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Folk Songs for the Five Points

The Five Points (historic focal point of Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York) no longer exist. Instead, this area in lower Manhattan has become known by other names: Loisaida, Chinatown, Kleindeutschland, Little Italy, the Lower East Side. It’s this history, one of a city shaped by immigrant memory and musical culture, that Victor Gama and David Gunn raise, as if spirits from the past, to create their Folk Songs for the Five Points. Folk songs for these experimental artists are truly the malleable material of the people.

The Folk Songs project, of which this album is the record, began life at New York’s Tenement Museum where Gunn was digital artist in residence. He got together with Gama – an Angolan-Portuguese composer whose approach to music involves creating his own instruments to contextualize sound as part of an interactive universe. The duo recorded sounds such as steam escaping from a manhole, a squeaky 2nd Avenue train, neighbourhood music, and coupled these with fragments of instrumentals from Gama himself. Subtly mixed and manipulated, this gentle and thoughtful music adds up to a contemporary immigrant occurrence.

Change is at the heart of this. Turning into something else is a continual process of becoming. Those who wish to encounter the project in all its glorious flux are directed to the superb website where, via a sound map of the Lower East Side, visitors can interact with the raw material of the folk songs themselves.

New Internationalist issue 400 magazine cover This article is from the May 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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