Monday, November 8, 2010

The Exotica Project ...

My browser favorites under the "Tiki" label comfortably outnumber all the rest put together. However few sites have captured my attention like the Exotica Project. Think of it as a musical journey through the widest possible definitions of exotica, all arranged in a handy jukebox style format. Each track is extensively tagged and leads you to another, you take the controls and decide where to go next.

I could tell you more, but I'd never quite reach the level of eloquence demonstrated by Little Danny who put this thing together. It might have been a labour of love, but it stands as up as an amazing insight into the wonderful world of Exotica. Enjoy the music and the rationale for The Exotica Project.

In collecting these obscurities together, I wanted to get past the limited set of artists who have come to personify exotica. I wanted to expand the definition of exotica, to get away from the idea of it as a genre altogether.

These records together comprise only a loose collective, their disparate character undermining easy analysis. After all, exotica is more creative force, more motivating idea, than genre. The examples form, at the narrowest, what is essentially a cross-section of post-War America's popular music and commercial record industry. They possess an unquantifiably exotic atmosphere, certainly, and they broadly invoke some idea of The Other. But even on a purely aesthetic basis these selections are only vaguely similar. What can they say about the post-War exotica phenomenon that isn't just empty generality?

The key to the site is an index that identifies and organizes the discrete components of the style. Here the building blocks of exotica - its motifs and themes - are mapped, as a set, to one hundred otherwise very different selections. It's a mechanical reduction, of course. But, if nothing else, it presents an interesting, uniting perspective on these records - individually and collectively - as well as on the exotica phenomenon in general.

Delineated into a set of indicators, a certain form emerges. The index is a registry of exotica's familiar cues: its Afro-Latin percussion, its jungle and Eastern themes, its flutes, vibraphones and bird calls. These are the cliches of the phenomenon. They might be considered prime indicators of exotica. Other cues - wordless vocals and tremolo guitar, for instance - are less of an exotica stereotype, though, and, interestingly, are hardly less prevalent. Each individual record's character, too, assumes a certain shape in terms of its instrumental and aesthetic constituents. Some records collect larger subsets of the style's parameters together. "Jungle Slave Dance," "Sunset Mood," "Tobago" and "Maui Rain" are, by this logic, the most exotic.

Any number of conclusions might be drawn. The most critical, however, is that the collection convey a sense of exotica transcending originating idiom - whether surf music, easy listening, Latin jazz, R&B or bop - and, too, of exotica as that impossibly obscure mambo-jazz "jungle" title or landlocked guitar combo's b-side version of "Caravan." Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Yma Sumac are only the tip of exotica.

- Little Danny (2010)


  1. Thanks for your kind words! I'm enjoying your site.

  2. No worries Dan... as I said I love the Exotica Project.

    Thanks for stopping by on The Secret Island!