More books from 2011.
No Such Thing as Silence by Kyle Gann
Found this through Alex Ross’s blog. Kyle Gann’s book is a long examination of John Cage’s 4’33”, both the piece itself and its impact on experimental and popular music. Gann starts with an account of the first performance in Woodstock, NY, by David Tudor, and then moves into Cage’s biography. From there the book gets more interesting, especially in the sections, later on, where Gann lists the factors and people that might’ve influenced Cage’s ideas about the piece. Some of the best and most interesting passages in this are quotes from Cage’s own writings (which led me to get the 50th anniversary edition of Cage’s “Silence” from Wesleyan University Press, definitely worthwhile), or from anecdotes about the composer. Cage later on in his life said something like, “I listen to it every day. I turn my attention toward it.” Good introduction to Cage and his work, and a decent overview of some of the scenes he was involved with (Black Mountain College, the beginnings of Zen studies in America).
The Seamstress and the Wind by César Aira
Saw this book in the store and couldn’t resist buying it. Slim, pretty, and the name sounded familiar. Very glad I took a chance on it. This book, which is only 132 pages long, is beyond weird, though extremely funny too, and it reminded me of Thomas Bernhard’s work, but more like the silly, goofy, amiable analogue to Bernhard’s bitter/demented characters, morbidly humorous situations, and bleak/annihilating landscapes. Veers close to magical realism, but not quite, it felt more like the inventive and fantastic stuff that pops up in Oulipo works sometimes, or maybe like Flann O’Brien’s novels in his more out-there moments. I read this in my office at work, when I was supposed to be doing something else, and I think that only added to my enjoyment of it. This is a small book for a small space and for a small amount of time. Wonderful. Aira’s “An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter” is next on the list.