If the creative streak is not pulsating today, we can always find comfort in some music-based book or documentary to fight boredom. The small list below does not represent freshly released products but a collection of precious and impactful evergreens that I hope will enrich your experience in music.
How music works
Author: David Byrne
From the sharp, ironic and wise mind of the founder of Talking Heads, an essential book is born for any musician or voracious listener: How music works is a collection of biographical reflections and anecdotes that accompany the reader on an anthropological, technological and economic journey directed towards the universal heart of music. Why do birds sing? Why do we never understand where the sound of an ambulance comes from? What is the meaning of the musical scenes? What are the differences between analog and digital sound? How do record contracts work? Does self-distribution really make an artist free? But above all: what is music for? In this capital text you will find all the answers you are looking for.
The music producers survival guide.
Chaos, Creativity and Career in Independent and Electronic Music
Author: Brian M. Jackson
Producer, sound engineer and philosopher, Brian Jackson takes us by the hand into the world of independent production and home studios taking care of every single aspect of a musician’s life: from practical applications to ethical issues, passing through psychological aspects and issues related to the business. This is a real survival manual dedicated to all independent musicians; divided into eleven chapters, it ranges from the practical side of the job – how to choose between the various DAWs available on the market? What are the tools I will need? – the principles of audio engineering, from the history of music to little-known but necessary topics, such as archiving and back-up. Together with Jackson we learn to turn our passion into a job by writing goals and operational plans to thrive like a pro in today’s music industry. The psychological aspects of this sometimes frustrating profession are not overlooked: our guide suggests strategies for exercising patience and persistence, considerations on lifestyle and in relation to creativity, exercises for relaxation and for generating positive attitudes.
Analog Days: the invention and impact of the moog synthesizer
Authors: Trevor Pinch & Franc Trocco
Edited exclusively in English, this text can also be read by those who do not have an excellent command of the foreign language: the simple and conversational writing makes it truly accessible and will allow you to do some exercise at the same time. Although the title brings the history of the famous Moog synthesizers to mind, Analog Days deals with the birth of most electronic music technologies, from Theremin to Buchla via EMS and Roland. Far from being a technical manual, the story is marked by anecdotes and memories of the protagonists of the electronic spring of the sixties: here you will not only find “cultured” music but, surprisingly, band names like Jefferson Airplane and bizarre adventures in the Bay Area Acid Test, mixed with life episodes by famous composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Analog Days is an excellent book to lightly deal with the history of twentieth century music technology and discover the background of numerous genres and realities related to the different brands of the synthesizer.
Author: Michael Nyman
If you are looking for inspiration to subvert your musical productions, this book is for you; the small – but powerful – volume collects scores, verbal instructions and reflections on the methods of composition that will lead you to ask yourself: what else could music be? Music critic and undisputed master of Minimalism, Nyman published this book for the first time in 1974, as an eyewitness on the crest of the last wave of experimental music. Between provocative experiences and radical compositions, Nyman offers us a in-depth analysis of the most striking cases in the history of experimentation to help us understand the revolution of the languages of the post-war musical tradition. Experimental music is an evergreen to be reread several times, it is a theory book and a collection of practices that will allow you to discover through history the hidden meanings and values of sound.
Don’t Call it Jazz
Author: Giancarlo Schiaffini
Auditorium Edizioni, Milano 2015
Are you wondering what is the role of improvisation in today’s music, from jazz to electronics? Giancarlo Schiaffini, composer, trombonist and tubist active in the field of contemporary music since the sixties, tries to answer this question by telling the reader his personal experiences. Former collaborator of Giacinto Scelsi, Anthony Braxton and John Cage (among others), Schiaffini describes to us, with – obvious – competence and irony, the characteristics, methods and distinctive features of improvisation. The many repertoire images and the in-depth discography are also very interesting, added values that enrich this small volume dedicated to the definition of a mode of playing music that is often subject of misunderstandings.
Directed by Ben Whalley for BBC 4, 2009
An exciting journey into the history of English synthesizers and electronic music told by some of the most famous musicians who have used new sound since the late ’70s: from Daniel Miller to Human League, passing through Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode without neglecting the most experimental adventures of English sound. Period videos and interviews contribute to building a broad reflection on the role of technologies in the creation of musical scenes.
Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany
Directed by Ben Whalley for BBC 4, 2012
This documentary is without a doubt a priceless masterpiece that tells, in just over an hour, the story of one of the most significant currents of German contemporary music: Krautrock. Through the voice of its protagonists, the adventures of Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk, Amon Düll and many others paint on the screen the birth of a new musical identity generated in the ruins of the Second World War. Hypnotic riffs, electronic digressions, fortunes and misfortunes of brilliant musicians holed up in farmhouses in the woods or basements of destroyed cities have built within a decade a musical genre that will have no equal in any other country. Have a nice trip!
The future is unwritten. Joe Strummer
Directed by Julien Temple, 2007
It’s always nice to see this bittersweet memory of the life of the guitarist and singer of The Clash; if you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you to let yourself get carried away by the stories of his friends or those who drew inspiration and teaching from this extraordinary protagonist of punk (among others: Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch and Martin Scorsese). Between home videos, archived footage and old photographs, this documentary opens a window on emotions: from the first adventures in Strummer’s music to the rise and fall of the Clash, without forgetting the social and political struggles that pushed Strummer to become an explosive voice representing the victims of injustice.
Directed by Dave Grohl, 2013
Dave Grohl debuts in the world of cinema with the documentary Sound City focused on the famous Los Angeles recording studio of the same name. From 1969 to 2011, Sound City gave birth to masterpieces such as Nevermind, welcoming the creative flashes of artists such as Neil Young, Kyuss and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Thanks to Grohl’s work, we learn, from several sacred monsters of music, the secrets hidden behind their most famous recordings.
Daft Punk Unchained
Directed by Hervé Martin–Delpierre, 2015
Everything you wanted to know about Daft Punk and you never dared to ask: from the first steps of the duo – still free from helmets and droid-resemblance – to the wildest raves and the design of their famous logo, passing through the grandiose stage set-ups like that of Coachella, the documentary traces the history of the greatest contribution to French electro music.
What are the books or documentaries that have particularly influenced your musical education? Let us know with a comment!
Article originally written by Johan Merrich in Italian