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Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970

Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970

David Toop

Bloomsbury Academic




21.8 x 14 x 2

336 pages

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In this first installment of acclaimed music writer David Toop's interdisciplinary and sweeping overview of free improvisation, Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970 introduces the philosophy and practice of improvisation (both musical and otherwise) within the historical context of the post-World War II era. Neither strictly chronological, or exclusively a history, Into the Maelstrom investigates a wide range of improvisational tendencies: from surrealist automatism to stream-of-consciousness in literature and vocalization; from the free music of Percy Grainger to the free improvising groups emerging out of the early 1960s (Group Ongaku, Nuova Consonanza, MEV, AMM, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble); and from free jazz to the strands of free improvisation that sought to distance itself from jazz. In exploring the diverse ways in which spontaneity became a core value in the early twentieth century as well as free improvisation's connection to both 1960s rock (The Beatles, Cream, Pink Floyd) and the era of post-Cagean indeterminacy in composition, Toop provides a definitive and all-encompassing exploration of free improvisation up to 1970, ending with the late 1960s international developments of free music from Roscoe Mitchell in Chicago, Peter Brötzmann in Berlin and Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg in Amsterdam.

Table of contents

1: (only begin) A DESCENT 2: FREE BODIES 3: collective subjectivities 1 4: OVERTURE TO DAWN 5: collective subjectivities 2 6: INTO THE HOT 7: solitary subjectivities 8: TROUBLED SEA OF NOISES AND HOARSE DISPUTES 9: collective objectivities 10: IMAGINARY BIRDS SAID TO LIVE IN PARADISE 11: postscript: the ballad of john and yoko 12: RAIN FALLING DOWN ON OLD GODS Index


Maelstrom indeed ... [This] is an encyclopedic vortex of musicology, memoir and speculative extemporisation on the nature of improvisation and freedom in music ... crammed with detail and fascinating observations ... A captivating reading experience that perfectly embodies its subject in form.” – The Wire“David [Toop] has browsed through history and offers readers an extremely rich overview of myriad germs of improvisation popping up all over the world, in so many musics, in fine arts and theater, in politics and philosophy, in social activism, and in small musical events. ... [T]his panoramic book is an absolute must-read for everyone interested in (the archeology of) free improvisation, actually for anyone interested in music in general. I am already looking forward to the second volume.” – Journal of Sonic Studies “This is a long overdue book, and there is no-one else who could have written it. It is an astonishing achievement, and a highly readable and enjoyable one too.” – International Times “Toop spends much of his latest effort exploring the philosophical and artistic movements from which pre-1970 performers drew inspiration ... In this, [Into the Maelstrom] provides a fascinating view of 20th century underground movements well beyond that of music alone.” – Pop Matters “Any discussion of free improvisation, as an essential (anti?)-discipline of creative music, is an amusing balance between considering an unruly child and a sacred cow. History has come into a wild favor towards a genre that perpetually defies definition and prediction. David Toop, with a critical facility informed by over forty years of activity on and off the bandstand, sets his ruminations in the service of the music. Essaying on free improvisation in the mode of composition can result in didactic chin scratch. Thankfully Toop engages the readers interest with a sentient breath of prose charged by academic insight where poetic space becomes the page. It's only the beginning.” – Thurston Moore “David Toop has dived into the Maelstrom that is the genesis of improvised music and come up with a string of pearls. There is so much here that will be new to even those of us who thought we knew the subject. A remarkable piece of real scholarship that relies on painstaking research with a refreshing absence of jargon.” – Evan ParkerInto the Maelstrom gives an astonishing, vivid history of improvised music across the 20th century­­ before 1970, tracing its transnational criss-crossings, trans-arts contagions, the folds between Cream and AMM, 'musicking' and John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Nuova Consonanza and For a Few Dollars More. David Toop's panoramic account makes obvious how urgently we have needed this alternative history, attuned to musical sounds as they resonate with artistic, cultural and political currents. A landmark book, Into the Maelstrom re-centres those vast and auspicious margins deserted by previous music histories.” – Georgina Born, Professor of Music and Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK
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