i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces

book w/ 2 cds
edition: 2500
dust to digital

… i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces brings together a collection of vintage photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the sound and images. It is a somewhat intuitive gathering, culled from my collection of thousands of vernacular photographs related to music, sound, and listening. The subjects range from the PT Barnum-esque Professor McRea – “Ontario’s Musical Wonder” (pictured with his complex sculptural one man band contraption) – to anonymous African-American guitar players and images of early phonographs. The images range from professional portraits to ethereal, accidental, double exposures – and include a range of photographic print processes, such as tintypes, ambrotypes, cdvs, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, albumen prints, and turn-of-the-century snapshots.

The two CDs display a variety of recordings, including one-off amateur recordings, regular commercial releases, and early sound effects records. there is no narrative structure to the book, but the collision of literary quotes (Hamsun, Lagarkvist, Wordsworth, Nabokov, etc.). Recordings and images conspire towards a consistent mood that is anchored by the book’s title, which binds such disparate things as an early recording of an American cowboy ballad, a poem by a Swedish Nobel laureate, a recording of crickets created artificially, and an image of an itinerant anonymous woman sitting in a field, playing a guitar. The book also contains an essay by Roden.

“a really cool unexpected book, that my wife gave me. there is great written material and extraordinary photographs. the book also has two CDs of early folk, blues and country.it is by a small press, dust-to-digital.”
richard gere, books i’m reading, in usa weekend magazine

  • reviews:
  • for full reviews, see the press section of the website,

    below are some excerpts...
  • All Songs Considered: What are you guys listening to these days? Anything you can’t get enough of?

    Jeff Tweedy: There’s a two-CD collection, it comes as part of a book, called, I think I’m gonna get the title right …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces. It’s on Dust-to-Digital records. It’s just this incredible collection of photographs from the 1800s and early 1900s of musicians. And then the two CDs that come with it are recordings of 78s. Some of them are even archival, kind of retrievals of sound effects for movies. Like there’s this one of wind from the ’30s, just really an incredible collection.

    jeff tweedy, wilco
  • (excerpt) “… Both the images and audio were drawn from Roden’s personal collection. If you’ve ever spent time hunched over a box of yellowing photographs or flipping through dusty piles of 78rpm recordings at a flea market hunting for—What? That image or object that speaks to you even if you can’t precisely define why?—Roden is a kindred spirit, and traces is an invitation to get lost with him in this world of mysterious artifacts. In fact, halfway through my first listen, I wondered if I was more attracted to the materials themselves or to the care and commitment it seemed evident Roden brought to their assembly. In the end, I decided it was an equal measure of both. Taken all together, after all, it’s a mix tape of sorts—a revelation of a slice of a hidden past and also a gift from a passionate collector bravely showcasing what has spoken to his own heart.

    In an illuminating introductory essay, Roden speaks about the motivations of the collector, where questions of value and what belongs are incredibly personal and fluid, and where motivations, at least as far as music on the verge of obsolescence is concerned, might be traced to a desire to “give new life to voices lying dormant within the tiny confines of dust filled grooves….As the music becomes audible, I am immersed in distant voices singing through both space and time, and in the words of Alfred G. Karnes, I have found myself within ‘a portal, there to dwell with the immortal…’”

    molly sheridan, new music box
  • (excerpt) “The presentation is a delight from cover to cover and I whole heartedly recommended it as one of the finest, albeit unusual, anthologies of the year. Dust To Digital have done it again! (I hate to mention this but Christmas ain’t all that far off and this is book and CD set is just the perfect present. Drop a few hints or get it for yourself and look forward to Christmas morning!)”

    red lick website
  • (excerpt) “There’s something undeniably haunting in Listen to the Wind, in its garbled snatches of historical sounds and the unkempt, chemical strangeness of early photographs left to deteriorate. But there’s something almost overwhelmingly affirming in it too, in its procession of recorded or photographed characters who turned to music for whatever reason – out of desire, restlessness, hope, desperation. Or maybe just to bide the time.”

    andy battaglia, the national
  • (excerpt) “Does it all work?  Well yes it does, and I soon found myself sitting back and enjoying the anticipation of just what exactly was coming next.  If like me you are getting rather fed up with the sameness of recently issued ‘folk’ albums, then this is the antidote.  There are some glorious sounds here and, leafing through the book, I found myself wondering if any of the people pictured in the photographs had actually listened to any of these recordings when they were first issued.  I hope so, because this is music that brings a smile to the lips, and that is something that we all need, regardless of time.”

    mike yates, mustrad
  • (excerpt) “Roden’s box set seems closer in spirit to the spiritual designs of wonder chambers. The box set is less concerned with a total vision than the striking juxtapositions of incompatible parts, the haunting stories that emerge from the impossible coalescences.

    By contrast, anthologies that document a particular artist or genre or theme with rigor seem closer to curiosity cabinets. Like Roden’s collection, they are also interested in matches, but the complete recordings hope to make them rather than ignite something.

    What’s strange is that Roden’s wonderbox actually seems the more complete for the silent gaps it seems to include, while the airtight anthologies seem to have somehow left out the essence of a musician’s oeuvre or a genre’s magic or a theme’s subtleties.”

    culture rover
  • (excerpt) “The label’s latest release, … i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces, from the acclaimed Southern California sound artist Steve Roden, similarly defies conventional categorization. After finding an old flea-market photograph of a coyote howling between musicians playing a mandolin and clarinet, Roden set off on an eight-year quest to scavenge for abandoned black-and-white photographs of musicians and abandoned 78-rpm recordings. Presented in a beautiful hardbound book with two CDs of music and sounds (pre–WWII blues, birdsong, country yodels, wind, cowboy prayers, night noises, gospel sermons), … i listen is a haunted house of lost souls and disappeared voices.

    It is the project of an artist, not a historian. Roden doesn’t compile the past or even try to make sense of it. The subjects in the photographs are left unnamed; the recordings come with the bare minimum of information. The book is a pastiche of meditations on passing time from the likes of Rainer Maria Rilke, Herman Melville, and James Agee, who add an extra chorus of echoes to the sounds on the CDs. The individual objects Roden has collected—a disc of ’20s radio star Chubby Parker singing “Bib-a-lollie-boo,” an image of a young woman strumming a guitar in an empty field—are less important on their own than they are when taken together, artifacts rearranged into a collage of new worlds.”

    josh kuhn, american prospect