Reading List 1

Yes, everyone has playlists. How about a good, old-fashioned book list?

Yesterday I gave a talk to our local composition seminar, I offered to post some information about my reading list of music- and culture-related books. Here are three to start with:

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsNot a music book, but an important work that upsets the popular-myth notion that the history of scientific development is a history of linear development. He puts forth that change usually comes about as a revolutionary idea, completely breaking the mold of previously held theories. What follows is a period where other scientists accept the new idea, gathering around it and establishing it as a relatively stable truth. At some later point, other revolutionary ideas upset the new stability.
  • Marshall McLuhan, Understanding MediaAgain, not a music book, but how can one live in a media-saturated world and not take any time to examine media theory at all? McLuhan is one of the early developers of Media Theory, and attained something related to pop icon status. He coined the phrases “the medium is the message,” and “global village.”
  • Leonard B. Meyer, Music, the Arts, and IdeasMeyer’s book, originally published in 1967, can be seen as one of the early important works of postmodern aesthetics applied to music. The book is Meyer’s attempt to find pattern and rationale for the fragmented condition of 20th-century music.
  • Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of MusicAttali is an economist and political figure, and his approach to music and sound takes a radically different turn than the traditional music scholar. Starting with the fundamental definition that noise is anything that is unwanted in sound (or information), Attali describes five periods of musical history: listening, sacrificing, representing, repeating, and composing. Translated into English in 1985, Attali puts forth the last period, composing, as a prediction of a new period that combats the repetitiveness of technical reproduction and consumer society. Composing involves individuals grabbing hold of available noise, and transforming it into their own valued sound world. In a significant way, Attali predicts the significance of digital sampling and remix culture, YouTube videos, and similar practices.It should be noted that the foreword by Frederic Jameson is great. The afterword by Susan McClary, however, completely misses the point, confusing organization of sound with a particular music composition style.

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