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John Cage's disdain for records was legendary. He repeatedly spoke of the ways in which recorded music was antithetical to his work. In Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs argues that, following Cage, new genres in experimental and avant-garde music in the 1960s were particularly ill suited to be represented in the form of a recording. These activities include indeterminate music, long-duration minimalism, text scores, happenings, live electronic music, free jazz, and free improvisation. How could these proudly evanescent performance practices have been adequately represented on an LP? In their day, few of these works circulated in recorded form. By contrast, contemporary listeners can encounter this music not only through a flood of LP and CD releases of archival recordings but also in even greater volume through Internet file sharing and online resources. Present-day listeners are coming to know that era's experimental music through the recorded artifacts of composers and musicians who largely disavowed recordings. In Records Ruin the Landscape, Grubbs surveys a musical landscape marked by altered listening practices.
The voice in the headphones says, “you’re rolling” . . . The Voice in the Headphones is an experiment in music writing in the form of a long poem centered on the culture of the recording studio. It describes in intricate, prismatic detail one marathon day in a recording studio during which an unnamed musician struggles to complete a film soundtrack. The book extends the form of Grubbs's previous volume Now that the audience is assembled, sharing its goal of musicalizing the language of writing about music. Mulling the insight that “studio is the absence of pushback”—now that no audience is assembled—The Voice in the Headphones details one musician's strategies for applying the requisite pressure to the proceedings, for making it count. The Voice in the Headphones is both a literary work and a meditation on sound recording, delivered at a moment in which the commercial recording studio shades into oblivion. It draws upon Grubbs's own history of several decades as a recording artist, and its location could be described as every studio in which he has set foot.
Following his investigation into experimental music and sound recording in Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs turns his attention to the live performance of improvised music with an altogether different form of writing. Now that the audience is assembled is a book-length prose poem that describes a fictional musical performance during which an unnamed musician improvises the construction of a series of invented instruments before an audience that is alternately contemplative, participatory, disputatious, and asleep. Over the course of this phantasmagorical all-night concert, repeated interruptions take the form of in-depth discussions and musical demonstrations. Both a work of literature and a study of music, Now that the audience is assembled explores the categories of improvised music, solo performance, text scores, instrument building, aesthetic deskilling and reskilling, and the odd fate of the composer in experimental music.
Listening for the Secret is a critical assessment of the Grateful Dead and the distinct culture that grew out of the group’s music, politics, and performance. With roots in popular music traditions, improvisation, and the avant-garde, the Grateful Dead provides a unique lens through which we can better understand the meaning and creation of the counterculture community. Marshaling the critical and aesthetic theories of Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault and others, Ulf Olsson places the music group within discourses of the political, specifically the band’s capacity to create a unique social environment. Analyzing the Grateful Dead’s music as well as the forms of subjectivity and practices that the band generated, Olsson examines the wider significance and impact of its politics of improvisation. Ultimately, Listening for the Secret is about how the Grateful Dead Phenomenon was possible in the first place, what its social and aesthetic conditions of possibility were, and its results. This is the first book in a new series, Studies in the Grateful Dead.
This annotated bibliography uncovers the wealth of resources available on the life and music of John Cage, one of the most influential and fascinating composers of the twentieth-century. The guide will focus on documentary studies, archival resources, scholarly research, and autobiographical materials, and place the composer and his work in a larger context of postmodern philosophy, art and theater movements, and contemporary politics. It will support emerging scholarship and inquiry for future research on Cage, with carefully selected sources and useful annotations.

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