Friday, September 24, 2010

Fear of Music...and proofreading

I came across a book published in 2009 today at the Library (I was waiting there until my wife picked me up to take me home - I'd just had a tooth out, and was feeling a bit under the weather).

The book is David Stubbs' Fear of Music: why people get Rothko and don't get Stockhausen. Stubbs' argument is that ordinary people now accept modern art in all its varieties, even its way-out, off-the-wall-and-onto-the-floor varieties, but they don't yet accept modern music (and by modern we're talking about music that was created as far back as the early years of the last century, in some case). I haven't read the whole book yet, but I think his case isn't entirely waterproof. There are plenty of visual artists whose work isn't that well accepted, and plenty of great composers from the earlier part of the 20th century whose work is.

Stubbs is more concerned with the Stockhausens, the Vareses and other similar composers, many of whom worked in the electronic music area. The names may be known, but their music generally isn't. (I'm listening to a double CD of Varese now, and certainly it isn't terribly accessible stuff.)

Anyway, I'm not going to write a review of the book as such, but comment more on something that's very odd about it. I've seen books with proofreading errors in them before - they've become increasingly frequent even in an age when spellcheckers are freely available - but I don't think I've ever seen a book where words were meshed together, or out of sequence in the sentence, or where sentences in some cases made no sense whatsoever. And the other major editing problem happens every two or three pages: you'll be reading along and suddenly there's a gap in the line. You think - hmm, that sentence didn't quite finish, and then you find that it's finished on the next line after what appears to be a paragraph indentation.

How could any publisher let this go out into the world looking like this? How could the author himself let it go? Didn't he get any proofs?

I had a look on the Net to see if anyone else commented on it. This is one of the more generous reviews on 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.

Others are a little less polite. Certainly the book starts out interestingly: it does seem to try and be a potted history of music in the 20th century as well, but it's too disjointed for that. Anyway, I guess if it got me listening to Varese, it can't be all bad.

There's a very full review on Rouge's Foam, which puts the book in perspective in a way I could never do. One line in it strikes me as undercutting the basic premise of Stubbs' book: Unfortunately the ability to experience music meaninglessly is arguably not just rare, but impossible. Sorry, Stockhausen...
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