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Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen (Zero Books) [Paperback]

David Stubbs
2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
Price: 9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

24 April 2009 Zero Books
Modern art is a mass phenomenon. The Tate Modern is the most popular tourist attraction in Europe. Conceptual artists like Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst enjoy celebrity status. Works by 20th century abstract artists like Mark Rothko are selling for record breaking sums at auction, while the millions commanded by works by Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon make headline news. However, while the general public has no trouble embracing avant garde and experimental art, there is, by contrast, mass resistance to avant garde and experimental music, although both were born at the same time under similar circumstances - and despite the fact that from Schoenberg and Kandinsky onwards, musicians and artists have made repeated efforts to establish a 'synaesthesia' between their two media.This book examines the parallel histories of modern art and modern music and examines why one is embraced and understood and the other ignored, derided or regarded with bewilderment, as noisy, random nonsense perpetrated by, and listened to by the inexplicably crazed. It draws on interviews and often highly amusing anecdotal evidence in order to find answers to the question: Why do people get Rothko and not Stockhausen?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: O Books (24 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846941792
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846941795
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 13.7 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 259,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

David Stubbs is a freelance British music journalist and author. Between 2004 and 2006 he was reviews editor for The Wire, the UK based magazine dedicated to avant garde and experimental music of all genres. Between 1987 and 1988 he was staff writer at Melody Maker, before going on to join the staff of the NME. As well as music, he also covers sport, film, literature and TV - his work regularly appears in The Guardian, Arena, The Wire, Uncut and When Saturday Comes.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if inconclusive 13 Aug 2009
This book has its origins in a blog post, and it shows - it really needs the hand of an editor, or at least a decent proof-reader. Nevertheless, it's a decent overview of the position avant-garde music has in contemporary culture, and if it doesn't quite manage to pull its threads together into a sustained argument, there are plenty of ideas and opinions to chew on.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin 3 July 2010
The subtitle is "Why people get Rothko but don't get Stockhausen".

So you'd expect that most of the book would be concerned with that question.

Of the seven chapters, the first explores the question interestingly. For example, people pay huge sums for paintings and sculptures, and millions of people have flocked to the Tate Modern art gallery, but these same people recoil in horror when they hear non-commercial music - whether you want to call it "art music" or "contemporary music" or "experimental music" or whatever.

The seventh chapter looks for an answer to the question. (Ideas considered include: the cachet of owning a unique original; the consequent possibility of financial gain; the ease with which one can walk away from a painting after a few seconds; people's willingness to "put up with far more crap visually"; corporations' desire to sanitise their image by owning visual art; etc.)

But the bulk of the book, the middle five chapters, are basically the author's views on various artists and (mostly pop) musicians of the last 50 years. He likes Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix and post-punk, and dislikes the Beatles and Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin ... but what does this have to do with the book's title and subtitle? Nothing. The author is simply telling us what he likes and dislikes, and trying to pass it off as a history lesson, just like several other authors of bad books about music recently.

Great title and subtitle. Shame about the contents.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Zero Books say this about themselves:
"Zer0 is committed to the idea of publishing as a making public of the intellectual. It is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before."

Subsequently several things immediately grab me about this book but it's difficult to know whether they are faults or not, so I'll just report them and you can decide if it sounds like your kind of thing.

Firstly, there are several irritating editorial mistakes which leave you wondering if the proofreader read it very carefully at all. It doesn't get in the way of the arguments, but it is irritating.

Secondly despite quoting from many books and summarizing others, there is neither a bibliography, nor a list of references anywhere in the book. Presumably putting a bibliography in the back of the book would have been far too blandly consentual for Zero Book's switched on readers.

Thirdly, and more importantly, this book is very interesting in its description of the thread of music that it follows through the 20th Century, but it does seem to be quite a personal journey taken by Stubbs. He leaps from Schoenberg to Stockhausen, from the Futurists to the Musique Concret-ists, then suddenly hits what appears to be his favourite subject, free improvisation and obscure arthouse bands from the 70s and 80s. I didn't know a lot about these artists, so it was an interesting read, as were Stubbs' conclusions about them, but it doesn't take into account the majority of 20th Century music. At one point he mentions Wire magazine and you get the feeling that much of his musical tastes have been lead by that publication.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a pretty slim volume and was apparently assembled from an original series of blog posts. There are several typo errors, and according to some reviewers, the odd factual inaccuracy. The book certainly is no academic thesis, it meanders around the author's interests at will, resulting in some facets of the subject matter being ignored, and others being given much more attention. But isn't it ever so? On the plus side, this means we get passionate musings on his chosen subjects. Stubbs charts the parallel histories of avant-garde art and music throughout the 20th Century and having been interested in both subjects for many years, I still felt I learned much from it. The detail on the Futurist movement seemed particularly to come alive.

The basic question in the book's subtitle is rarely addressed specifically, and the answer isn't that clear. Stubbs cites the massive popularity of the Tate Modern in contrast to a lack of a comparative equivalent in music. Well, yes, the Tate Modern does have a lot of visitors. But still, the vast majority of Britain's populace never step foot inside it? However, modern art is more ubiquitous than it's equivalent music. For example, Rothko calenders appear in card shops, but you're not likely to hear Stockhausen on their stereo.

Personally, I think the answer is to do with the senses. Seeing for example, Dali's 'Autumnal Cannibalism' or Botticelli's 'Venus' or (to keep with the book, some of Rothko's work) in the flesh is quite an experience. But on the whole, when you view visual art, you do so at your own will, and for as long or as little as you like. If you find something dull or disturbing, you can shut your eyes, look away, and move on to the next piece.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting question, no real answers
I was unsure who this book was aimed at, even at the end of it. I would imagine that those most likely to be reading Stubbs' book are, like myself, already familiar with the music... Read more
Published 6 months ago by morelikespace
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Wirey by half...
I share others' disappointment with this. As they've said, the introduction poses an interesting topic (the one in the book's subtitle) and the last thirty-odd pages begin to... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Baldassaro
3.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing starting point...
The question why a public that seems happy to embrace "modern" or "challenging" art is very reluctant to devote attention to "modern" or "challenging" music is a good one and... Read more
Published on 15 April 2012 by Beowulf "Wulfie" Mayfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Love of Music, Fear of Art
`Fear of Music' made me splutter cartoon bubbles at David Stubbs: "What the!.. Why you!.." It begins with the sub-title "Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen. Read more
Published on 3 Oct 2011 by John Carter
4.0 out of 5 stars A quixotic celebration
Just re-read this, and I'm surprised to see the negative comments below, most of which are of the "But it's not a completely different book!" variety. Read more
Published on 3 Sep 2011 by Geoff
4.0 out of 5 stars something to do with airport noise
Anyone who is involved in the art of noise, no matter which genre they inhabit, will no doubt have wrestled with the theme of Stubbs' book: why so many people declare a love for... Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2011 by this little pig
1.0 out of 5 stars Incomprehension of Music
Other reviewers have quite rightly criticized the proof reading and typesetting; they are abysmal. The standard of grammar is poor too, which is harder to blame on anyone but the... Read more
Published on 21 Nov 2010 by Peter Green
2.0 out of 5 stars lazy writing, thinking and editing.
I had real hopes for this book. However, it has signally failed to answer the very interesting question it has posed. Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2010 by G. McBeath
3.0 out of 5 stars Great title, good book
Simply to all but re-iterate other reviews, grammatical errors aside the title offers a lot more than the writing provides. Read more
Published on 3 Jun 2010 by B. McNeil
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