Book Review: Audio Culture - Readings in Modern Music (Revised Edition)


    Then... and Now
    Then... and Now
    One of the interesting features of a book that manages to become “a standard work in the field” is that the things we refer to when we use a word like “standard” are subject to change. At some point, even the best of those books begin their graceful transition to the “snapshot” volume – a text which stands as a perfect report on the state of things as of the date of publication (Michael Nyman’s “as it happened” account of 1970s experimental music in his book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond is a good example of this).
    Some books – such as Curtis Roads’ The Computer Music Tutorial from 1996 - remain relevant and age very gracefully. Some texts return to the original territory when the time comes for a new edition. Roger Manning’s Electronic and Computer Music and Thom Holmes’ Electronic and Experimental Music stand as fine examples of how judicious updating can renew a text. In some special cases, I find the appearance of a new edition of a “standard work in the field” as an occasion to meditate on the passage of time as well as an excuse to return to visit an old friend.
    We know that a new and updated edition of The Computer Music Tutorial is in preparation (the word is that it is in the publishing/production pipeline somewhere even as I write this), and I’m going to be really curious to see what changes between the new edition and my well-thumbed and battered late 1990s telephone book edition. What’s new/What’s been added? Is anything missing in action? Has the book been fundamentally reorganized?
    Nerdy as that may sound, I think those are really questions that invite us to think not only about technological change, but changes in the culture and identities of a shared community of practitioners as well. The appearance of a revised edition of Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner’s Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (the first revisions to appear since the volume's original appearance in 2004) is an opportunity to do just that, and to recommend a book that should be on your basic bookshelf if you don’t have a copy already in the bargain. My friend and colleague Darwin Grosse provided a helpful review of the earlier edition last year, and I think that an update might be in order.
    For a quick rundown, let me return to those three basic “What’s the book like now?” questions.
    Has the book been fundamentally reorganized?
    Although the revised edition is around 200 pages longer than the first edition, its basic themes (Music and Its Others, Modes of Listening, Music in the age of Electronic Reproduction, The Open Work, Experimental Musics, Improvised Musics, Minimalisms, DJ Culture, and Electronic Music and Electronica) remain unchanged, although there are substantial differences in their individual content.
    What’s new?
    In addition to an update to the already substantial Bibliography and Discography, the revised edition adds an additional 20-odd essays distributed among the basic section. No individual section of the book remains unchanged, although the new additions are not equally distributed. The biggest changes are to be found in Modes of Listening and Improvised Musics (with 4 new essays each), closely followed by Music and Its Others, and Electronic Music and Electronica (with 3 new essays each).
    Is anything missing in action?
    In fact, yes – If you’re one of those people who is unnerved by the removal of material, you might want to hang on to your original edition (for a complete list of those essays missing in action, see the end of this review). The section of the book that is most changed is Music and Its Others – in addition to the four new essays, 5 older pieces have been removed (Simon Reynolds on noise, a Morton Feldman excerpt on Varese and Boulez that I’m not sure anyone’s going to really miss, and an interview with Masami Akita, to name three). But there’s a pattern to the removals and replacements which you’ll see throughout the book – the additions help to redefine the topic itself, and are more inclusive in doing so. The new Music and Its Others section includes new essays on gender, and queer theory, as well as an essay on the quiet of blackness. In fact, there may be some wisdom to be gained by asking why an essay is no longer with us (Why was the Adorno/Eisler essay on the politics of hearing removed? Hmm….).
    But above and beyond the specifics of what’s in and what’s out, I think there’s a more interesting set of editorial concerns in play here. The additions have the effect of moving the locus of attention away from that word “Music” in the book’s title to a larger territory of inquiry that’s more engaged with the notion of “sound art” rather than capital-M “music.” Along with the idea of the Sonic Turn, that positioning of audio culture to include a larger set of sources, tools, and goals is in keeping with current practice. That subtle turn of emphasis works to the book’s advantage. In addition, the new essays represent a more inclusive collection of authors. In this edition, the conversations are joined by Anne Carson, Tara Rodgers, Marina Rosenfeld, Holly Herndon and Eliane Radigue, as well as Wadada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer, Kodwo Eshun, Anthony Braxton, and Butch Morris. There’s also a move toward including some non-western sources, as well (in Yan Jun’s essay Re-Invent: Experimental Music in China).
    I’m impressed with much of the changes – the only thing I can think of to wonder about would be the complete absence of any discussions of radiophonic work or the whole Hörspiel tradition, and that’s kind of a minor quibble.
    The core guest list of contributors from the first edition remains in place, from Russolo, Eco, Cage and Eno to Cardew, Toop George Lewis, and Oliveros (Pauline’s original contribution has been replaced by Auralizing the Sonosphere, which is a later and – to me, anyway – a more interesting contribution). There simply isn’t a better collection of the writings that explain Who We Are and How We Got Here than this. This was a great book. It’s gotten better.
    P.S. - Here's what was added or removed from the original addition, if you're curious: Newly added essays: Anne Carson: The Gender of Sound Drew Daniel: Queer Sound Kodwo Eshun: Operating System for the Redesign of Sonic Reality Evelyn Glennie: Hearing Essay Kenneth Goldsmith: Six File-Sharing Epiphanies Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Forensic Listening Holly Herndon: Laptop Intimacy and Platform Politics Vijay Iyer: Improvisation: Terms and Conditions Yan Jun: Re-Invent: Experimental Music in China Annahid Kassabian: Ubiquitous Listening Mattin: Going Fragile Lawrence “Butch" Morris: Notes on Conduction Pauline Oliveros: Auralizing the Sonosphere (This replaces Some Sound Observations in version 1) Kevin Quashie: The Quiet of Blackness: Miles Davis and John Coltrane Eliane Radigue: The Mysterious Power of the Infinitesimal Tara Rodgers: Cultivating Activist Lives in Sound Marina Rosenfeld: A Few Notes on Production and Playback Situationist International: Détournement as Negation and Prelude Trio Sowari et al.: 27 Questions For a Start … And Some Answers to Begin With Ultra-red: Organizing the Silence Jennifer Walshe: The New Discipline La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela: Conversation with Richard Kostelanetz
    Removed essays: The Beauty of Noise: An Interview with Masami Akita of Marzbow Hanns Eisler and Teodor Adorno: The Politics of Hearing Morton Feldman: Sound, Noise, Varese, Boulez Ben Neill: Breakthrough Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetics of Contemporary Electronic Music Pauline Oliveros: Some Sound Observations J.K. Randall: Compose Yourself Simon Reynolds: Noise Mary Russo and Daniel Warner: Rough Music, Futurism, and Postpunk Industrial Noise Bands Mark Slouka: Listening for Silence: Notes on the Aural Life Ola Stockfelt: Adequate Modes of Listening