other peoples voices and
recordings is “morally”
The 1987 letter exchange is even more poignant in this regard. Eno
asked Reitov to be his advocate with DFS and Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg
toward getting access to Olsen’s complete Dunya Yunis
recordings. And in the process of trying to do that, Reitov was exposed
to the lingering bitterness over the original split. From there it
became Reitov’s responsibility, clearly discharged, to
concretely present to Eno the specific consequences of his actions.
To grasp the significance of Reitov’s position here, imagine
how different this story would be if Eno had made direct contact with
Olsen and DFS at the origin and the follow-up points in this chronology
(1980-1982). Imagine how things might have unfolded if Eno met Olsen to
talk about his love of Arabic music, his ideas of avant-garde culture
grafting, his belief that using excerpts from “Abu
Zeluf” would bring only respect and no harm to its original
singer. Imagine the conversation if it was Eno telling Olsen that he
was aware of the dangers of “insult,” of the
“morally” “tricky” side of
“earning money” from a recording. And imagine Olsen
reflecting on the money he earned and/or the money Dunya Yunis
didn’t earn from this recording, before and after MLBG.
Imagine Olsen telling Eno about his anxieties that avant-garde rock
experiments could topple into his nightmare of a global pop
Would the final result of that imaginary conversation be Olsen shutting
the door at Tangent, meaning that Eno and Byrne would have been blocked
from “borrowing” “Abu Zeluf”?
Would “Regiment” and “The
Carrier” now not exist? Would music history look back at
Olsen and say his protectionism amounted to censorship and copyright
bullying? Or would Olsen and Eno, as contemporary composers, as
internationalists, as Arabic music lovers, as anxious globalists, have
found some kind of aesthetic and humanist common ground, leading to a
EG-Tangent arrangement that could include informed consent and proper
financial compensation for Dunya Yunis, insuring that, among other
gestures of respect, her name was spelled correctly in MLBG’s
The Archive as
To juxtapose the role of radio with the other critical institution in
the story, Annemette Kirkegaard animated a conversation (in Danish) in
April 2006 at the Dansk Folkemindesamling with Sven Nielsen (SN), a
folklorist who worked there with Olsen for many years, and Jens Henrik
Koudal, (JHK), a musicologist who continued Olsen’s work
there in the late 1980s. In the edited transcript that follows, she
started by asking about Olsen’s awareness of MLBG.
Poul indeed knew. It must have been during his last year. And
we talked about it because it was something other – something
very special. But he shrugged his shoulders and said that he
couldn’t bother to spend time on it.
initially owned the rights for this recording. What is/was the
normal procedure in such cases?
there are both the rights of the informants and those of the
collector to be respected. Our custom is that we don’t demand
money if the recordings are used for study and research, people can
come and listen. But if the recording is broadcast, a fee
must be paid [by the radio] to the ‘informant’
[i.e., the person(s) recorded]. It has always been like this; we have
always believed that the DFS held the rights as such.
Fully aware that DFS had a tradition of legal contracts
“informants” from the late 1950s, including payment
of 100 Danish kroner for broadcast or publication, Kirkegaard
Poul actually pay his “informants” [those
recorded] if he broadcasted their music?
SN: No, I
don’t think so.
there different rules for non-Danish
SN: No, they are identical.
know that there was a program on the radio in which he played
the “Abu Zeluf” track.
might have considered this part of his personal research, and
accordingly for his own use. I do not believe the radio paid a fee.
what about the Music in the World of Islam LP release; that is
some kind of semi-commercial release.
don’t remember anything of how this came about, and I
simply do not believe that Poul involved others in this matter. Nobody
at DFS was involved. The overriding condition is that he did not know
about My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in advance, otherwise he would very
likely have tried to interfere, especially because he had promised not
to use it commercially.
Morten Levy has it that Poul would not have approved of
”Regiment” and ”The Carrier”?
