By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
By Andrew Ford (Black Inc, $32.95, softcover, 284 pages)
Composer, writer and broadcaster Andrew Ford places an illuminating spin when telling the history of modern music.
A stirring, challenging and enlightening cultural history emerges from his informative narrative.
Music lessons teach us how to create harmony in a formal way by bringing sounds together. We are given rules for learning about keys and chords. This is legal harmony, the textbook way.
Everything else—including the sounds that constantly surround us, traffic, dogs, aeroplanes, bird’s songs, ticking clocks—is illegal harmony.
It was American composer, music theorist, writer and artist John Cage who said we should begin to listen to these sounds and to appreciate them, rather than block them out.
Cage stands in a paradoxical relationship to the western 20th century. Many of his ideas regarding the inclusive nature of music have their roots in eastern philosophy.
The notion that by listening to sounds, by learning to enjoy illegal harmonies, we might be experiencing music owes a lot to Zen Buddhism; equally, the attitude of calm acceptance that this demands is found in Hindu teaching.”
Ford admits that illegal harmonies isn’t an “even-handed survey of musical trends, just a record of some of my own views (and doubtless, prejudices) about music…”
Another amazing connection sees Illegal Harmonies charting the course of music after 1900 with links to developments in literature, theatre, cinema and the visual arts and to popular music from Irvin Berlin to The Beatles to rap.
It is a motivating look at musical avant-gardism from how it started and developed to the present day to the meaning it holds for the listener.
Perhaps, the key issue when considering the music of the 20th century is how we listen—or don’t listen.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.