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Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (Music in the Twentieth Century) 2nd Edition

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521653831
ISBN-10: 0521653835
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Editorial Reviews

Review

'Nyman's book remains a privileged window into that strange world, and its republication will be a boon to a new generation.' BBC Music Magazine

'... a welcome reissue of the book ... Above all, Experimental Music is a useful source book for a period of radicalism in musical practice in which the rule was to break the rules.' Music Teacher

Book Description

This book, by the composer Michael Nyman, is a first-hand account of the postwar experimental tradition in music. The experimentalist par excellence was John Cage whose legendary 4' 33'' consists of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. Nyman's book traces the revolutionary attitudes that were developed towards concepts of time, space, sound, and composer/performer responsibility. It was within the experimental tradition that the seeds of musical minimalism were sown and the book contains reference to the early works of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

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Product Details

  • Series: Music in the Twentieth Century (Book 9)
  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (August 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521653835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521653831
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.5 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #448,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Nyman's 1974 classic is here reprinted sans revisions. Brilliant! It captures a moment -- as Nyman concludes his preface, "Thank goodness I wrote it when I did." EM is not a survey of 20th century avant-garde music. It focuses on one trend, inaugurated by Cage, Wolff, Feldman and Brown in the 1950s, a trend which explicitly attempted to overturn the traditional avant-garde then marching under the banner of total serialism. Nyman contrasts Wolff to Stockhausen, then a leading serialist: "Stockhausen is speaking of an unwanted situation needing to be remedied by his intervention, Wolff of a situation he is quite happy to accept, leaving sounds to go their own way." (27) As Cage says in his "Silence,"

"Not an attempt to understand... Just an attention to the activity of sounds."

One of the great strengths of Nyman's short book is his careful attempt to define experimental music before he moves on to discuss the artists and their music. To summarize and paraphrase, he says experimental composers are excited by creating "a process of generating action," involving situations or fields delineated by compositional rules, but leaving them open to the performers. (4)

Experimental music is uncompromisingly radical, and represents an ongoing influence on creative music, but has certainly not become any sort of popular movement. So for instance, while the early "minimalists" Young and Riley were arguably part of the experimental tendency, as were Reich's early phase patterns, (and hence are included here by Nyman), the later works of Reich, and especially Glass, are no longer open and experimental. And while Eno and recent techno/ambient artists have been influenced, their innovations have been more technical than conceptual by comparison.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Abell on November 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
When Michael Nyman first published this work in the 70s, it was the only book of its kind to discuss some of the most cutting-edge stuff going around. Most musical texts avoided discussing the Fluxus group as "music," but Nyman integrates these radicals easily, and provided the first discussion of the Scratch Orchestra (Cardew et al), and related topics. The book still contains some of the clearest discussions of these topics around. It's great to have it back in print, though too bad Nyman couldn't be bothered to provide updates on some of the folks discussed, like Hugh Skempton.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAME on February 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
In this work originally published in 1974, Nyman discusses the work of composers and performers who shifted the boundaries of music as regards notation, time, space, and the roles of the composer, performer and audience. The author seeks to identify and explain a whole body of musical work that existed outside the classical tradition and the avant-garde orthodoxies that flowed from it. He thus explores the Anglo-American musical tradition loosely associated with John Cage. Since 1974 this book has been considered the classical work on the radical alternative to the mainstream avant-garde as represented by Berio, Boulez and Stockhausen. Many of the current popular composers like Glass and Reich trace their root to this experimental school. The most fascinating chapter to me is "Minimal Music, Determinacy And The New Tonality" in which the Theatre Of Eternal Music (Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, Marion Zazeela and John Cale) as well as the work of Terry Riley is discussed. Photographs, illustrations and musical notations enliven the text and the book concludes with a selected source bibliography, a discography of experimental music and a bibliography of publications since 1974. Brian Eno has contributed an interesting foreword to this edition. The text can get a bit technical for the non-musician, but it remains a detailed work on a radical musical direction that has borne great fruit in the years since it was first analysed in this thorough and scholarly work.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Hori on February 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
Not only is this a great introduction for someone who doesn't know his or her way around this subject, but it offers more experienced listeners and readers Nyman's own sensitive, and (to my mind) highly accurate, takes on what Cage, Feldman, Brown, Cardew, LaMonte Young and others were up to back in the pre-revolutionary 50's and the revolutionary 60's and 70's. This is a snapshot, if you will, of many of the giants fully formed, and some, like Gavin Bryars, in the larval stages of their genius, so it makes for a fascinating read. Nyman's prose is pellucid, and his explanations cogent. My dream is that Michael Nyman will someday return to update this book and offer some insights on the new, strange paths, experimental music has taken in the age of the personal computer, robotics and the Internet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on February 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
For me the most useful thing about this book is that it has a lot of score excerpts that are useful if you're teaching at a university with a poor library. In the last few years a lot of valuable primary source material and interpretive writing has become available in book form through publishers like Musiktexte, and in scholarly journals like 'Perspectives in New Music'. I think the book is a fairly superficial survey, and I know its often used in introductory courses, but I don't like to recommend it to undergraduates because it's not a model for good scholarship because of the lack of citations like footnotes or endnotes when information comes from other sources.
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