SN: I do
not think so either. He simply stated that position at one
time, but said that he did not want to waste time on
back to what you say about rights. I have seen the meticulous
contracts made with Danish informants in the files. Isn’t it
a little strange that there are no such documents for the
“foreign” recordings? Was there a different
attitude towards people from “out there”?
is it (addressing SN) as it was in the case of Jørn
Piø, [a former archivist at DFS] that your own research and
contracts for all that was not something of concern to others?
definitely saw such things as a matter of his own research and
his own materials…
Piø published books commercially (which he often
did) then it was considered that it was the archivist himself (the
scholar) who made appointments and contractual arrangements outside the
difference is that if it is an employee, an archivist, who
releases material, then he is responsible for looking after these
things and he has the responsibility towards the informant. But of
course there have been great differences between how this has worked
with books or texts and sound recordings.
it seems Poul had taken on himself this responsibility to get
permission to publish the “Abu Zeluf” track on The
Human Voice in the World of Islam, and that this also was the reason
why he became so furious?
yes, because whether or not he would accept what happened with
MLBG he did have that responsibility – because he was the
person to publish the material.
is it with the master tapes and the original recordings here?
How are they reproduced – and transmitted? How would this
have taken place for instance, getting a master from the original
recording of “Abu Zeluf” to the publisher of The
Human Voice in the World of Islam?
originals are always kept here; a copy must have been sent.
original tapes never leave the building; (addressing SN) could
Jens have made a copy?
HK: Jens Bager, the sound technician at that time, he is
still alive. He probably made a master tape from the original; if it
ever came back we do not know; it is unlikely that it was returned. The
normal procedure at DFS in relation to release of sound recordings is
that the original tapes remain downstairs. We have always been very
cautious about letting anything leave there. The original field tapes
stay there and the link between them and any outside record production
is what we call the master tape. There must have been a master tape on
which the items chosen for publication would have been copied and
Jens Bager, who frequently assisted Olsen and other
staff members in
this practice, confirmed the procedure when contacted later by AK, but
does not remember the exact case of “Abu Zeluf.” We
cannot say for sure, but must assume, with Nielsen and Koudal, that
DFS’s master tape was taken by Olsen to Tangent Records for
the production of MIWI.
Interestingly, the DFS position on rights, access, and responsibility
outlined by Nielsen and Koudal is contradicted in a 1989 DFS-published
collections document, Extra-European Music in Danish Folklore Archives:
A Catalog, prepared by Jane Mink Rossen and dedicated to Olsen. The
final lines to the catalog’s introduction read:
Rights to the material belong to
the individual collectors.
To obtain copies or to publish material from the collections,
permission from the collector is required. The recordings are, however,
available for listening purposes at the Danish Folklore Archives, by
appointment only (Rossen 1989:11).
This statement, while not “official”
likely the de facto understanding among those at DFS working on
“Extra-European” musics in the 1960s and 70s, and
this explains some of the discrepancy between Olsen’s own
practice with MIWI and the standard DFS broadcast and publication
practice for Danish collections.
But to return to the conversation, the final topic turned to legal
challenges experienced by DFS concerning ownership and the rights of
collectors. Nielsen and Koudal explained that DFS consulted the State
Attorney in cases that involved a conflict of position on rights, and
that from those consultations came to the position that, in
Nielsen’s words: “what was decisive was who had
initially paid for the procurement of the material.”
The conversation closed like this:
is all very complicated – it is about morals, too
– not just law!
but still it is remarkable with Poul since he was also a
probably did not –could not– foresee what
this could result in. We can now see that it became a big business, but
that was hardly realised by Poul at the beginning of the 1980s, he did
not imagine that it would ever go this far. But the State attorney
–and we work from this statement – did decide that
the rights belong to “those who paid for the
recordings” – it didn’t go to trial, but
still we have some guidance here.
course you can still make special, written agreements to the
contrary, or on different grounds. And the rights of the informants are
still quite unclear. I almost had the impression from the state
attorney that it was doubtful if the informants had in fact any lawful
rights whatsoever (copyright) as their music or songs were not seen
within the work concept.”.
