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Reviewed by:
  • Experimental Music since 1970 by Jennie Gottschalk
  • Lauren Redhead
Experimental Music since 1970. By Jennie Gottschalk. pp. ix + 292. (Bloomsbury Academic, London and New York, 2016. £19.99. ISBN 978-1-62892-247-9.)

A book such as Experimental Music since 1970 has been long awaited by practitioners and researchers in this area. Publications such as James Saunders's Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music (Farnham, 2009), Saunders's and John Lely's Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation (London, 2012), and recent perspectives on individual musicians such as Daphne Oram (An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics, 2016) and Gerhard Stäbler (Live the Opposite Daring: Gerhard Stäbler, Music, Graphic, Concept, Event, ed. Paul Attinello (Büdingen, 2015)), have begun to open up the field of experimental music to scholarly reflection and have covered a spectrum of perspectives. However, until recently there was no general overview of the field as it is today, nor an accessible guide for the undergraduate music student or curious listener. As a result, the publication of Experimental Music since 1970 has been met with a range of responses reflecting the fact that such a book cannot be all things to all readers and all practitioners within its field. Nevertheless, it deals with the most recent near-fifty years of experimental music practice, and the range of descriptions, listings, catalogues, and references presented here make the book an ideal starting point for anyone interested in this music.

To its practitioners, experimental music is a field with a long history and tradition, but as an academic discipline, its study is relatively new. In the introduction, Gottschalk outlines five groups of people and their relationship to the music, ranging from 'total lack of information' to 'engagement' (p. 6). Even the most informed group, she notes, may find it difficult to access information across the spectrum of experimental music practice, stating 'often people with directly related concerns have never heard of each other' (p. 6). The aim of this book, then, is to present information relating to a range of approaches and musicians that might be of use and of interest to people across the spectrum of engagement. As a result, the work presented is a broad—although sometimes relatively shallow—picture of experimental music as history, field of practice, and set of shared concerns between composers and performers.

Gottschalk writes from a composer's perspective (pp. 7–8), although one should bear in mind that her perspective is not simply that of an artist reflecting on her field of practice. For many years, Gottschalk's blog,, has been an online and live example of the research undertaken for this book; those familiar with this will have considered it a valuable resource. In many ways, Experimental Music since 1970 is simply a print version. Indeed, it follows the tradition of the translation of blogs and online and digital media into print, such as Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise (New York, 2007) and Theresa Sauer's Notations 21 (New York, 2009). In general, this is part of a recognition that online and journalistic approaches to music might offer something to the academic sphere and the other way around.

Rather than a chronological history of music, the book is structured by themes that represent different areas of concern and enquiry in experimental music such as 'Physicalities', 'Perception', and 'Place and Time'. Each theme is established by a short introductory paragraph and then broken down into sub-themes. Each sub-theme is subsequently illustrated by a number of short examples from practice that span the time period of the book. For example, 'Changing the perceived character of a place: industrial and commercial sites' (pp. 243–5) is [End Page 324] a subsection of 'Site-specific works' (pp. 242–54), which is a subsection of 'Place and Time', and deals with works by the composers Carolyn Chen (USA), Christian Kesten (Germany), Philip Corner (USA), and Hong-Kai Wang (Taiwan). This particular example gives a reasonable reflection of both the breadth of composers included—in terms of age and geographical spread—and their work.

The thematic structure is an effective way to handle the multifaceted...


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