Joplin ragtime lost and found

Here’s a stranger-than-fiction story about music lost and regained. Actually, it’s more like nonfiction-inspired-by-improbable-fiction. If you saw Blade Runner, you may remember how Deckard zoomed around a digital photograph with his computer until he located a tiny but critical detail with a ridiculous level of magnification. A similar scene occurs in the funny but less memorable High Anxiety by Mel Brooks.

Now for the nonfiction part: someone finally took the time to look closely at a well-known picture and often-published picture of ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s piano. There, in plain view, was an unknown rag. The Rag Time Ephemeralist has the whole story of how the music was recovered. Here is the picture in question, and here is the (fragment of) recovered music. Knowing the story gives the music a haunting air. Lost but not lost, like a musical fossil, it had been floating in information limbo for a century. Give it a listen. As a curious side note, the Ragtime Ephemeralist article was written by the inimitable cartoonist Chris Ware.

Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of the new science of paleo-photography, or photoforensics, or maybe archaeo-archivology, in which lost worlds are recovered from their inadvertent appearance in someone else’s archives. With gigapixel projects like the modern View of Delft, how much of your life is already documented on someone else’s hard drive? Would you pay to see a gallery of distant or departed loved ones if those pictures were taken by security cameras?

One thought on “Joplin ragtime lost and found”

  1. There’s a pretty good novel called “The Dogs of Babel” in which a mourning husband is investigating his wife’s suspicious death. He recalls a trip they took to Disney World, and at one point considers trying to contact all the other tourists who were there at the same time just to see if they have any pictures or home video that might provide another glimpse of his dead wife.

    It’s strange to think about how much more information there is about someone today after they die — web pages, blogs, videos. Will this help or hurt the mourning process?

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