May 29, 2003

Eurocentric Bias for Experimental/Electronic Music??

The world of experimental/electronic music is a very insular one. Every note, sound, bleep is a close guarded secret encoded with theoretical prose much deeper than the actual music. I have in my library three excellent books written about the experimental/electronic music matrix:

Talking Music by William Duckworth
Electronic and Experimental Music by Thom Holmes
Experimental Music by Michael Nyman

All three of these books are excellent sources on the history of the music but what I find interesting is that the vast majority of these books deal a very Eurocentric (white) approach to music making. For example, the Duckworth book deals with interviews with composers from Cage to Zorn...all great and informative interviews. The book deals with the maverick American composer tradition but what the book does not deal with are maverick American composers that might be of African-American descent. For example, how can a book include Blue Gene Tyranny, John Zorn, and Glenn Branca while excluding Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, George Russel, Ornette Coleman, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchel, and Joseph Jarman? The funny thing is, most of the composers interviewed viewed "jazz" as a very important music in their development. Would John Zorn exist if it were not for the AACM? Would Steve Reich have developed his phase concept if it were not for Ghanese music and John Coltrane. Blue Gene Tyranny states that the music of the AACM is some of the most important being produced today...why not one interview? I don't view Duckworth as a racist but I do think that he is propagating a very narrow definition of the "American Maverick" tradition.

Thom Holmes books is an excellent overview of both experimental and electronic music, but it has a major deficiency. First, there is not mention of Tod Dockstader who was a very innovative composer using musique concrete technique. No Ricahrd Maxfield? He took electronic music out of the universities and into the lofts of NYC. He also taught one of the most important courses at the New School during the early 1960's plus he was a major influence on LaMonte Young. Though these figures are overlooked, jazz/creative improvised music is totally ignored. Though he has room for DJ Spooky, Jim O'Rourke, Eno, and Sonic Youth; he makes not mention of Miles Davis (On the Corner, Get Up with It which was a big influence on Eno's ambient music, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew), George Russel, Herbie Hancock (Sextant, Crossings), Anthony Braxton/George Lewis with Richard Teitelbaum, etc. No SUN RA??? How can you talk about experimental music, open improvisation, and the use of live electronics without mentioning Sun Ra??? I'm sorry, but any complete overview must include these people especially if you are going to include Sonic Youth! I'm sure that the author must have a proper explanation of these oversights.

The music that both authors deal with in these books have been very much influenced by jazz/creative improvisation just as many of the maverick experimental "jazz" musicians" have been influenced by Stockhausen, Cage, Xenakis, electronics, etc. Why the omissions?? Do most people for example think that minimalism developed in a closed environment? LaMonte Young was a jazz musician (Sax) and he was very much influenced by the call and response passages of Coltranes work (just listen to his sopranino solos with the Theater of Eternal Music) and of course Indian Music (the drone), same with Terry Riley. Glass owes his concept of rhythmic repetition not only to Riley but also to his studies with Ravi Shanker. The problem is not that the composers don't admit this (which they freely do) but the authors of these books continue to place music in little boxes and categories. By doing this, they exclude important innovators and important work because it does not meet a specific idea of creativity. The music is then relegated to the other side of the railroad tracks with the "other folks"

Posted by at May 29, 2003 02:34 PM

My guess is that Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk is behind all this. ;)
Seriously though Joseph, this is very insightful.

Posted by: AgentA at May 31, 2003 07:01 AM