In the s David Toop became preoccupied with the possibility that music was no longer bounded by formalities of audience: the clapping, the booing, the short attention span, the demand for instant gratification. Considering sound and listening as foundational practices in themselves leads music into a thrilling new territory: stretched time, wilderness, video monitors, singing sculptures, weather, meditations, vibration and the interior resonance of objects, interspecies communications, instructional texts, silent actions, and performance art. Toop sought to document the originality and unfamiliarity of this work from his perspective as a practitioner and writer. The challenge was to do so without being drawn back into the domain of music while still acknowledging the vitality and hybridity of twentieth-century musics as they moved toward art galleries, museums, and site-specificity.
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Even the modest speeds of dial-up promised a new, hyperconnected, globalised space that collapsed boundaries and distance. Here Toop, a respected journalist and composer, defies easy categorisation, blending criticism with subjectivity, history and memory to create an expansive, poetic rumination. It remains, some three decades on from its publication, an indispensable work.
In this extract, Toop traces the pervasiveness of minimalism — its various symptoms and how silence is present in every aspect of our lives. The sound makes him think of dormant life, moving on the edges of awareness. He searches for certainties, despite fearing them, in a sea of shifting, irrelevant information.
In the evenings he watches from the overpass as a drama of spectacular, toxically provoked sunsets unfolds. But openness, another symptom of the condition, may be more significant. Musicians have always stolen, borrowed, exchanged or imposed influences, but for the past one hundred years music has become voracious in its openness — vampiric in one respect, colonial in its rabid exploitation, restless, un-centred, but also asking to be informed and enriched by new input and the transfer of gifts.
Endowed with quasi-divine powers — speed, omniscience, ubiquity — we have become Telematic Nomads, whose attributes approximate ever more closely to those of the ancient gods of mythology.
A mist of fat raindrops. I shelter under a wooden platform in the tropical darkness, listening to a rubbery lattice of frog voices warping in the rice fields. Some distance away, the lighting for a gamelan performance glows in a magic arc. Wind flurries throw slivers of gong overtones and buried drum beats across the water, whipping them in then out of earshot. Rain and humidity, insects and frogs, darkness and quietude. I had seen Balinese and Javanese gamelan performances before: in a tent at the first Womad Festival in Somerset and, rather more formally, in two London concert halls.
My Venezuelan friend, Nestor, accompanied me. We stopped for a drink after the show, as always, and the delay awarded us the privilege of seeing a group of Balinese musicians and dancers gathered outside a hole-in-the-wall Chinese takeaway on the Clerkenwell Road.
Not a delicate rice offering in sight. During his Balinese sojourn shortly before the Pacific war, the Canadian-American composer Colin McPhee experienced ambivalent feelings on hearing the newly developing gamelan music called kebyar.
Perhaps this is not as trivial as it sounds. Music in the future will almost certainly hybridise hybrids to such an extent that the idea of a traceable source will become an anachronism. On a Japanese recording of Detty Kurnia, the daughter of a Sundanese west Java gamelan player, the entwinement of Javanese pop, traditional and neo-traditional styles, modern Asian pop and Hong Kong atmospherics, Japanese studio technology and quasi hip-hop drum programming can becalm the listener in an uncharted ocean.
The experience is entrancing and disturbing, like trying to follow a map that changes its boundaries before your eyes. Connect with Crack Magazine.
Ocean of Sound by David Toop
I was doing a series of non-event sonic wallpaper gigs as solo guitarist at local cafes and coffee shops around the Detroit-area and working crummy temp jobs during the day. There was no plan. There were no real goals except to not to have to get a full-time job not doing music. I was kind of in between colleges, but that infers I knew where I was going, but really had no idea where the next educational stop was to be. I had never heard of ambient music, and the closest I had gotten to exploring contemplative music was Pink Floyd and some of my own exploratory jams with my first band.
Ocean of Sound - Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds [history of ambient music