Various records of "Mi Noche Triste".
Various records of "Mi Noche Triste".

Connecting the Dots

A look into Music 308: Music as Material Culture.

By Prof. Morgan Luker [music 2010–] | May 22, 2018

Tango singer Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) was and remains an icon of Latin American popular culture. The first tango he recorded, in 1917, was “Mi Noche Triste” (My Sad Night), a song that recounts the elaborate regrets of a recently dumped man in melodramatic fashion. That recording is commonly heard as a foundational moment in the history of tango, almost inseparable from Gardel’s legendary status within that genre. But how else might we hear it? What other stories can it tell us? 

In Music 308: Music as Material Culture, we think about historic sound recordings not only as documents of musical history but as material objects with “lives” of their own. Thus while “Mi Noche Triste” is about the history of tango, it is also about the history of technology; Gardel rerecorded the song in 1930 using electrical recording technology (with microphones), which did not exist when the acoustic original was made. It is also about the transnational music industries and the creative misunderstandings they engendered, in that the distinctly Argentine recording was rereleased in multiple national markets where it was framed as everything from “orchestral tango” to “Mexican” music. Above all else, the materiality of these recordings speaks to the accumulated social histories of musical engagement and listening that they enabled and contain, the dust and scratches of previous auditions literally etched into the discs themselves. Hearing these and other stories is a matter of critical listening, but it is also a matter of connecting the material dots.

Tags: Performing Arts, Object of Study, Professors, Campus Life