Records Ruin the Landscape

Records Ruin the Landscape : John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording

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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.

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Product details

  • Paperback | 248 pages
  • 152.4 x 226.06 x 15.24mm | 362.87g
  • Duke University Press
  • North Carolina, United States
  • English
  • 0822355906
  • 9780822355908
  • 273,804

Review quote

"An engaging book." -- David Revill Times Higher Education "The premise of [Grubbs's] understandably authoritative first book is that experimental music's flowering in the 1960s ... was incompatible with the limitations of orthodox recording formats... With an engaging frankness ... Grubbs contrasts this tendency with his own fan-by appetite for records and the documentary efficacy of the contemporary digital realm, concluding positively that the latter potentially offers unmediated, universal access to the panoply of esoteric music-something unthinkable in the 1960s." -- David Sheppard Mojo "David Grubbs delivers a vital, searching treatise on the volatility of musical listening and the seeminging encyclopedic record of the avant-garde we have inherited from the 1960s, an era vastly different from our own in ways that are newly unpacked here. John Cage and his contemporaries' squemishness about the record and its 'thingness' are compellingly at odds with Grubbs's own phonophilia." Marina Rosenfeld, composer and multimedia artist "Beautifully written and brimming with unexpected insights, Records Ruin the Landscape will undoubtedly inspire its readers to collect, download, and/or stream the wonderfully broad range of musicians and composers it examines. With a remarkable level of attentiveness, expertise, and care, David Grubbs's fascinating book draws upon the most intimate, oft-overlooked details of sound recordings to produce a profound new understanding of the stakes of what it means to listen to the past in the present." Branden W. Joseph, author of Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage "Records Ruin the Landscape is a pleasure to read, full of wonderful anecdotes and historical material. David Grubbs approaches John Cage and his legacy from a new and refreshing angle, by examining the vexed relationship of experimental and improvised music to recording and phonography. The questions that he poses-about the ontology and potentiality of recording in relation to live performance, improvisation, chance, and indeterminacy-are important, and he answers them in smart and provocative ways." Christoph Cox, coeditor of Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music "For compositions whose whole raison d'etre is to generate a drastically different realization with every performance ... no recording of any one performance could be said to 'be' the piece... David Grubbs's exhaustively researched Records Ruin the Landscape explores this dilemma specifically as it affected the generation of avant-garde composers who hit their stride in the sixties, John Cage being the most prominent and outspoken among them." -- David Mandl Los Angeles Review of Books "The risk writers run, of course, with the big questions approach, is universalising their personal narrative in order to present the big answer. Grubbs is too skilled and self-aware to run into this problem. His breadth of research in musicology and aesthetic theory is balanced in this short and engaging book with candid writing about his own experiences of recordings of experimental music... It is testament to Grubbs's sensitivity as a writer that sympathetic picture merges of these musicians, who seem often to be railing against hierarchies they can't quite help being part of." -- Frances Morgan The Wire "One of the chief joys of this book is that seeks to rediscover the avant-gardes of the 1960s in all their spontaneity, in their present-ness, as if unfolding these mavericks from their own perspectives, without benefit of current hindsight. We learn, reading this book, what the future looked like to the past. Records Ruin the Landscape seeks to prestidigitate the landscape of the 1960s back to life. For this, one should be thankful-including for the recordings that allow David Grubbs' act of imagination and scholarship to have taken place." -- Daniel Herwitz Critical Inquiry

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About David Grubbs

David Grubbs is Associate Professor in the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, where he also teaches in the M.F.A. programs in Performance and Interactive Media Arts and Creative Writing. As a musician, he has released twelve solo albums and appeared on more than 150 commercially released recordings. Grubbs was a founding member of the groups Gastr del Sol, Bastro, and Squirrel Bait, and has appeared on recordings by the Red Krayola, Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, Will Oldham, and Matmos, among other artists. He is known for cross-disciplinary collaborations with the writers Susan Howe and Rick Moody and the visual artists Anthony McCall, Angela Bulloch, and Stephen Prina. A grant recipient in music/sound from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Grubbs has written for The Wire, Bookforum, and the Suddeutsche Zeitung.

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Table of contents

Preface ix Acknowledgments xxiii Introduction 1 1. Henry Flynt on the Air 19 2. Landscape with Cage 45 3. John Cage, Recording Artist 67 4. The Antiques Trade: Free Improvisation and Record Culture 105 5. Remove the Records from Texas: Online Resources and Impermanent Archives 135 Notes 167 Selected Disography 195 Bibliography 199 Index 209

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