Fitting Homage

AshgateMinimalismThe kindly editors of Ashgate Press are scurrying to cross all the final t’s and dot the i’s of The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music, with the expeditious assistance of the book’s three editors, Keith Potter, Pwyll Ap Sion, and myself. The goal is to have it published and available by October, to sell at a special price to the attendees of the Fourth International Conference on Minimalist Music in Long Beach. (The regular price, I understand, will be around $150; it’s one of Ashgate’s hefty, library-aimed tomes, with articles by twenty authors.) We had a devil of a time coming up with cover art because we didn’t want to privilege any of the Super Four – Young, Riley, Reich, Glass – over the other three, but Pwyll came up with some wonderful graphic charts of early minimalist pieces by Jon Gibson, who had worked with all four of them, and they’re attractive and set the perfect tone. And now I have just learned that, thanks to another of Pwyll’s inspirations, the volume will be dedicated to William Duckworth, in memoriam.

Every once in awhile the universe falls into alignment, and a bit of perfect justice is done on earth.



  1. says

    With the exception of the price, this is turning out to be a very noble project indeed. But i do think it ironic that after these composers, being ignored for so long by the ‘official’ music scene, and driving cabs, cleaning swimming pools, doing carpentry and whatnot because they could not get grants, commissions, or cushy university posts, will be examined in an academic text priced outside the means of cab driver/cleaner/carpenter/composers. This is not just Ashgate, of course. In an age where writers are not paid royalties and ebooks are cheap to produce, $150 and other crazy prizes need to be rethought. I’d buy far more academic books new if they were priced as little as 3-4 times what general-interest books would fetch, or if I thought that some of the money were going to people directly, rather than as promotion (publish-or-perish) for those in university jobs.

  2. says

    It does seem expensive, but i suppose the rationale of the library-aimed book is that it will be accessible in libraries, where impoverished composers can consult it for free.

    I don’t know what to think of the e-book. Technology has a way of becoming obsolete. I have books from the 18th century that are perfectly legible, and word-processor disks from the ’90s that I can’t access.

    KG replies: Evocatively put.

  3. says

    I’m not as happy with the library argument. It works for those who have a job and those who study in an American or British university — one with a good budget. But as a former library officer for a university music department, I had to refuse to stock expensive books and materials that had niche interest for the department. So it took a couple of years to order the Ashgate Experimental Music Book; a limited edition set of volumes on early music were refused out of hand. If the topic was in the usual subjects, of course, they would be ordered immediately whatever the cost, so you’d have loads of stuff on minor-interest early-nineteenth-century opera, tributes to dead Schenkerians, whatever was ‘hot’ in the department. Not minimalism. Some departments don’t even think it’s a serious subject, much less spend money on it.

    And the library budgets are getting smaller each year even in the hot research departments, so what does that mean for smaller universities? I once had to do research in a university library that had no hard-copy or electronic resources to mention, only a Readers Guide to Periodical Literature that ran out in 1947. And they thought that was enough for their students, so the lecturers could lump anything else.

    Plus the price doesn’t help those of us who are not working in a university. What local library am I entitled to enter? My local library, which long ago sold off its ‘serious’ music material and now only stocks the latest James Patterson, kiddie books, and maps. Or there’s the British Library (like the Library of Congress to you Yanks), which costs almost half of the Ashgate price just to go on a train and look at it (but not take it out). And what about those people working out of these countries, whose libraries can’t afford such specialist, high-cost research and who might resent spending so much on English-language materials?

    Will someone who is not working and who does not have ties to a university support Doug’s statement? I really think not.

  4. says

    Well, it wasn’t an argument; I said I supposed that was the rationale for the price. I didn’t say the system was ideal.

    I’m not working (or not enough, anyway), and have no university ties. It’s true, I do live in NYC, where we have good (though threatened) public libraries. In the States, interlibrary loans are possible, if festooned with red tape; I don’t know how it works in the UK.

