Sunday, November 18, 2007

Six Recent titles about Sound & Art

"Sound & Vision" (edited by Luca Beatrice) is less about 'sound art' than about music graphics, focusing mostly on album covers by artists. A fairly unattractive book, but a welcome change from most titles about album cover art, which tend to feature prog rock illustrations like Roger Dean's fantasy paintings for Yes and the Hipgnosis designs for Pink Floyd, led Zeppelin and, well, Yes. There's a lot of Sonic Youth, a lot of Anton Corbijn (am I the only one who thought "Control" was terrible?) and effusive praise for Devendra Banhart (he sings! he draws!).

"VINYL: Records and Covers by Artists" (Guy Schraenen) contains only a single page introduction (& a ten page glossary), but over 250 pages of listings, grouped into seven categories: covers, documents, music, readings, sound art, verbo-vocal and other. A reasonable substitute for the hard to find "Broken Music" catalogue by Ursula Block, but mostly only as a checklist for diehard collectors. Got it, need it, need it, need it, got it, need it.

"Sound Zero" has a nice lenticular cover of Warhol's illustration for the Velvet's debut (peel and pink banana) but little else of interest. It concerns itself mostly with the relationship between music and Pop Art of the sixties (Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Hamilton, Warhol) and of the eighties (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith). Too much 'counter-culture' and emphasis on psychedelic posters for my tastes.

"Sound Art" by Alan Licht contains few surprises but is a good, solid overview of the 'genre', which is otherwise unavailable (Art Metropole's "Sound By Artists" is out of print and copies online sell for upwards of two-hundred dollars). Licht's book, also, benefits from a singular voice telling the history, rather than a collection of essays. The hardcover book is well-researched, accessible, includes an accompanying CD and a short foreward by Jim O'Rourke.

In "Noise/Music: A History" by Paul Hegarty "sound art" is limited to one chapter, but the ideas and approaches of John Cage, Christian Marclay and a number of others from the 'visual' arts are discussed throughout. Hegarty, who runs the dotdotdotmusic label, examines noise from the early 20th century through to glitch electronica, but is mostly concerned with mid-seventies punk and industrial music like Throbbing Gristle and the later 'purer' noise of Merzbow (the only performer in the book to have an entire chapter dedicated to him).

"Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock'n'Roll Since 1967" is the just-released coffee-table catalogue for the exhibition of the same name. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it looks like they've assembled a good selection of artists who can write about the subject (Dan Graham, Mike Kelley) as well as music writers with a history of music in an art context (Simon Reynolds). You can't go wrong with chapter titles like "Ono, Eno, Arto: Nonmusicians and the emergence of Concept Rock" and "Sentences on AC/DC".

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