Fear of Music

Fear of Music

Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen

An examination of why modern art can be easier to appreciate than modern music.


Modern art is a mass phenomenon. Conceptual artists like Damien Hirst enjoy celebrity status. Works by 20th century abstract artists like Mark Rothko are selling for record breaking sums, while the millions commanded by works by Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon make headline news. However, while the general public has no trouble embracing avant garde and experimental art, there is, by contrast, mass resistance to avant garde and experimental music, although both were born at the same time under similar circumstances - and despite the fact that from Schoenberg and Kandinsky onwards, musicians and artists have made repeated efforts to establish a "synaesthesia" between their two media. Fear of Music examines the parallel histories of modern art and modern music and examines why one is embraced and understood and the other ignored, derided or regarded with bewilderment, as noisy, random nonsense perpetrated by, and listened to by the inexplicably crazed. It draws on interviews and often highly amusing anecdotal evidence in order to find answers to the question: Why do people get Rothko and not Stockhausen?


The title belies the fact that the main thrust of the content is a parallel history of contemporary art and music with a conclusion that attempts to answer the question inherent in the title, but, of course, fails. That's not a criticism as the content is informative and thought provoking and there never was going to be a clear answer. The author crams in a great deal in this short space and does it with an intense, evocative style, not difficult to read and absorb. If you are interested in contemporary music, particularly the kind that challenges the norm, this will prove to be a good investment. ~ Bill Anderton, www.newentorchestra.org/reviews.htm

If you are willing to put the time in, even absolute beginners to this genre could benefit and enjoy the opportunities for listening to new sounds, and appreciating new art that Stubbs' journey through his subjects opens up. ....for music students, those working in the music scene, or those who simply enjoy furthering their understanding of music as a whole, Stubbs' book should be a useful and entertaining guide. ~ Kate Russell, New Age Journal

Fear Of Music, I feel, is a much needed resource in our appreciation of the arts regardless of our own tastes in music or art. ~ Michael Woodhead, TCM Reviews

Stubbs is able to negotiate the delicate issues of the duality between visual and performing arts with deft, knowledgeable, and subtle commentary. Fear of Music also serves as an excellent primer on music outside the mainstream. At 135 pages, the appearance of this slender volume is deceiving. Stubbs covers a tremendous amount of musical terrain, eloquently expounding on such varied subjects as post-punk, futurism, Dada, Sun Ra, free jazz, Derek Bailey, and Webern. Indeed, the book is an excellent primer for anyone looking to take a subscription to avant-garde music journal The Wire, a periodical to which Stubbs frequently contributes. Indeed, Fear of Music is apt to bring more than a few music lovers further outside the mainstream in their listening habits ~ Christian Carey, www.sequenza21.com

Fear of Music is so effectively provocative that hours of stimulation may be found simply discussing whether or not the book’s primary question is itself valid. And that is only the beginning. The last and best chapter, simply titled “Conclusion,” is worth the price of the book alone. In it he summarizes how visual art and music may and may not be fairly compared and disputes notions of hierarchies of the senses (e.g., that we are a visually-oriented society, that hearing is a secondary sense). Also here are refreshing perspectives on the roles of race and gender in the development and practice of current experimental and avant-garde music.    ~ Thomas Bell, Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

Fear of Music offers food for thought for those interested in the histories of avant-garde and experimental forms of art.  David Stubbs writes with unflinching enthusiasm and a genuine appreciation for a music that has endured more than its fair share of abuse…

~ machinemusic.org

David Stubbs
David Stubbs David Stubbs began working life as a freelance journalist in 1986, contributing to Melody Maker, whose staff he joined in 1987. As well as h...
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