I haven’t heard the music of the whistles used by street knife sharpeners for a while. But there must be some of them still, as some sound hunters capture them and upload those little jewels at freesound.org, that sort of Flickr or Picasa for sounds. Quite often sound conveys an ambience better than pictures; Freesound is an excellent collection of soundscapes.
The interest for the sounds of the street has an illustrious precedent. Proust, in The captive speaks about the music of cries of tradesmen in the street, as “lightly orchestrating the matutinal air, with an ‘Overture for a Public Holiday. Our hearing, that delicious sense, brings us the company of the street, every line of which it traces for us, sketches all the figures that pass along it, shewing us their colours.”Proust finds traits of gregorian chant in a cloth seller, or a farmer describing his artichokes. When listening to this, Albertine wants to taste some of the food, and would like Françoise to go out and buy some, “it will be so nice to eat all these things together. It will be all the sounds that we hear, transformed into a good dinner”.
In Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Act II, Scene 3, there is another excellent piece of art inspired in the music of the street.
Simon’s Rattle version, the vendors arrive at Catfish Row in 5’10” of the clip:
Oh dey’s so fresh an’ fine
An’ dey’s jus’ off de vine
Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries
There is the honey man and another offering devil crabs:
I’m talkin’ about devil crabs
1’m talkin’ about devil crabs
I’m talkin’ about de food I sells
The voices of Louis Armstrong selling crabs and Ella Fitzgerald with strawberries are beyond description:
You can recognise its origin in a vendor shout, and at the same time, perceive the fascination of the melody as pure music. Check this in Miles Davis version (at 2’19”):
Another version, by Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, in latin rhythm.
In 1900 Proust complained already that he was going to miss the cries of street vendors if he had to move from his aristocratic quartier to another more modern.
In the 1980’s I remember listening, in a corner next to my home, a fruit vendor that shouted gaiely:
Hay sandia meLOne!! [watermelons, melons]
melo CO TO NEEE !! [peaches]
with a crescendo in the “meloCOTO ne” that sounded as an explosive expansion of the “melone”
A Watermelon vendor song could have been the inspiration for the famous Watermelon man by Herbie Hancock and a popular latin version by Mongo Santamaria:
Probably, the happy Calypso Coconut Woman by Harry Belafonte, has a similar origin:
And we can’t forget the “peanuts” of Antonio Machín, “El Manisero”:
What sounds are left to us? Perhaps the metallic percussion of gas cylinders distributors. May be there not coconuts anymore in the beaches, but while sunbathing we can listen to the resigned melody of refreshments vendors “selvesa, cola, agua, bier …”. Some inspired musician could use this in chillout remix.