Brett’s Best: 2017


Favorite readings:

Jace Clayton. Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.

A well-traveled experimental dance music DJ’s perspective on the intersections of global music, technology, and creativity. Clayton has endless thoughtful perspectives on how today’s music is made and circulated and writes compellingly about what it all means. I may review this book when I come to terms with the fact that I highlighted most of every page.

John Corbett, Microgroove. 

Corbett is a perfect mix of critic-scholar, an advocate for experimental jazz and improvisation, and a huge record collector. Besides its great introduction (which I wrote about here), this book produces magnificence in “Experimental Oriental: New Music and Other Others”, an analytical essay on the history of “the use of non-Western elements in Western art music of recent vintage” (which should be on ethno/musicology reading lists). Also, I just liked the title of this book, so there’s that too.

Vybarr Cregan-Reid. Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human.

A book that explores the perceptual and psychogeographical aspects of running. This book will make you re-think the long-term value of hitting the gym versus just running around outside, preferably on grass and near trees (and maybe climbing them). I wrote about the book here. Speaking of athletic tangents, this reminds me that I’m looking forward to reading Alex Hutchinson’s Endure.

Simon Critchley. What We Think About When We Think About Soccer.

A delightful and succinct phenomenology of soccer, the sport that has become the ambient soundtrack of our home. It doesn’t matter who wins, what matters is the sound of the game!

Geoff Dyer. “My Obsession With the Necks.” 

Dyer can write about anything and show you its significance, but this piece illustrates how to critically tackle the complexities of a difficult (i.e. free improvised and “abstract”) music in a way that interweaves into the analysis the complexities of the music’s listeners. Just excellent, and it got me listening to the Necks too.

David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt. The Runaway Species.  

An accessible and engaging book by a neuroscientist and a composer about how creativity works. The authors had me at their discussion of why we change our hairstyles.

Russell Hartenberger. Performance Practice in the Music of Steve Reich. 

This is a masterful manual by a master percussionist about playing the music of a masterful composer. Based on his almost fifty-year association with Steve Reich, Hartenberger is singularly positioned to survey a range of topics pertaining to performing, listening to, and understanding Reich’s music early compositions. The book is a combination personal history, archival research project, and distillation of Hartenberger’s thinking on percussion performance and technique, non-western rhythmic theory, and much more. You can read my review of the book here. This is a must read for percussionists and composers and anyone interested in what thinking musicians actually do.

Damon Krukowski. The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World.

A musician (drummer) and writer assesses the enduring value of analog aesthetics in a digital world through sound case studies on headphones, voice, silence, loudness, and time manipulation. A superb book written in a way that it feels like Krukowski is sitting across from you, holding forth quietly as you gobble your croissant, listening. Krukowski has a six-part podcast that you might check out too.

Jaron Lanier. Dawn of the New Everything.

This is a combined memoir and re-telling of the story of virtual reality by one of its inventors. Lanier is a fascinating thinker who has led an almost fictionally interesting life: he isn’t afraid to amplify his quirks and pursue difficult questions, he’s a bona fide music-head, and above all, he’s a sage observer of what is (and isn’t) happening with technology. Incidentally, the footnotes in this book are almost better than the main text. Check out too some of Lanier’s talks on music on YouTube where he suggests that ancient non-western musical instruments are the first digital technologies.

Daniel Warner. Live Wires. 

A succinct and insightful history of electronic music, from Pierre Schaefer to Ableton Live, written by a musician (who is also a drummer—hmm, I’m noticing a trend here) and academic. Warner’s writing style represents a (welcome) turn in some academic quarters towards clear prose undecorated by speculative theorizing. The book is published by Reaktion Books, which has put out some razor-sharp books on music. (I reviewed Paul Sullivan’s Remixology here and I also enjoyed series editor John Scanlan’s Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’Roll).

Honorable Mentions:

Brian Blanchfield. Proxies: Essays Near Knowing.
Ray Dalio. Principles.
Michael Denning. Noise Uprising.
Franklin Foer. World without Mind.
Adam Greenfield. Radical Technologies.
John McPhee. Draft No. 4.


Favorite Recordings:

Based on my Spotify playlists, I listened a lot to Olivier Alary’s Pieces for Sine Wave Oscillators. I didn’t know sine waves could sound so organic. Also, Alery’s chords do a lot with very little.

I enjoyed Leandro Fresco’s La Equidistancia and El Reino Invisible. His ambient music has beautifully layered textures. How does he make his sounds?

I also enjoyed “Rise” by The Necks.

Ben Lukas Boysen’s “Opening” is super nice.


I returned to Nils Frahm’s “Keep” quite a few times. The music seems to be in 12/8 and features some compelling marimba parts. Frahm’s sound production quality is top-notch too.

Also: ECM records is now on Spotify. So after binging on Keith Jarrett concerts for an evening (it was overwhelming!), I returned to an album I once had to check out of the library. (Remember libraries?) I couldn’t stop listening to “Reblazhenstva”, a track on ECM’s remix album by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer called RE: ECM. “Reblazhenstva” uses samples from Arvo Part, which alone is enough to keep my interest, but equally stunning is how the musicians conjure beats that sound mysterious rather than synthetic. I wrote about this music a while back. Very highly recommended, this particular track.

I’m also enjoying Anouar Brahem’s Blue Maqams. Brahem is an oud player, but he always has my kind of piano playing in the mix too. Also, Jack DeJohnette’s ride cymbal here work is stellar. I could almost just listen to that on its own. Check out the track “La Nuit.”


Favorite App:

Pocket. You can use this free app to save articles for offline reading. It has saved me from emailing myself so many articles (though I still do).


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