Monday, July 03, 2017

"Audio Culture": quick look at the revised edition

Published in 2004, Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music provided a one-stop reader for those interested in contemporary creative sound practice. Editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner performed an admirable service in bringing together classic pieces from Attali, Russolo, Cage, Cascone, WS Burroughs, Schafer, and many others.

Thirteen years later a revised edition is being published by Bloomsbury, so I thought I'd have a look at what's changed. I haven't had a chance to review a copy of the book, so this is only a consideration of the scope.

First, there is a significant increase in the content, I am guessing about one-third. These are the new chapters:

Anne Carson: "The Gender of Sound"
Drew Daniel: "Queer Sound"
Kevin Quashie: "The Quiet of Blackness: Miles Davis and John Coltrane"+
Maryanne Amacher: "Perceptual Geography: Third Ear Music and Structure Borne Sound"
Evelyn Glennie: "Hearing Essay"
Annahid Kassabian: "Ubiquitous Listening"
Lawrence Abu Hamdan: "Forensic Listening"
Ultra-red: "Organizing the Silence"
Kenneth Goldsmith: "Six File-Sharing Epiphanies"
Tara Rodgers: "Cultivating Activist Lives in Sound"
Lawrence "Butch" Morris: "Notes on Conduction"
Jennifer Walshe: "The New Discipline"
Yan Jun: "Re-Invent: Experimental Music in China"
Wadada Leo Smith: "Notes (8 Pieces): Creative Music"
Vijay Iyer: "Improvisation: Terms and Conditions"
Mattin: "Going Fragile"
Trio Sowari et al.: "27 Questions For a Start … And Some Answers to Begin With"
La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela: "Conversation with Richard Kostelanetz"
Situationist International: "D├ętournement as Negation and Prelude"
Marina Rosenfeld: "A Few Notes on Production and Playback"
Eliane Radigue: "The Mysterious Power of the Infinitesimal"
Holly Herndon: "Laptop Intimacy and Platform Politics"

It's obvious that this list significantly increases the representation of women, but also of queer theory and, to a lesser extent, non-Western practice. That is all for the good. Several important practitioners that were previously overlooked are now present (Amacher, La Monte Young, Radigue).

I also notice that the Pauline Oliveros contribution has been changed from "Some Sound Observations" to "Auralizing the Sonosphere". I might have missed other alterations.

Unclear from the table of contents is that at least ten chapters have been cut from the first edition, those by:

Morton Feldman
Mark Slouka
Russo and Warner
Simon Reynolds (on "Noise")
Masami Akita (interview)
Eisler and Adorno
Ola Stockfelt
JK Randall
Christian Marclay & Tone
Ben Neill

Although this list includes some important names, I don't think these texts represented their best writings, so I am not sad to see them go. But some of the topics require more consideration than the new volume allows. One cannot just forget about Christian Marclay. And how about including some of Paul Hegarty's contentious text on noise?

So, how will this new volume function as a reader? There are many new names here I do not recognise, and look forward to reading. However I would say this emphasis skews the book away from established works and more into exploratory territory. That suits my personal reading practice, but less so the function of a reader.

So, what would I have done?

For a start, I would remove the subtitle "Readings in Modern Music", since that last word is too limiting. The book already includes much that cannot readily be incorporated under "music", so why not be free of it?

Claiming to cover "audio culture" and then forgetting to consider radio as a political, cultural, or technological force is unfortunate. Essays by Jody Berland and Gregory Whitehead would be welcome.

There appears to be nothing about politicised issues like sound in public spaces, sound as warfare, noise pollution, etc. And not enough on cultures of reproduction. The role of software modalities and the internet seem to be addressed only tangentially. I am missing writers like Douglas Kahn, Brandon LaBelle, Seth Kim-Cohen, Michel Chion, and Friedrich Kittler.

Only two chapters consider soundscape studies, environmental art, field recording, and related activities. Christina Kubisch, Hildegard Westerkamp, and others are missing.

The book needs more coverage of sound artists. Where are Laurie Anderson, Janet Cardiff, Max Eastley, Bill Fontana, Max Neuhaus, Bill Viola, Alvin Lucier, Ryoji Ikeda...? There are two chapters on Karlheinz Stockhausen but nothing about Iannis Xenakis.

Nonetheless, this volume looks like an automatic purchase for any lecturer or student. At least for those who don't already have the original edition.

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