How Far Can
“It “Go? On the Matter of Legalities…
Indeed, Olsen likely did not imagine how far the business of
“ethnic” music might go. But had he lived and later
decided to take up some kind of legal intervention with Tangent and
World of Islam Trust over the use of the “Abu
Zeluf” recording, he would actually have been on very solid
ground, as would Jenkins if she similarly pursued the matter legally
regarding her recording of “Recitation of Verses.”
A simple inspection of the undated draft contract held in
Jenkins’ and Olsen’s files makes clear the critical
clauses for such a case, excerpted below:
(1) "It is to be understood that the music contained in the recordings
issued by us (as distinct from the recordings themselves) shall be
considered traditional and non-copyright."
(2) "Tangent Records will apportion revenue received from film or
television use as follows: where such use is directly initiated by your
own involvement, 60% will be paid to you and/or Poul Rovsing Olsen;
where such use is not directly initiated by you, 50% will be payable to
you and/or Poul Rovsing Olsen."
(3) "Tangent will be given first refusal should you wish to publish any
recordings assigned to Tangent under this agreement with any other
company or institution or publisher for different uses..."
(4) "Tangent may re-assign its rights under this agreement to other
companies or institutions or publishers subject to your written
Clauses 1-3 establish that the two recordists (as opposed to those
recorded) are owners and legal partners, and they also establish the
principles of license and of rights and compensation for republication.
But clause 4 establishes the explicit grounds on which Jenkins and
Olsen could claim contractual violation, namely, that Tangent did not
consult them for written approval to grant license to EG Records for
use of “Abu Zeluf” and “Recitation of
Verses“ on MLBG.
While dramatic, the many layers of professional and personal complicity
in this story are not unique and they are by no means something of the
past. Things like this have been and are being experienced by many
researchers, in many countries. Simple villain vs. victim narratives
are not the name of the game here. Rather, what we have been describing
as “entangled complicities” are part and parcel of
the industrialized system of global popular and traditional music
circulation at the site of copyright regimes (Feld 2000, Frith and
Marshall 2004, Mills 1996, Seeger 1992, 2004, Zemp 1996). These stories
always leave hard issues and hard feelings. And this particular one
leaves us with hard questions, which we offer in place of any
Ownership and Stewardship: Olsen’s recordings were made when
he was employed by DFS. But Olsen, not DFS, licensed them to World of
Islam Festival Trust and Tangent Records. Olsen thus treated the
recordings as personal property, not as research documents owned or
controlled by an institution that would then act as steward. The
difference is critical. The institution played the steward role in
terms of housing the original tapes in an archive. But the presence of
the original tapes there was uncoupled from the institution’s
potential stewardship in terms of broadcast and royalty payment.
So, by custom or law, what were Olsen’s obligations to both
those he recorded (“informants”) and to DFS with
regard to payments on recordings that were deposited in the DFS
archive? And what was DFS’s obligation to look after,
protect, and disburse royalties to recordist and recorded?
Again, this is not a matter of adjudicating or assigning blame. There
were surely a number of vague areas, and a lack of contractual and
practical clarity about obligations in the relationship of DFS as a
state archive institution and its employee researchers during
Olsen’s years there. Research as personal property dominated
the model of academic field research at the time. It was researchers,
typically professors, and not their institutional employers, typically
universities, who owned the rights to collected field materials. Olsen
taught at the University of Copenhagen but he was principally an
employee of a state archive institution. Like other
archivist-researchers, he acted on the professorial model of personal
ownership of the research, himself controlling publication, broadcast,
and license rights. DFS’s institutional control was limited
to the stewardship of the original tapes in the archive.
Honor: In a twisted version of a Middle Eastern honor tale, Olsen cited
his embarrassment at MLBG’s
use of the Dunya Yunis recording
because he gave his word “to the father.” Of course
this makes it all the more ironic that Brian Eno’s letter of
request to Ole Reitov for more Dunya Yusin (sic) tapes asks:
“…do you think her father would shoot
All the same the presence of the father in Olsen’s story is
Speaking to Ole Reitov in the 1981 radio interview from which different
programs were later edited, Olsen situated the father in the story of
the recording and its singer this way:
I lived in his [Munir
Bashir’s] place while he was
in Beirut. And one day he had a visit from this young girl named
Douniah. Munir was at that time also a kind of concert promoter. So
people came to him if they wanted help to make performances. And she
came there. And she sang a little and then I was allowed to bring my
tape recorder and she sang for me to my recorder for half an hour. And
the piece we are talking about here is one of the recordings I made at
Douniah! Well, she was around 22 years old at that time.
