Remember back in May when I said something about possibly wanting to write a book?
Well, in a turn of fate that I honestly didn’t expect at the time, everything I wrote there has become frightening reality. I’m delighted to announce that I have signed an agreement with University of California Press to write a history of modern composition since 1989. Yep, I’m going to be on the same label as Joshua Clover’s brilliant 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About.
Now, before you all freak out and tell me that I can’t possibly consider writing a standard chronological narrative at this point in time, what am I, nuts?: Do not worry. I’m not doing that. And neither am I writing a book with chapter headings like ‘New Complexity’ or ‘Post-minimalism: the beat bites back’. If this book is about one thing, it is about de-siloing new music, writing about it in a way that reflects how musicians talk and work together; that is, ignoring -isms, and concentrating on ideas and decisions.
So it’s going to be arranged around some pretty broad, pretty ‘meta-‘ themes, like loss, translation, permission, excess. Themes that aren’t specifically musical in origin, that have a wide applicability to the psychology of the 21st century, and are therefore the things that pre-occupy musicians (as much as any of us). As well as sidestepping the whole chronology is dead problem, I think this will allow me to do two things, both of which I’m pretty excited about. First, it puts new music on the same plane of activity and experience as real life (like the Internet, globalization, data, civil rights, the environment). And secondly, it means that I can put together composers who a more conventional history might separate, but whose themes and concerns are actually pretty similar: and when you do that, you get to talk about language and methods on a much more interesting level than just cataloguing people into ‘schools’.
The plan is to publish in three years, to coincide with the start of the 2016–17 academic year. Sounds like a long way off (doesn’t feel like it!) but I’ll be drip-feeding plenty of info here in the meantime. Those of you literally climbing the walls for a book that features both Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf and the Kronos Quartet can start letting out your breath now.