sa Sound Arts vol. 6

XEBEC SoundCulture Membership Magazine

David TOOP

In April 1993 at Xebec, David TOOP appearing along with Max EASTLEY in a performance that utilized slides, video, sound objects, and original musical instruments. Besides playing the flute, and being active as a writer for magazines such as The Wire, his book, Ocean of Sound, was published in England in November. Although there are no plans for a Japanese version as of yet, Toop explains the premise of the book in the following essay.

Book Cover

Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds

Music has a unique capacity to effect every fibre of our being. Intangible, fluid, invisible and impermanent, it nevertheless moves and resonates our bodies, engages our intellect, speaks across cultural and linguistic divisions and interpenetrates emotion and spirit.

This immersive quality, along with sound's potential to describe space and duration, both in actual and metaphorical terms, has led composers, musicians and sound artists of the twentieth century to explore notions of music as an enveloping ambience. Sound, exploration and environment are common factors in many different genres of music. Inspired by a sudden, freakish rise of ambient, experimental, environmental music to almost mainstream acceptance, I decided to write a book about this phenomenon. But how could I do it? As a musician myself, where could I place myself in my text? And since I refuse to believe in the tidy, chronological narratives of music histories, how could I order this mass of material into something readable and cohesive? So this became a book of journeys -- virtual, imaginative, physical, fantastic .

At the point when DEBUSSY heard Javanese gamelan performed at the Paris Exposition of 1889, the acoustic world was expanding as dramatically as global awareness. These expositions were celebrations of European colonialism, yet the sudden impact of these colonial "commodities" - Javanese and Vietnamese musicians or West African pot makers -- stimulated a kind of surrealism of possible worlds in the minds of many musicians. As the world changed, rapidly and irrevocably, whether by travel, technological growth, the advent of modern warfare or instant communications, so these surrealistic soundworks depicted a mutating environment of exotic signals and strange noise. Musicians heard and organised sound with a revived sensitivity to its potential. Increasingly easy access to previously unknown musical cultures and environmental sounds threw assumptions of European musical superiority into doubt; theories of harmony and rhythm were eroded and enriched by these influences. Sound was treated as an ocean in which we swim, and in that sense, music has helped to prepare us for the information ocean of the next century.

The book spans more than a century of music making, from Debussy's encounter with Javanese gamelan in Paris, 1889, to the emergence exactly hundred years later of ambient d.j. experiments in London's dance clubs, 1989. The book delves into Italian futurism, psychedelic jazz, American minimalism, disco mixing, bionics and bioacoustic recording, improvisation, Japanese Buddhist ceremonies, Detroit techno, Jamaican dub, Jimi HENDRIX, recording Yanomami shamanism in Amazonas, the World Soundscape Project, the silences and noise of John CAGE, Erik SATIE, Edgard VARESE and Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN, sound as art and eroticism, and includes within the text interviews with Sun Ra, Lee PERRY, Brian WILSON, Kate BUSH, Brian ENO, Aphex Twin, The Orb, Lee KONITZ, Kraftwerk , SAKAMOTO Ryuichi, David LYNCH, Marshall JEFFERSON, Jon HASSELL, Scanner, Terry RILEY and La Monte YOUNG, Pauline OLIVEROS, JOHN OSWALD and many others. Shortly after the publication of Ocean of Sound, a double CD will be released by Virgin Records to complement the book.

Included in the track listing of the Ocean of Sound album will be a previously unreleased Terry Riley live recording from 1967, along with music by Debussy, Sun Ra, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Jon Hassell, Holger CZUKAY, Miles DAVIS, The Beach Boys, Peter BROESMANN, King Tubby, Harold BUDD, Herbie HANCOCK, African Headcharge, My Bloody Valentine, Les BAXTER, John Cage, Buddhist ceremony recorded in Nara and the Japanese Suikinkutsu (water chime) both recorded by KAWASAKI Yoshihiro , a Yanomami rain song from Amazonas, location recordings of Bearded Seals and Howler Monkeys. Also, we have included a duet piece recorded by myself and John ZORN: finally, I found a place in the text and the mix by admitting the importance of participation!

My own experiences, whether in London, Japan, Bali, New York or Venezuela, shaped this book. One chapter is devoted to my recording travels in the Amazonas rainforest and other passages document musical events and soundscapes from a very personal point of view, whether the London/New York improvisation scene of the seventies or Brian Eno's first revelations about ambient. Ultimately, the book is my own journey through sound.

Ocean of Sound / Serpent's Tail, 4 Blackstock Mews, London N4 and 180 Varick Street, 10th floor, New York, NY 10014

The contents of this issue:
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