Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music

Posted by Defne Ayas | Mon Jan 17th 2005 7:54 a.m.

Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music

Editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner

"Over the past half-century, a new audio culture has emerged, a culture
of musicians, composers, sound artists, scholars, and listeners
attentive to sonic substance, the act of listening, and the creative
possibilities of sound recording, playback and transmission." In Audio
Culture, editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner bring to readers an
educated, timely and much needed critical perspective of our
contemporary musical experience through the writings of some of the
most important musical thinkers, including Jacques Attali, John Cage,
Umberto Eco, Brian Eno, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgar Varese, just to
name a few.

Audio Culture offers a collection of essays that filter a range of
experimental musical practices in an unusually refreshing way. Maybe
not since Gregory Whitehead's reader "Wireless Imagination" (1994),
which recorded the "silent" history of audio, has literature on this
subject sufficiently captured the attention of both the sound
enthusiasts and academics at the same time. Having brought together an
intriguing selection of articles from a range of significant radio-
sonic heroes as well as important thinkers and philosophers, the
editors decided that this time a book should not conform to the highly
traditional and historical categories and definitions of music but
investigate new paradigms for music criticism and history, even for
artmaking.

The book explores a number of connections between musical forms and
practices, while highlighting the conceptual cues they share. The
underlining suggestion is that there are numerous links at play between
movements and time periods, and it is perfectly ok to imagine
minimalism--considered to be rather an academic form--and Techno
juxtaposed together, or to find the "hyperlinks" branching out from
experimental noise music to HipHop.

The result is an elegant anthology that compiles the manifestos of "old
masters" such as Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo and statements by
Edgard Varese and John Cage while also spotlighting an interview on
integration of technology into artistic production by Christian Marclay
as well as an almost architectural analysis of DJ culture as put forth
by omnipresent DJ Spooky.

A topic such as "noise as music" that has reached beyond its academic
boundaries and become a widely accepted norm within popular music
(revealing the shifting definition of "music" as opposed to "noise" or
arbitrary sounds) gets its fair share of analysis for instance. Aldous
Huxley wrote in 1994: "The twentieth century is, among other things,
the Age of Noise [S<caron>]; for all the resources of our almost miraculous
technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence."
A few years before, however, John Cage had already proclaimed that
"whereas, in the past the point of disagreement has been between
dissonance and consonance, it will be, in the immediate future, between
noise and so-called musical sounds." The essay as such guides readers
on a journey from the nineteenth century pioneering challengers of
tonality, through various debates on the classification of "silence"
and "noise", towards the eventually widely accepted greater sonorous
possibilities within our definition of music.

Another topic analyzed at length is the role of technology in shaping
the reception, modes of listening and production of music in last few
decades. With regards to musical perception and reception, Glenn Gould
writes that through technology and recordings, "today's listeners have
come to associate musical performance with sounds possessed of
characteristics which two
generations ago were neither available to the profession nor wanted by
the public - characteristics such as analytic clarity, immediacy, and
indeed tactile proximity." Gould thought that the live concert had been
eclipsed by the audio recording, which could produce a superior
interpretation the pure composition, while remaining untainted from any
performance bias.

A number of essays look at the composer's perspective on how
technological advancements in recording and mixing suddenly enabled
non-instrumental sounds to compete on a common level with traditional
sounds, opening whole new possibilities of sonorous combinations. An
interesting essay to read within this context would be the one by Brian
Eno for instance, who explains at length how he came to redefine
environmental music and tcoined he term Ambient Music as an emerging
musical style.

It is impossible to underestimate the complex task of re-analyzing a
quite large section of culture that has undergone globalization and
been therefore affected by cross-pollination of media, technology and
culture (All of which brought a certain degree of democratization to
music production.) It is to the credit of the book that it keeps up
with the most interesting key texts and ideas in the field and does not
make a huge demand on our Windows-culture-inflicted patience.

The book is ambitious enough to cater to a broader audience and manages
to respond to the numerous demands made upon it. As many know,
listening to works of experimental music can make at times both the
unsympathetic and sympathetic ears nervous and uncomfortable, and
reading the long literature about it may often seem a daunting chore.
The reader--educated in the field or not--finds a surprisingly large
selection devoted to exploring the critical role of sound in the
history of twentieth century art and its implications on the most
recent developments in the emerging fields such as Electronica, ambient
music, and Techno.

The book is divided into smaller topics such as "Experimental Music" or
"Minimalism", each consisting of a handful of essays drawn from a
heterogeneous collection of sources. The editors provide context to
each small topic and respective essay in an introductory paragraph,
which makes the writings very accessible to readers who are not
familiar with the author or topic under discussion. Texts and ideas
come from a variety of sources including magazines, journals and on-
line.

With its focus on different musical strategies for composition,
improvisation and interpretation that are continually being adjusted
and reshaped, Audio Culture succinctly captures the last fifty years
that has been the most fascinating times for avant-garde
experimentation, performances and sonic landscapes. By treating the
existing rhizomic dots and lines between myriads of practices in a
progressive fashion, it gives the last decade, which confused us all
for definitions in its vibrancy, its attention and maybe its future
vocabulary.

Audio Culture guides the readers an intellectual journey from the year
1877 when the first recording fundamentally transformed sound, towards
almost better understanding our present culture of omnipresent ipod-
users, polyphonic cell-phone ringers and Bjork's Medula, helping both
the experts and enthusiasts to new ways of thinking, tracing,
developing and presenting audio culture.
  • abre | Tue Oct 26th 2010 3:04 p.m.
    Audio Culture guides the readers an intellectual journey from the year
    1877
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