Book Review: Audio Culture

In college, I took an electronic music class, which I absolutely loved. Recently, I’ve been dabbling more with electronic music again, and I thought I should at least return to some of the fundamentals I’d learned in school.

Man, do I wish Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (Amazon), edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, had been out in ’89 when I took that class. It’s an awesome collection of short essays (most are 3-4 pages; a few are more) written by musicians, philosophers, and others about the experimental music and sound art scene in the last century. First published in 2004, it’s been freshly reprinted in 2013, and is as valuable now as it would have been when it first came out.

It’s divided into two parts, “Theories” and “Practices”, and in each part are sections such as:

  • Music and its others: noise, sound, and silence.
  • Modes of listening.
  • Music in the age of electronic (re)production.
  • The open work.
  • Experimental musics.
  • Improvised musics.
  • Minimalisms
  • DJ culture
  • Electronic music and electronica.

The sections on minimalism and DJ culture really knocked my socks off, with essays by Steve Reich and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, among others.

It’s a great book to dip in and out of, and includes an extensive discography. For a lot of the music the book mentions, you can find excepts or the whole pieces on YouTube and Spotify, which really engages you with the different ideas and thoughts around sound and music.

What I found really interesting, and what took me back to my college course, is that it covers the whole century’s thinking; it’s not just about house or techno or DJing or hiphop; there’s a lot of discussion of music concrete, early electronic music, and all of the experimentation that led us to where we are today.

My only regret is not having other people to discuss the book and discography with while reading it; if I had that course to do all over again, I’d hope that this would be a textbook for the course.