She had been
on a music tour with her father, who played the oud. She had been in
South America. I tried -because I was very enthusiastic about her
singing- to persuade her to come to Denmark to perform. But it never
happened. And it was apparently because she was not allowed to travel
alone. If she was to come here she would have needed to have her father
accompany her. That was not a prohibitive problem, in my view, you
could just have brought the father, but I understand that gradually it
was so in the family that they felt it unworthy for her to travel
around and sing for any kind of audience in any place in the world. As
far as I know she does not sing anymore -at least not in
Another dimension of the “honor”
story is the
possible positioning of Dunya Yunis as a barely-of-age sexualized
other. If she only lost her phono-virginity to the elder male
protections of Munir Bashir and Olsen, how could these gentlemanly
surrogate fathers allow her voice to be techno-raped in multi-track by
a couple of young maverick pop stars? This deeply inflammatory
suggestion of anxiety, that “world
music’s” most violent humiliation of indigenous
voices proceeds from erotic embrace to sexual abuse, is very
uncomfortable. But the discomfort takes us back to the discursive
violence of schizophonia’s discontent, a fear that others
have been profoundly violated because more powerful actors in the game
can claim “love” for their music and
“beautiful” records, and thus imagine “no
harm” in “borrowing” their voices, their
acoustic corporealities, for unlicensed acts of experimental
Another way to replace an authoritative top-down conclusion with more
questions about the nature of complicity is to return to the final
moments of Olsen’s own schizophonic anxiety. We have that
terse but pregnant “what about copyright?” letter,
the last that he wrote to Tangent’s Michael Steyn, in January
of 1982. Then what? He went to France to finish a string trio. He had
the LP on his desk but no time to deal with it. In May he was diagnosed
with lung cancer and died in July. But he wrote a very brief
manuscript, a position paper for a UNESCO conference on the
“Safeguarding of Folklore” held February 22-26,
1982 in Paris. And the fact that he wrote that statement in the light
of hearing and thinking about MLBG’s
“Regiment,” “The Carrier,” and
“Qu’ran” gives a particular underscore to
the phrasing of his already familiar anxious position on these matters:
I would consider it one of the
tragedies of the world if in
a near future everywhere you would be obliged to listen to a variation
of a cocktail of Anglo-Saxon and Latin American popular music, and most
sincerely I hope that at least the so-called classical musics of Asia,
of Europe, and of other parts of the globe be able to resist the
undermining process going on everywhere these days.
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All translations from Danish are by
Many people and institutions have been very supportive throughout the
research and development of this essay. A special note of gratitude to
Ole Reitov and Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg for their trust and
generosity, and many thanks to John Høyer Nielsen, Anne
Zeeberg, Teresa Waskowska Larsen, Morten Levy, Dansk Folkemindesamling,
Sven Nielsen, Jens Henrik Koudal, Jens Bager, Else Marie Kofod,
Danmarks Radio, Hans Peter Larsen, Philip Trier Jacobsen,
Musikhistorisk Museum, Mette Müller, Lisbet Torp, Marie
Martens, Rigsarkivet, Toufic Kerbage, Tore Tvarnø Lind,
Krister Malm, Cherif Khaznadar, Maison de la Culture du Monde, Museum
of Scotland, Ulrike Al-Khamis, Lyndsay McGill, John Baily, Janet Topp
Fargion, Margaret Birley, David Toop, and Tom Solomon. Steven Feld also
thanks Giovanni Guiriati and Bob White, editors of the volumes in
Italian and English that published his earlier essay on MLBG and
“Qu'ran.” Finally, we are grateful to the anonymous
reviewers and the editor of PMO for questions and suggestions for