Traveling is in Jack Chance’s blood. “My folks both had wanderlust and they traveled as much as they could and were into whatever new and adventurous activities they could get into, so I kind of learned from a young age that it was really easy to do that,” he explains. Jack’s family’s home base was Lancaster, but as soon as he was old enough, he moved to Colorado before heading to college in Bozeman, Montana, where he obtained a BA in Music from Montana State University.
While a student at Montana State, Jack traveled to Bali with a professor and a group of other students to record and document Balinese music. He enjoyed the work so much that he changed his ticket home and stayed the maximum time the university would allow, traveling around Indonesia with a DAP recorder and a microphone, trying to record whatever he could. He had discovered his passion: ethnomusicology.
“I’m not a real, proper ethnomusicologist,” Jack says. “I would say I’m a guerilla ethnomusicologist. Basically I look for musical traditions that come from places we don’t hear about a lot. Every little valley’s got its own musical traditions, and if it’s isolated for long enough, those become distinct from the neighboring valley… I look for world music with a lowercase ‘w,’ which is the stuff that no one’s going to ever record. Maybe it’s a little scratchy, the guitar isn’t new, straight from the store. It’s been beaten up… and maybe they’re a little beaten up, too. The songs are a little beaten up and the whole thing sounds a little more authentic. It’s music people play on the porch, instead of the stage.”
When he returned from Bali, Jack spent nearly 10 years studying ethnomusicology along with radio production, traveling everywhere he could find funding to go. He has since spent another 20 years working on “international gigs” in ethnomusicology, audio recording, filmmaking, and photography. He has served as a contributing writer for the Rough Guide to World Music, produced and directed an independent film about the similarities between Nepalese and Appalachian music, helped preserve audio recordings for Easter Islands Museo Athropologico, and trained radio journalists and folklorists in Asia. He estimates his journeys have taken him to over 50 different countries, where he’s recorded thousands of sessions with international, and typically indigenous, musicians.
For Jack, the more remote the area, the better. “The places that are harder to get to are kind of the cooler places because, you know, our stuff doesn’t get there, and their stuff doesn’t get to us, and that makes it interesting.” For example, one of his favorite locations to record is in the Solomon Islands. Getting there requires multiple flights, followed by several rides in tiny planes, landing on grass air strips from World War II along the way, followed by a hundred-nauticalmile ride past an active volcano in a motor canoe to a place that has no internet, no cell service, and nowhere for a ship to anchor. “Those guys are pretty remote,” he laughs.
Along with recording local musicians, Jack has become accustomed to embracing local traditions in the places he travels. He has scores of funny stories about eating bugs, monkey intestines, and other “delicacies.”
“In Thailand and some parts of Southeast Asia,” he explains, “instead of toilet paper, you’ll have a hose to spray yourself after using the toilet, but it has another good use. Sometimes you’ll have a very dangerous snake hanging out behind your toilet, and you need to clear him out.”
For Jack, it’s all part of the appeal of world travel. “The earth’s a sphere,” he muses, “and when you travel, you’re walking a two-dimensional line on it—so you cannot possibly see even close to all of it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” He continues, “You can travel wide and have a lot of passport stamps or do Europe in two weeks, or whatever… or you can travel really deep and spend more time in less places, but establish bigger, deeper relationships. I think I’ve tried to do the latter more often than not.”