Daily Archives: February 11, 2010 11:38 pm

Shelf life


Following the slightly rule-bending post this morning, this is the real thing inspired by SavidgeReads: ten books picked at random with my eyes closed (with one cheat) and what they say about me.

Ten books picked at random

Theatre Street, The reminiscences of Tamara Karsavina. This is one of two books from the random ten that actually belongs to someone else (it’s Dan’s I think). It’s just like me to borrow a book excitedly from someone that I’ve always thought I should read, and then not get round to it for years. Since I work in the place where Karsavina’s syllabus is still taught, and I play for it, I should have finished it by now. As it happens, I picked it up again the other day, wishing I had time to read it. Very like me. I’m bird-like with books – peck peck, fly away, come back, peck again, then go and nibble at a fat-ball in another garden.

Folk Music of Hungary by Zoltán Kodály. Ever since living and studying in Zagreb, I’ve had a thing for Central European folk music. Before then, Bartók’s tune collections in SSEES library used to fascinate me, and I grew up with old records of the Red Army Choir.  I can still remember the words and tune to Kad ja pođoh na Bembašu that I learned somewhere in Belgrade, and hearing it brings back the smell of Ćevapčići and memories of Ritter Sport bars for breakfast. I bought Folk Music of Hungary for a project at work to trace some folk song sources, and it was one of the first times I realised how potent the second-hard arm of Amazon is.

Philip V. Bohlman, World Music, A Very Short Introduction. The entry for the book above says it all really – I’m more interested in folk music than any other.  ‘World music’ is a terrible term, and Bohlman does a lot to deal with the issues.

Alice Miller: Du sollst nicht merken. During a very bleak personal time in Berlin, I read just about everything Alice Miller wrote.  I have depths, you’d be surprised.They are Germanic depths, I think, even though I would not admit it except under torture.

Cubase SX/SL manual. I’ve gone from using Logic on an Atari, to Logic on a PC, to Cubase on a PC, to Logic on a Mac. People think I like IT, because I know stuff about it. I don’t. I’ve just had to get my head round it because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat. I’m glad to be away from Cubase now. Logic and the Mac-like Atari was my first love, and you never forget. I usually read the manual after I’ve been guessing how to use the program for a few weeks. But at least I read it.  I am a person who says or thinks RTFM a lot.

Steven Johnson: Interface Culture. Written in 1997, this was a book that I thought I just had to read, because it’s like me to want to try and understand trends and new stuff.  But this is the person I’d like to be. The real one couldn’t give a stuff sometimes, so I haven’t got past about page 10. I will – one day, this book will burst into life for me, and I’ll know why I bought it, but its time hasn’t come yet.

Kurt Tucholsky: Schnipsel. If I had a choice between losing the ability to hear music, and losing the ability to understand another language, I really am not sure which I’d choose. Reading books in the language they were written in is a kind of music to me, a second home, and the possibility of a whole new bunch of friends real or literary. I get out of immersion in a book like this what other people get out of putting music on.  I bought it in Berlin in around 1992, probably from the book shop near Zoo station, one of the few places open on a Sunday at that time. The book is an old friend, and the handle on a mental drawer marked ‘Berlin’

Act! 6 The User’s Guide. For ten years, I’ve been trying to find a way to simplify my life as a distance learning tutor – and managing sales contacts was the nearest thing on the market I could find.  I do like computers when they make life easier, so I paid about £160 for the privilege and it worked brilliantly, but in a couple of years, Act disappeared, and Moodle does the job a hundred times better for free. I believe you have to be a mug sometimes to know when you’re on to a really good thing. I’m not happy that there’s two software manuals and no recipe books in this list, but that’s because all those are on the other side of the room or in the kitchen, and I forgot to go there.

Mahler: Symphony No. 6 orchestral study score. This is the other book that belongs to someone else – in this case, my piano teacher Antony Saunders. I can’t remember why I have it, maybe it was something to do with when I was learning the Berg piano sonata.  I’m ashamed, because I remember him asking me nicely not to lose it, as he was fond of it. I haven’t lost it, but it is about 24 years since he lent it to me.  I do like looking at scores, though. It’s like looking at the inside of a clock and knowing exactly what each cog does all at once. I must listen to Mahler’s 6th. I suppose.

From Russia, Exhibition Catalogue from the Royal Academy, 2008. I only started going to exhibitions very late in life, maybe coming from a family with three practising artists in it innoculated me against any sense of need to go: I forgot to go the opticians for about 20 years because my dad was one. I go through periods of cultural indolence and inertia, and then a burst of enthusiasm and sense of duty to Art which lasts until I find the gifpt shop. I went on a blind date to this, it was rather fun.  I love souvenirs, I will buy them everywhere. It goes back a long way, to the magical gift shops of Cheddar Gorge, full of brass pixie bells and wooden signs to hang on the wall, all a hundred times more interesting and wonderful than the gorge itself, in my child’s eye view. Nothing much has changed there.

