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Christoph Cox & Daniel Warner, editors: Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music


Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music

Author: Christoph Cox & Daniel Warner, editors
Publisher: Continuum

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Growing steadily alongside a music-writing canon loaded with the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, the body of work sampled in Audio Culture wanders far afield from rock and ponders questions that are less than concerned with ideals of human expression. In this sphere of influence, John Cage is Elvis Presley, Brian Eno's cerebral musings trump Lou Reed's tangy antagonism, sonics mean more than lyrics, and movements have yet to be surveyed entirely through a rear view.

That's not to say that Audio Culture doesn't revel in the past, but its grapplings with electronic music, DJ culture, and the like still feel less than calcified—partly because they're so wide-eyed and exhilarating, and partly because they're simply less read. The best book of its kind, Audio Culture compiles essays and excerpts from artists, critics, and academics given to staring down music with no eyes to return the gaze. The first chapter, "Music And Its Others: Noise, Sound, Silence," tinkers with music's barest table of elements. An excerpt from Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy Of Music posits that the organization of sound is one of the primary manifestations of power, from flocks of birds to totalitarian governments. In a sample of his 1913 manifesto, artist Luigi Russolo summons a riotous sonic palette to match the dynamic, discordant paintings of Italian Futurism.

From there, Audio Culture spreads to survey various facets of music and its production, consumption, and interpretation. The table of contents reads like a greatest-hits collection: Cage, Eno, Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, David Toop, Kodwo Eshun, Simon Reynolds. From around various corners come pieces by Umberto Eco, who mulls over the implications of "open work"—that is, conceptual compositions waiting to be "finished" by those performing them—and William Burroughs, whose cut-up writing method did to words what DJs would later do to songs.

More than a few of the pieces are dense to the point of distraction, but editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner provide a valuable resource to sample and remix at will. Revelations might prove hard-won, but Audio Culture dangles intellectual threads fit to tie lifers and open-eared wonderers alike.