Jesse Jarnow

postal workers canceling stamps at the university of ghana post office

“Postal Workers Canceling Stamps at the University of Ghana Post Office” – field recording by Jim Koetting (File expires on December 14th.) .

This is a remarkable field recording that I first encountered in Rod Knight’s world music class at Oberlin College. “Postal Workers Canceling Stamps at the University of Ghana Post Office” is a pretty well spread track, and I imagine it gets taught in many/most world music courses, but there’s no harm in spreading it further. The content is exactly what the title implies, yet it still surprises and floors me just as much as it did the first time I heard it. From the textbook we used:

The men making the sounds you hear are workers canceling letters at the University of Ghana post office… 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 bring it down, repeated thuds of the marker in the ink pad and multiple cancellations are done for rhythmic interest… 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 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 kits the rhythm.

(Blast, I see that WFMU recently blogged this track, too. Fuckers. This has been in my backlog since October.)