It’s almost official: my next book will be The Arithmetic of Listening: Tuning Theory and History for the Impractical Musician. I had given up trying to interest publishers in microtonality, but it seems to finally be an idea who’s time has come. This will be basically a textbook, though in my characteristic style which the New York Times has designated as “chatty.” There are worse words, I guess.
And yet I’m not in any hurry to sign the contract. I haven’t yet turned in my Concord Sonata book, which has been finished for weeks, because the publisher says I went way over my limit on musical examples (by about 30 percent). I had predicted how many examples I’d need, and wish now I’d cited a higher number – and that editor is gone anyway, as the original editor always is by the time one finishes a book. This Ives book is, I think, the greatest achievement of my life, and now I’m painfully poring through it trying to amalgamate and eliminate musical examples without making it harder to read. For my Robert Ashley book, of course, I had to put the musical examples on my web site, which I knew in advance was required. And now this new editor is suggesting that some of my microtonal charts and diagrams may have to go on the internet as well. Such a theoretical book will be rendered useless if the correlative web site is ever discontinued.
It used to be that a writer wrote a book, and the publisher published it. Then a writer wrote a book and the publisher made the writer pay for his indexing, and next the writer had to pay the fact-checker if he wanted one, and then the writer had to pay permissions for every quotation over 300 words, and there were some things you couldn’t say at all because you couldn’t get permission. And now the writer can’t use the illustrations needed to make the book readable. One might hope that, by age 58, with my sixth book going to press, I would have earned the right to say whatever I needed to say and no longer have to compromise, but in the current, increasingly corporate climate compromises are thrown at one from right and left. And it’s not like I’m going to make any money from any of these books. It has reached the point at which the completion of a book manuscript is just the beginning of the author’s tedious paperwork and heartbreak, and I really don’t know whether it will prove worthwhile to write another one. I’ve always threatened to internet-publish The Arithmetic of Listening, and I’d rather do that and give it to the world for free than put it out in a compromised state. If part of the book has to be on the internet, why refrain from putting the whole thing?
Several years ago I turned my energies to writing books because the new-music performance world was so unsatisfying, and now obsessions with copyright and cutting corners have made book-publishing equally unpalatable. I really can’t think what to do with the rest of my life that wouldn’t prove dispiriting in this corporate-poisoned world.