John Corbett on a new pocket-sized field guide to free and spontaneous music
What led you to write A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation?
I’ve been involved with improvised music from several different standpoints over the last 35 years, as a listener, as a critic, as a teacher, as a presenter, and as a producer. In the process of moving around in the music’s netherworlds, I noticed that many potential listeners were curious about it but just had no way to enter, no accessible points of reference. It’s sometimes seen as “difficult” or “complex,” and it can be both, but approaching free music is very different from listening to music composed using mathematical algorithms or with elaborate preconceived harmonic inventions. To listen to it you basically need to be attentive. That’s it. But that’s also not easy. Having some historical framework can help, and the more experience you have as a listener the better. But it’s really open to new listeners, and I wanted to find a way, in as down to earth a way as possible, to suggest that openness. To invite new listeners from other walks of music and to give a few tips on listening, things that might help get over the initial hump. (more…)
Why critics of the Nobel Committee’s nomination are missing the point
On 13 October, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel Committee selected Dylan ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’. Few would question the songwriter’s contribution to the cultural landscape of the twentieth-century. His albums for Columbia Records in the 1960s document a deep knowledge and respect for American folk music, blues music, and poetry; Dylan adapted and reworked these forms to forge a compelling picaresque of the post-war American landscape.
“[…] literature, when traced back to its earliest forms, began as a poetic oral tradition frequently linked to rhythm, music, and song.”
There have been some who have responded to Dylan’s Nobel nomination with dismay, even anger. Some cite that his status as a songwriter might justify a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but is not a ticket into the literary canon. Such detractors often fail to acknowledge that in addition to his music, Bob Dylan has also published poetry, experimental prose, and even a memoir. That’s to say nothing of his influence on countless more traditional literary figures. But this kind of categorization seems to miss the point. Those who reject Dylan’s candidacy for the Nobel forget that literature, when traced back to its earliest forms, began as a poetic oral tradition frequently linked to rhythm, music, and song. (more…)