I paid to read my one-paragraph review online in the Times Literary Supplement, but you shouldn’t have to. Here it is, and much thanks to Wiley Hitchcock, my mentor and guiding angel, for alerting me:
“At sixteen,” writes Kyle Gann in his book Music Downtown, “I was so enwrapped in John Cage’s ideas that I began to feel guilty listening to records when I could be outside listening to traffic”. As “new music” columnist for the Village Voice from 1986 to 1998, Gann chronicled the waves of avant-garde musicians filling the lofts of lower Manhattan, a tradition inaugurated in the early 1960s with concerts by conceptual artists like Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik, in which musicians were instructed to bang their heads against the wall, set fire to the sheet music, or “creep into the vagina of a living whale”. His assembled writings champion that spirit of playful iconoclasm, ranging from established composers such as Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson to neglected pathbreakers like Harry Partch, a Depression-era hobo who devised a forty-three-note scale and a set of Dr Seuss-style instruments (the Quadrangularis Reversum and the Diamond Marimba, each with its own form of notation). While some of the topics verge on the abstruse, all are rendered fresh and compelling by Gann’s passionate commitment to the experimental vision: “no rules, no formulas, no prohibitions, no justifying precedents”.