Ten (not so random) books


The idea comes from a post by Simon Savidge over at SavidgeReads Reading me like a book (or ten) – see his post for where he got it from: pick ten books at random from your shelf and tell the world what those ten books say about you.  Ironically, since it was a post about reading, I misread it, and picked a clump of ten books from one of my shelves.  This will hardly be random, because I treat my bookshelves like a kind of two-dimensional Rubik-cube: every now and again, I half-heartedly put books of a kind on the same shelf. When one project or another takes over, I shift them by the shelf-load and put the most relevant ones nearest to my desk.  As a result, here’s ten not very random choices that nonetheless say something about me, I think (if nothing else, it says something about my cataloguing).  I’ll do the proper version another day.

Ten not very random books

Suzanne Langer, Philosophy in a new key:  I dreaded having to read this book for my philosophy of music module, since in my experience, seeing the name ‘Langer’ in any article about dance was usually the kiss of death, both to the enjoyment of reading or dance.  In fact, I ended up liking Langer a lot, and there’s much in her work that makes a lot of sense about music and dance, something that Mark Johnson picks up on in The Meaning of the Body.

Dermot Moran. Introduction to Phenomenology. If this is an introduction, God help me when it comes to the main bit. I didn’t understand a friggin’ word of this. Shame really, because I have a felt sense, as they say in phenomenology, that the ph word is something that appeals to me philosophically, but I can’t understand more than 1% of the books.  A very bright man I met the other day who’s got an MA in philosophy told me the only way he’d understood it was by reading Sophie’s World.

The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. I think I bought this years ago when it looked like I’d have to write a module I knew nothing about. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. It’s been quite useful, but the thing about modern thought, or indeed any kind of thinking, is that you can’t get a book to think for you.  There’s no such thing as microwave philosophy.

Alex Moore, Teaching & Learning: Pedagogy, Curriculum and culture. I bought this as a quick read to get my head round the issues in the title, thinking it would be dull. Apart from the fact that it’s easy to understand, a great introduction to huge themes and topics, it’s got an openness and freedom about it that makes you excited about teaching and learning. The last chapter is called ‘Working with and against official policy’ – how do you deal with conflicts between your personal standards and an official curriculum, and being ‘subversive’ within the constraints. Fantastic stuff.

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I bought this from the Tate Modern bookshop (which I love)  after I saw it referred to in Wolfram Fleischhauer’s Der gestohlene Abend. It’s one of those books that you’ve seen referred to so many times that you think you’ve read it, whereas in fact, you’ve only read a two-sentence distillation of the ideas.  Why couldn’t they have given us this to read at school instead of Future Shock and Twelfth Night? Benjamin seems to explain  the 21st century from his 1930s viewpoint as well as any contemporary theorist, and is much more fun to read.

Milan Holas, Hudební Pedagogika. (Music pedagogy). I don’t speak Czech, but having once been fluent in Russian and Croatian, I can kind of guess my way through books in other Slavic languages, as long as they’re on a subject that I already know something about.  From my time as a student in Zagreb, I’ve always had a penchant for  no-nonsense Central European text-books that might not be cutting edge fashionable scholarship, but they sure as hell are choc-full-o’facts and get the job done. What constitutes musical knowledge, teaching and learning is a lifelong obsession (I’m beginning to discover) so I like flicking through books like this to see how other people and nations frame the topic.  Having said that, I bought this years ago, and I’m only flicking through it now for the second time. That says a lot about me.

Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. Probably one of my favourite books of all time, because it explains in design terms why my parents’ gas hob was so darn stupid, and why I could never work out which knob operated which gas ring, and why it’s so easy to push a door that should be pulled. Donald Norman takes those everyday annoyances in life, and makes you realise it’s their fault for designing it so badly. God bless him.

Paul White, Basic Digital Recording. This came as a freebee  introductory reference text on the music technology module of my MA. One of the great things about doing an MA is that it gives you an excuse to spend even more  time taking your hobbies seriously, and then be given credit for it. What’s not to like?

Ellen Bouchard Ryan & Howard Giles, Attitudes towards Language Variation: Social and applied contexts. Once upon a time, I started a doctorate in sociolinguistics, with the working title Lexical variation in the cooking vocabulary of Serbo-Croat. No, that’s not a joke, I really did. Back in 1982 (for that’s how long ago it was) this was one of the key texts. Language variation and socio-political aspects of language still interest me, and I smile very wryly to myself when I see it at work in everyday contexts. I often wonder if one day I’ll swap directions and do a doctorate in linguistics after all.

Bennett Reimer, A Philosophy of Music Education (2nd edn). I fully expected to hate this book (if you see some of the reviews on Amazon, you’ll hate it without reading it) but in fact, when I came to write my first MA essay (on the philosophy of music education) about the spat between Reimer & David Elliott over aesthetic education and praxial music education, I ended up defending Reimer totally against my own expectations.  As much as Reimer is annoying at times, I find his enemies even more so.  That’s quite something to have learned from a course in educational philosophy, I reckon.