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Recommended New and Recent Books on Music

James Fairclough and Harry Farnham
The Mozart Project
Pipedreams Media, 2014

An utterly spectacular production that realizes the promise of multimedia, this interactive book combines learned and richly presented critical, biographical, and historical writing on Mozart with audio and video: interviews, panel discussions, three hours of music, 25 filmed performances, and a performance of Alexander Pushkin’s drama Mozart and Salieri (available through iBooks for iPad and Mac OS X only).

Robert Gordon
Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
Bloomsbury USA, 2013

Now in paperback, Gordon’s 2013 account of the rise and fall of Stax Records doubles as a cultural history of the South in the 1960s.

Tristan Perich
1-Bit Symphony
Physical Editions, 2014

Not a reissue but a republication: Perich’s breakthrough 1-Bit Symphony is now available with a bound copy of the score—to be exact, the first 1/100th of a second of the score, which amounts to almost 700 pages of hypnotic code, the first in a series on Physical Editions that packages recordings of Perich’s new compositions with a poster print of the score (Parallels is new and currently available).

Joshua Harmon
The Annotated Mixtape
Dzanc Books, 2014

Harmon, a poet and fiction writer, views US history and his own life through the lens of his own record collection, a seemingly self-indulgent premise that nevertheless yields compelling results.

John Szwed
Billie Holiday, The Musician and the Myth
Viking, March 2015

2015 is Lady Day’s centennial year, and the great biographer of Miles Davis and Sun Ra explores her life and music without the romantic clichés that cloud her reputation and achievement.

Jon Fine
Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution* (But Can No Longer Hear)
Viking Adult, 2015

A truly terrible title, but Jon Fine’s in-the-trenches account of his time in bands like Bitch Magnet and Don Caballero is a grounded antidote to the inevitable myth-making of books like Our Band Can Be Your Life (2001). It’s also, surprisingly, a frank examination of the nature of male friendship.

David Grubbs
Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording
Duke University Press, 2014

A fascinating exploration of an enduring paradox at the core of avant-garde music: the sub rosa conflict between a listener’s path to knowledge—via records—and how those who made that music, particularly John Cage, thought that records were the antithesis of their art and values.

David Stubbs
Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
Melville House, 2015

Published last year in the UK but due stateside in July, Stubbs’s survey of the fertile postwar ground that sprouted bands like Can and Kraftwerk promises to shed light on Krautrock and Germany in a way similar to that in which Rob Young’s Electric Eden (2010) examined folk music in the British Isles.

Will Holder and Alex Waterman
Yes, But is it Edible?
New Documents, 2014

Something like the Old and New Testament of Robert Ashley, this large-scale book collects essays by Ashley and important early and late scores—including memoriam Kit Carson (1963) and the entirety of Dust (1998) and Celestial Excursions (2003)—and with it, ambitious readers can literally make their own performances of his works, in the deepest, fundamental tradition of classical music.

Robert Christgau
Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man
Dey Street Books, 2015

Christgau’s excoriating brevity in his long-running Consumer Guide frustrates me as much as Greil Marcus’s bloated mythologizing, but there’s no denying the man’s stature as one of rock’s foremost critics. Who are we to begrudge him a memoir?


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2015

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