Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A friend of mine will be teaching an undergrad course in arts reviewing and is looking for a musical/sonic equivalent to Ways of Seeing, the art-crit book of political/visual theory by John Berger and others. I’m not aware of anything quite parallel.

Carl Wilson’s upcoming book on Celine Dion will talk about, among other things, the sonic imprints of class distinction in pop music, which gets at part of Berger’s story.

Alex Ross’s upcoming book on 20th century classical music, which has been excerpted here and here, will tell a lot of history through music, and while I have very much liked the excerpts, and am excited to read the whole (I was the first one in Seattle to reserve it at the library), my impression is that Alex’s approach to the politics is more personal than what my friend is looking for.

Berger’s book draws no distinction between art and advertising, subsuming all of visual culture. I’m not aware of any parallel undertaking with music. And music shares the art/commerce confusion with art and advertising, and it may be even more ubiquitous a presence than the iconography of 2-D, non-moving visual art.

In his book Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, Joseph Lanza makes the case -- accurately -- that most people’s experience of most music is as “background music.” But Lanza’s take isn’t particularly political -- at least not explicitly.

Jacques Attali, in Noise: The political economy of music, traces parallels between social/political organization and music through history -- terrific stuff, but slow going for me.

Any suggestions for my friend?

And isn’t it neat how the books advertise themselves in ways that lend themselves to Berger’s critical approach? Astringent modern art and dry text for the cover of Berger, kitsch advertising imagery for the “muzak” book, and Brueghel’s Carnival imagery for Attali’s Noise vision. Music works similarly -- ubiquitously, garishly, trashily, sublimely, annoyingly, beautifully, crassly, cynically, ironically, subconsciously, etceterally -- all the time, in every nook and cranny of culture.

* * * * *

My mom got to town tonight, as did two old friends whom I'll see tomorrow, for another old friend's wedding. I've been busy with some preparations for the festivities, which start tomorrow and last for days, and it's been a blast.

My band --
Ruby Thicket -- has been practicing a lot, and that's been great. I'm looking forward to our September 7 gig as part of Columbia City's monthly BeatWalk -- details here.

Anyway -- light blogging for a while longer -- but I will read comments if you have suggestions for my friend!

Cheers --

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