Many of this year’s picks were recorded before 2020, for obvious reasons. Works by veterans (Sharp, Alcorn, Björkenheim) joined some newer voices (Naylor, Yalvaç, Gargaud) in offering us quality distractions from a nightmarish year. If you hear anything you like, please purchase something from the artist. With touring off the table, times are tougher than usual for experimental artists.
I once read a quote from Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” I took it to mean that a true artist made you see in a new way, one that hadn’t occurred until you encountered their work. One aspect of David Toop’s artistry lies in writing about music and sound in a way that changes the way you hear. It is not an exaggeration to say that reading his books Haunted Weather and Ocean of Sound changed my life. I lived in New York City at the time and much of what I had heretofore heard as noise pollution became a symphony of sound. So, I was chuffed, as they say on David’s side of the pond, to be able to converse with him at length about music and sound.
A performer as well as a writer (see Below), Toop has shared the stage with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Thurston Moore. A lifelong guitarist, Toop’s latest recording, Apparition Paintings, combines his love of twang, his encyclopedic knowledge of sound art (a term he might not care for) and a wanton disregard for genre.
I rarely write about books, perhaps because there are few coming out that seem to fit the GM format. Still, two relatively recent publications should be of interest to modern guitarists.
Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom, Before 1970 by David Toop [Bloomsbury Publishing] If you haven’t read Toop’s Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds, stop reading this and buy it immediately. For that matter if you care about modern music at all make sure you get around to all of his books. Into the Maelstrom is his long awaited first installment about the philosophy and practice of improvisation (both musical and otherwise). His erudite discussion leans towards England and Europe, but then so did much of the free improv scene. His personal relationship with many of the players makes the reading that much more interesting.