Listeners responded. At a time when FM radio was venturing into experimental territory and the counterculture began tuning in to non-Western cultures, Mr. Lewiston’s musical reports found an eager audience. His first recording for Nonesuch, devoted to the gamelan, the traditional percussion orchestra of Indonesia, sold surprisingly well. “,” released in 1967, was followed by “Golden Rain,” which devoted an entire side to the Balinese kecak, or monkey chant, in which a male chorus intoned the percussive syllable “chak” in a mounting frenzy.
“That was something unheard-of at that time, for a record company to devote a whole LP side to an uncut excerpt of a non-Western style,” Mr. Lewiston said in an interview for the web publication in 2000. On the radio station WBAI in New York, he recalled, the late-night D.J. would say “O.K., light that joint, here it comes!” and play side two of “Golden Rain.”
In the years that followed, Mr. Lewiston, who liked to call himself a “musical tourist,” delivered music from South America, Mexico and Kashmir. He traveled the highlands of western Tibet and the tribal regions of Pakistan. No sound was alien to him.
“He had ears I didn’t possess,” , the founder of Elektra records, the parent company of Nonesuch, told Mick Houghton, the author of “” (2010). “Once you hear and understand something far from your experience, you fill in between the furthest point out from your angle of acceptance and your normal angle of acceptance. You expand, you exercise, you stretch. It’s like Pilates for the ears.”
David Sidney George Lewiston was born on May 11, 1929, in London. Little is known about his early life, which he rarely discussed.
He studied piano and composition at the (now the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance), earning a degree in 1953.
While a student he became fascinated by the mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, whose teachings and music he immersed himself in at a London salon. “Hearing the Gurdjieff music made me aware for the first time that there was something outside the Western classical music tradition,” Mr. Lewiston told Roots World.
He moved to New York to study with Thomas de Hartmann, a Ukranian-born composer who transcribed for the piano Gurdjieff’s impromptu For more than a decade, Mr. Lewiston was a musician at the Gurdjieff Foundation in Manhattan.
After Mr. de Hartmann’s death in 1956, he found himself at loose ends. To make ends meet he began writing financial articles for Forbes and an in-house publication of the American Bankers Association. It was not a happy time.
In 1966, taking a short sabbatical, he set out for Bali, carrying two borrowed microphones and a Japanese tape recorder — one of the first battery-operated models — that he bought on a stopover in Singapore.
“It really was as vague as all that,” he told an audience at the Rubin Museum in Manhattan in 2006. “I stumbled into it. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a career in mind. It was an adventure.”
Returning to New York 10 days later, he looked for ethnic titles in a record shop and noticed that Nonesuch, in its International Series, seemed to have a taste for adventure. He wrote a letter to the company, brought in his tapes and found two sets of appreciative ears in Peter K. Siegel, an engineer, and , who, under the title of coordinator, ran Nonesuch and gave the Explorer series its name.
The two Balinese records followed. Mr. Lewiston then took off for South America, returning with the music for “” and “.”
The journey went on and on. He accumulated hundreds of hours of Buddhist chants, notably the chordal chanting of lamas and monks at the Gyuto Tantric University and the Drukpa Kagyu rituals performed at the Khampagar Monastery, both in Tibet. He traveled to the republic of Georgia to record polyphonic folk songs and to Fez, Morocco, in search of Sufi music. He returned to Bali in 1987 and 1994.
He prized authenticity over polish. “If someone made a mistake or the wind knocked over a microphone, I wouldn’t stop and say, ‘Take two,’ ” he told the audience at the Rubin Museum. “I couldn’t stop things that way, I needed the musicians to be deeply inside the music, and so I would wait until a whole performance was over and just say, ‘My, that was marvelous! What was that second piece? Could I hear that again?’ And just hope that the wind wouldn’t knock things over and that this time the genggong player wouldn’t fart.”
He learned early on that a generous supply of liquor helped the musicians relax, but that a too-generous supply caused them to pass out. Money also helped. His standard practice in villages was to determine the daily wage for a laborer and then pay the musicians double that for each hour of recording.
After Ms. Sterne was fired in 1979, Mr. Lewiston found less support for his efforts and in 1984, Nonesuch ended the Explorer Series. He later made records with the Bridge, Shanachie and Ellipsis labels.
Mr. Lewiston, who has no immediate survivors, left an archive of nearly 400 hours of recorded music. Mr. Cullman is collaborating with , a record company specializing in American folk, blues and gospel music, to produce a boxed set of Mr. Lewiston’s material and to find a home for the archive, much of it devoted to Tibetan chants and rituals.
His tireless search for undiluted indigenous music became more difficult with time and the incursion of electronic instruments. “Oh yes, a Tibetan nun and a synthesizer,” he lamented to Roots World. “When I go to the Himalayas, which is an annual jaunt for me, I have to be very careful to remind the musicians: ‘Please! No film music from Bombay!’”