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Sounding Off!: Music As…
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Sounding Off!: Music As Subversion/Resistance/Revolution

by Ronald B. Sakolsky

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[Originally published in EST magazine, 1996]

A good measure of this book's scope is indicated by the listed contributors, who include Hakim Bey, Billy Bragg and John Oswald: it's music-and-politics time with more shades of leftist politics than you might have thought existed (although anti-art currents in music are notably under-represented, as are questions of how music is made e.g. improvisation).

It's also the case that by focussing on explicitly political music, the book sometimes ignores the political element to all other music. Given that the politics of most contributors is contradictory, it would have been nice to see some attempt to made to collide, fuse or destroy these conflicting interfaces, but the approach here is very much hands off.

Some stuff will probably already be familiar to EST readers: the contributions of Oswald, Chris Cutler, Negativland, and Stephen Perkins, all dealing with notions of ownership and plagiarism, are all pretty well rehearsed at this stage in the game, and the paeans to noise from Liz Was and Miekal And aren't exactly novel.

There are, as you might expect, contributions discussing feminist, black and anti-imperialist perspectives (the editors have a significant world music bias), which although predictable remain interesting. I particularly enjoyed a diatribe by Tom Frank (like too many contributions, another reprint) against American corporatist "alternative" rock, which also finds time for an entertaining assault on the culture studies academics, who seem to find Madonna "subversive". Frank rightly suggests: "Imagine what they could do if they only knew about Merzbow or Borbetomagus!"

The book comes with an accompanying compilation CD, which if anything only highlights the problematic contradictions of Sounding Off! The way in which the music of Thomas Mapfumo, Hal Rammel, John Oswald, Negativland, Sue Ann Harkey (with Hakim Bey), Carol Genetti and others embodies political resistance or subversion is entirely different. It's hard to believe that Mapfumo fans will get a kick out of Hal Rammel, and there are few if any connections to be drawn between their approaches. The book may be a mixed bag, but the CD is a definite disappointment. ( )
  bduguid | Aug 26, 2006 |
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