  5. says

    Well, Doug, you’ve guessed right: such loans cost a lot here, and university libraries have begun to limit, refuse and even charge lecturers for interlibrary loans. Often this is for a one-day ‘look’ at the text, as it is not allowed outside the renting library, and I’m not that fast a reader.

    The idea of a library or institutional charge for academic books is not bad in itself, given that there will be a lot more people to use a single copy. It’s just that in pricing that book at $150 (rather than $75), as library officer, I would have to move it from the ‘Buy it’ column, into the ‘Is it absolutely necessary’ column, or even the ‘buy only if we have any money at the end of the year’ column, because there is no actual course in the subject (I was unable to establish a course in minimalism at any place I’ve taught). So I think that such extreme pricing would limit profits, if anything.

    But if there is a library or institutional charge, there should also be a single-user version. While the library copy could have letters emblazoned in gold and covered in the skin of an extinct animal, the ‘home version’ could be much less grand. It could be released slightly later, perhaps printed on demand at a low cost (CUP did this with their History of American Music years after releasing it at a much higher price).

    I like having books. If ebooks are the only economical way to do that, then okay. The technology argument doesn’t really wash these days. While I have some Amstrad disks from the mid-80s that I can’t access, I turned my DVD examples (a not-yet-dead technology) from my thesis into Quicktime without fuss. The technology should be established, pdfs are ubiquitous (see, for instance, JSTOR), and change easily and cheaply with ePub, Kindle and other formats. Also, I’ve got a personal interest. I’ve written chapters in five books that are coming out this year (including the Ashgate Minimalism), and I’d really like as many people to read them as possible!

  6. says

    Unfortunately, books are expensive to make; and the smaller the run, the pricier the copy. I don’t have any solution to that. I have five (small) books coming out this year; and the printing costs don’t leave much room for profit, for either me or my publisher.

    I have no objection to e-books; I only said I don’t know what to think of them. My own experience with technology is that a writer friend of mine died four years ago; I can read his books and manuscripts, but his discs, tapes, and films are not so easy. I finally found a place that can transfer regular 8mm sound film, a short-lived format from the ’60s. So — if you want your work to be accessible for more than a few years, or after you’re gone, paper may still be more reliable. I do hope that will change as technology improves.

  7. mclaren says

    My library just shut down interlibrary loans because of budget cuts. Academics feast at the banquet of knowledge while the rest of us starve. Useful for controlling the discourse, I guess.

  8. Bob Gilmore says

    “Academics feast at the banquet of knowledge while the rest of us starve. Useful for controlling the discourse, I guess.” I think makes the whole situation seem far more conspiratorial than it really is. Every single academic I know deplores the high prices of the books that a firm like Ashgate (unfair though it is to single them out) publishes. I don’t know a single academic who rejoices in the fact.

  9. mclaren says

    And the reason tenured academics like Kyle don’t release these books as $9.95 ebooks is…?

    KG replies: Because I would have no idea how to do that? Because I have no control over this 20-author book? Or wait – was that rhetorical?

    Look, I’m working at the Yale library this week, and I walk in without showing any ID, and I can look at any book I want. The guard at the desk doesn’t know whether I’ve got a teaching job or a place to sleep at night. I own several of Ashgate’s books, which I received as payment for being an external reader for book proposals. They’re pretty dense books, clearly intended only for people who have a vitally strong research interest in that particular topic. Some of them (on Shakespeare) I gave up trying to read. I’m glad that stuff can be found in a book somewhere for those who need it. I’ll be very surprised if anyone ever reads the Ashgate Guide to Minimalist Music cover to cover. That’s not really what it’s intended for. And, if in this corrupt moment of late capitalism that’s what it takes to get some obscure information out there and a few scholars published, I’ll take it. One thing I was proud of in the 4’33” book was that, in a single, relatively cheap volume, I brought together and made more public a lot of research formerly published only in obscure and probably expensive books and journals.

  10. Susan Jackson says

    Just stopping by to say hello and congratulate you on the impending publication. It is indeed a good thing when the universe falls into alignment.