Friday, August 26, 2016
Indian Talking Machine
Robert Millis describes his book Indian Talking Machine as "photographs and notes" about ""78 rpm record and gramophone collecting on the sub-continent". It's a chronicle, mostly visual, of a journey in search of the relics of early Indian records, and comes complete with two CDs of the music he discovered. The photographs are fascinating and beautiful, capturing texture and colour and detail with a sympathetic gaze. They depict the records in all sorts of conditions, from those with still vivid labels and sleeves to those that have become simply circles of dust, corrosion or decay. He captures images of the records still stacked in the forgotten corners of curio shops and the few remaining vintage record emporia.
In his text, Millis provides a brief history of how the recording industry came to India,and the companies, shops and often long-lost artists involved. Most interesting of all, though, are his brief accounts of meetings with obsessive collectors, who make even the most ardent bibliophiles seem amateurs. These gentle, courteous,enthusiasts share their delight with him. "I hope you do not frighten easily," says the veteran collector VAK Ranga Rao as he welcomes Millis to his home in Chennai, a sanctuary for some 45,000 78rpm discs. It includes, Millis notes, "an entire room of records which are unsorted and will likely remain that way". Elegiac in tone, the book is also a celebration of these learned collectors, who are "archives of knowledge and experience," and "a living way of experiencing and organising" a small, selected, personal part of the world, "chaotically human".