Books On Music, The Arts, And Creative Processes:
Art And Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orlando. Valuable info for anyone actively engaged in the arts, or even for anyone trying to understand what goes on in our heads. In my opinion, a very useful and important book.
Dada: Art And Anti-Art, by Hans Richter. A really wonderful in-depth history of this movement, written by one of its founders. He has an authority, and surprisingly, an objectivity, which makes this book a yardstick by which the authenticity and factuality of other books on this period will be measured.
The Age Of Surrealism, by Wallace Fowlie. "Daddy, where did I come from?" I discovered more about my younger self from reading this book than I ever would have guessed. It makes perfect sense that Jim Morrison and Fowlie were mutual fans. Fowlie may not have written the definitive book on surrealism- if such a thing were even possible- but I think he's traced out a creative personality archetype that transcends movements altogether.
The Art Of Richard Powers, by Jane Frank. You may have thought that the cover art of 50s and 60s Science Fiction paperbacks were done in a certain style. What you might have thought was an entire trend was mostly the work of this one prolific artist, whose aesthetics are probably lodged permanently in the minds of anyone old enough, or aware enough, to remember his work.
Cassette Culture, edited by Robin James. When the corrupt practices and tin ears of the music industry took over completely, people who made music without compromise went underground. The cassette was frequently the medium by which this music was distributed. There are more thought-provoking, high quality and entertaining ideas in this book than in just about any book on music that I could recommend. It's been out of print a while, but I've heard it's coming back. Find it.
Seventeen Watts?, by Mo Foster. (US title, "Play Like Elvis!") Anyone who is interested in the history of popular music from the 60s onwards should read this hilarious and informative account of what it was like for the musicians of the "British Invasion" to start out. Mo Foster collected anecdotes about first instruments, gigs, sessions, and so on, from a who's who of UK musicians. Superb.
The Recording Angel, by Evan Eisenberg. Meditations on the nature and meaning of recorded music. A unique book, which invites sequels and further discussion. Let's hope.
Music Of The Whole World, by David Reck. The best and most useful book I have seen on world music and the roots of this great tree from which all the branches spring. Essential reading.
Songcatchers, by Mickey Hart. A great account of those who went hunting for the indiginous musics of the world.
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film, by Michael Weldon. Not for everyone I suppose; but if you love whacked-out film, this is a must, and belongs on the shelf with any important media reference book you may have. You'll soon be using it to track down interesting viewing.
Silence, by John Cage; For The Birds, by John Cage. Perhaps it was unnecessary to put this in; after all, most people are aware of Cage, and Silence is probably his most popular and influential book. It's good, too. But it's also a demanding read. For The Birds is a much more readable book, and a welcome guide into the thoughts and practices of this major influence on the music and outlook of the 20th century (and subsequent centuries).
A Year With Swollen Appendices, by Brian Eno. A year inside the mind of one of modern music's most interesting thinkers. If it wasn't for this guy I don't know if I'd have had the courage to become a musician.
New Voices, by Geoff Smith and Nicola Walker Smith. Conversations with some of the major groundbreaker of the last half century of music.
Books On Instruments:
The Guitar Handbook, by Ralph Denyer. Whenever someone starts talking about learning guitar, or asks me for a good book on the subject, this is where I send them. I got mine in '82 and have used it ever since- it's good for players who aren't beginners too. The '82 version has a foreward by Andy Summers; a later edition has a foreward by Robert Fripp. And now an endorsement from me- what more could you want?
Star Sets, by Jon Cohan. The main feature of this book is a detailed diagram of the drum kits of various players, from early jazz through the relatively current (90s) era. There are also pictures and a discussion of each player. This description is truly boring in comparison to the book, which is addictive. My wife will pick this up and read it, and she doesn't play an instrument.
Musical Instruments Of The World, by The Diagram Group. Exactly what it sounds like, but better than you might imagine. When they say "the world", they mean it. Could it be better/use an update/expansion, etc.? Sure. Are there many books on the subject this good? No. I turn to it for inspiration, entertainment and education fairly often.
Musical Instrument Design, by Bart Hopkin. The magnum opus by the editor of the late, great "Experimental Musical Instruments". The principles behind each type of instrument are discussed in detail, without being tied to specific instruments. This makes it possible to understand- and potentially, construct- new instruments, as well as established ones. As far as I know, there is no other book with all this information in one place. And it's very readable and entertaining.
Analog Days, by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco. This is the story of the development of the Moog synthesizer, and its contemporaries, such as Buchla and ARP. If these instruments, and the musicians and music they pioneered, are of interest to you, this book is a must. Well written, well researched, and entertaining.
Strange Sounds, by Mark Brend. A history of unusual instruments in pop music, both electronic (Theremin, Clavioline, Stylophone, etc. ) and acoustic (jug, sitar, ocarina, autoharp, marxophone, etc. ). Has a full chapter on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. A fun and informative read.
The Development And Practice Of Electronic Music, edited by Jon H. Appleton and Ronald C. Perera. A textbook, ca. 1975, with chapters by Otto Luening, Joel Chadabe, and Gordon Mumma, among others. If those names are familiar to you- yes, this is as first-rate as it sounds. Portions of it are very technical though, so be prepared; as I said, this is a textbook.
Electronic Music, by Andy Mackay. An excellent history and overview by- yes, that Andy Mackay, the sax player from Roxy Music. Who knew? More readable than the previous listing, and less technical.
The People's Chronology, by James Trager. The history of humanity as tracked through 30 distinct areas of human endeavor, from prehistory to...well my edition is '93. Hard to describe, has to be seen to be understood. A massive undertaking and a great addition to humanity's knowledge of itself. Probably the best history reference book I've ever seen, and very enjoyable to read.
The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard; The Waste Makers, by Vance Packard. If you want to know how we ended up where we are, and how the post WWII way of doing things screwed up humanity as badly as any war, read these. "The Hidden Persuaders" is about the birth of marketing research, and how advertising began using techniques better suited to propaganda and psychological warfare. "The Waste Makers" is about the birth of "planned obsolescense". You may have heard the term, but not know what it means. Essentially, it means manufacturing things so that they'll fall apart or be disposable, so that the consumer will buy more; and how an ethic of excellence in manufacturing was quietly killed.
No Contest, by Alfie Kohn. The case against competition, which is viewed here as a destructive habit. Cooperation towards mutual goals is the alternative model most heavily presented. It's well researched, well written, and asks questions that everyone should have to consider.
Time Wars, by Jeremy Rifkin. I'm not a fan of everything Rifkin has written; he sometimes strikes me as alarmist. But this book should be mandatory reading. The subtitle of the book is, "The Primary Conflict In Human History", and he makes a good case for that being so; industrial vs. organic models of time, and how this effects us as human beings. This is a book I would occassionaly buy for people if I found a good used copy. It's possibly the most important book on this list.
Check back for more later!