This non-review also appears on Goodreads.
The true test of whether you might enjoy Future Sounds—the Story of Electronic Music from Stockhausen to Skrillex is this: Scope the names listed not-quite-chronologically on the back jacket; if a few of them are familiar and beloved, read it. If nothing rings a bell or strikes your fancy, leave it aside. I found several names whose works I have devoured or merely enjoyed, and I loved seeing where in the multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of electronic sound the author places them.
NOTE: The subtitle is a bit misleading, as the first few chapters explore music that predates Karlheinz Stockhausen significantly.
Future Sounds came into my possession via my wife's book prospecting trip to Brazos Books, my favorite indy bookseller in Houston. She has done this just a few times, sometimes surprising me with new releases in which I have expressed an interest, sometimes bringing home books I would have glanced at and moved on if I had gone myself. Jeff Tweedy's memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) is an example of successful prospecting; the English translation of László Krasznahorkai's The World Goes On...less so (but some day, dammit, I will work through this rather challenging set of shorts, just as I plowed my way through Moby Dick).
So, in sum, I was uncertain whether I would enjoy this. My taste in electronic music—which, as Stubbs illustrates, is an enormously broad category—is rather picky. The list of big electronica names on the back jacket seems to indicate that all electronic music points the way to the various sub-subgenres of EDM, personified by Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Skrillex, et al. The ubiquity of EDM and whip-its are my two least favorite aspects of the Burner scene in Texas, and raves only became a thing when I was well into my 30s (too late, really).
Goodreads notes that there are at least two authors named David Stubbs in its database; the other one is a historian. There are also several works with "Future Sounds" in their titles—not very original, mate. It didn't help that I caught some factual slip-ups in the first few pages (I might get around to citing examples—never developed the habit of reading with highlighter in hand), plus the occasional head-scratching goof in the ensuing chapters (sketchy knowledge of US geography, for example, for which we can forgive a Brit); or that Stubbs begins the Introduction name-checking some Top-40 acts not known for their electro-savvy, such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. And then he had the gall to suggest that Frank Zappa's output went downhill after he stopped using the musique concrète techniques found on the early Mothers of Invention albums.
Misgivings officially assuaged: I enjoyed the 400+ pages of this book, including the index, on several levels, thanks. Let's bullet just a few of the reasons I found this tome worth my time.
As much as I enjoyed reading about the careers of musicians whose works I know deeply (Joy Division/New Order) or have only tasted (Stockhausen), my favorite chapter mostly contains names I've never known: "Reverberation and Decay." Here Stubbs not only gets to quote or allude to Jacques Derrida a few times like a proper Oxonian, but also to demonstrate how Derrida-esque deconstructivism has informed the electronic canon of the past 20 years. Do you like found sounds, such as those used by David Byrne and Brian Eno in some of their collaborations? How about making a recording mixing playbacks from badly stored reel-to-reel tapes that literally decompose as you play them in loops, each iteration a tad more gappy than the previous? Check out William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops, recorded mostly in 2001, if you find that intriguing.
I also learned quite a bit about the group Cabaret Voltaire's early years as electro-pioneers in 1970s Sheffield (South Yorkshire UK), emerging from the post-industrial horrorscape and paving the way for the Human League/Heaven 17 axis that in turn birthed the smart-pop from ABC and Thompson Twins. When I first heard Cabaret Voltaire in the early '80s, I just found them annoying, ignorant at the time of their historical importance (still nascent at the time), unable to foresee the influence they would eventually exert on multiple flavors of music.
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