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Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen (Zero Books) Paperback – April 16, 2009

2.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Stubbs has written for Uncut, the Times (London), the Guardian, NME, GQ, Spin, and Arena among others, profiling and interviewing figures including De La Soul, Public Enemy, R.E.M., Morgan Freeman, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Page. Robert Plant. Steve Coogan, and Tim Robbins. He lives in Blackheath, London.
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Product Details

  • Series: Zero Books
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Zero Books (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846941792
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846941795
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #912,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Bennett on November 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The subtitle, of course, could be quibbled with, and even the author admits, "Perhaps the real equivalent for a Rothko is not Stockhausen but an Elgar, or a Vaughn Williams." Still, it's valid to say that there's a level of acceptance of experimental visual art that is denied to experimental music. Why?

It would be interesting to compare your ideas on the question with a thoughtful essay, but this isn't it. Instead, it's mostly made up of a slim and rather useless history of Western music and visual arts since 1900. Here's four pages on Futurism, now here's two pages on Dada, now comes four pages on Varese, now here are my thoughts on Andre Breton and a couple of witticisms on Salvador Dali, here are my thoughts on Free Jazz as it has to do with race in America, here's my grudging nod to the importance of the Beatles, as long as you understand that I'm far too hip for the Beatles, and then the next couple of pages on something else, and a paragraph on something else, and on and on.

Each of these topics is treated with cliches and glib opinions. For example, he gives two paragraphs to Minimalism in the visual arts, blithely dismissing it as "the great, ironic conceit of the rich--the pretense of a lack of possessions...the signifier in music as well as in art of capitalism's pretensions to spirituality, rather than its lack of it." It's such an inadequate and stupid response, accentuated for me by the fact that I'm simultaneously reading Minimalism:Origins by Edward Strickland, a genuine effort to understand the impulses that led to various forms of minimalism in the visual arts and in music.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I write in the hopes of dissuading any potential buyers from actually wasting their money on this book. The prose is a haphazard and aimless - I haven't a clue what the thesis of this book is supposed to be, and I have a feeling that Mr. Stubbs hasn't either.

To wit [p. 19]:

"The departure from tonality in Cubism and Schoenberg represents the birth of visual and musical modernity. It arose from their two chosen art forms breaking down, in some ominous parallel with civilisation as a whole, under the rules of their own continued 'growth and development'."

Did you have to read that one twice to parse even a grain of meaning from it? Well, the entire book reads in the style of an off-the-cuff undergraduate journalism assignment. Almost every statement in this book comes off as mildly derisive and derogatory, but with no cohesive point-of-view. The only thing I can tell is that I think he likes Stockhausen.

Let me also mention for those of you who are wondering just who would publish this book, the answer is Zero Books, and the name couldn't be more fitting. This book is plagued by some of the most heinous errors in spelling and grammar that I have ever come across in professionally printed material. The coup de grace, however, are the many typesetting errors which insert paragraph indentations in the middle of sentences. Perhaps the work of a malicious editorial staff who were fed up at having to read this garbage.
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Format: Paperback
`Fear of Music' made me splutter cartoon bubbles at David Stubbs: "What the!.. Why you!.." It begins with the sub-title "Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen." I mean, that's not true is it? Or if it is then it's like comparing wine with beer, essentially irrelevant. I'd love the opportunity to invite Stubbs for a pint so I can wave my arms about while I tell him how wrong, wrong, WRONG, he (mostly) is. Having said that, this is a book I'd unhesitatingly recommend, especially for anyone teaching art or music at senior high-school or first year university level as it's one of the most stimulating introductions to aesthetics you could wish for.
And in all honesty he's right, more of us probably do "get" more out of Rothko's works, than those of Karlheinz Stockhausen. But would it still be true if the comparison was with Mark Tobey rather than Mark Rothko? Or if Rothko was compared with Gavin Bryars? It's the broader assertion, that modern and post-modern art has greater acceptance than experimental music of a similar period that I, and others, would dispute. There is also the implication -- which in fairness is inferred not stated -- that in the broadest sense the visual arts are held in higher public regard than music. I'd assert this is empirically not true. A decent music blog will have no shortage of hits but a similar quality art site generates tumbleweed. Also how many millionaire visual artists as opposed to musicians has our culture created in the past half century? Is it any easier for a painter or potter to make a name for himself, or even a living, than it is for a musician?
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Format: Paperback
What a waste of time. The book is an excursus of contemporary classical music from the beginning of the 20th century (too little), jazz (too little) and rock-pop (far too much). Interspersed are questionable matter-of-fact statements, and yet that would not have been a deal breaker. I found the book quite readable. Why the one star? Because nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE is the question of the cover page dealt with. That question happens to be the only reason I decided to buy the book. The author could have given answers based on sociological theories, on cultural rationales, even on perception/physiological ground or through art history. Or a combination of them all. The question is indeed quite interesting. Yes, it is also an extremely challenging one. But the book provides no cogent answer. It does not even try to.
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