The author traces a series of lines running just slightly afoul of the traditional course of Western musicology, a series of stops and starts, of wrong turns and dead ends, of auspicious experiments and outright failures which have been scattered like crumbs to history. Often unrecognized in their time, they are here reconfigured into a kind of trajectory consistently pointing toward “the way out.” Debussy’s encounter with the Javanese gamelan at the Paris exposition of 1889 sets the ball rolling; yet it is up to Debussy’s friend Erik Satie to really run with it—the outcome being his musique d’ameublement, or furniture music. From there, it’s just a few steps further to Muzak and Brian Eno’s notions of ambience—a music without beginning or end, without progression or narrative development, and without motifs, the plural giving way to a single motif indefinitely sustained. The author grants equal time to the ethnographic, the avant-garde and pop camps, interviewing many of their principal representatives and figureheads along the way. From Lee “Scratch” Perry to Terry Reilly to Kate Bush, the range could not be broader, and with the prose restlessly shuttling backward and forward in time, and from one continent to the next, the point sometimes gets lost in a maze of tenuous connections. Above all, though, Toop sees the current craze for ambience as a resurgence of the kind of sensual sophistication which dominated the Symbolist movement at the turn of the last century. Taking his cue from such Symbolist antiheroes as des Esseintes and Dorian Gray, he attempts to expand his obsessions with exotica and armchair travel into a viable musical program for the next millennium.
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Paperback: 306 pages