BOOK REVIEW: How Music Dies (or Lives)

It took me a while to set aside time to read How Music Dies (Or Lives): Field Recording and the Battle for Democracy in the Arts written by Grammy-nominated record producer Ian Brennan. It turns out to be an eye-opening experience that is worth the time. The down-to-earth approach and honesty of his book makes it a book for all times, taking the reader on a historic journey about the transformation of sound into what is modern day music and its intricate genres.

Ian is a man on a quest to resuscitate dying traditional music in disadvantaged societies using basic recording gear to bring hidden songs and rhythms to life. He continues to travel extensively across Africa and Asia to search for raw musical talents, and his book lays bare the exploitation of sound – a natural force of nature – for money and personal aggrandisement. It reflects his experience recording with the disadvantaged, and presents a unique insight into the live of struggling musicians who rely on hawking there art for sustenance.

Full of wisdom and empowering messages, the book opens one’s eyes to the endless opportunities that can be sought via music. He talks about the power of music, highlighting the important role music has played in bridging the gap and improving social interaction since the beginning of humanity’s civilisation.

Ian shared his thoughts and insights with SALT Magazine about his work and what keeps him going. Essentially, Ian states that everything he does stems from his love for music.

“It may sound clichéd or trite, but if a project doesn’t move me, I won’t do it. If art lacks intimacy it is mostly superficial – entertainment maybe, but not something particularly spiritually enriching. Communication at its strongest benefits both the sender and the receiver. These are literally ‘labours of love’ – my wife and I lose money, but we make certain that the artists always make some money, no matter how modest the amount.”

Asked about his target audience, Ian states that he is unconcerned with demographics and his books are always intended more to raise questions and stimulate thought than provide answers.

“If even one person gleans something from the book’s pages and that element makes their life slightly better in some very small way, then to me the whole thing is a success.

“In general, I feel like the only audience for non-commercial releases are hard-core music lovers who have big ears and hearts. There is always that core of people in every generation that are the keepers of the flame culturally and who work actively to discover moving material, whether it be books, films or music.”

In terms of assessing his efforts, Ian states that it’s not about him.

“I try not to think of myself at all. If they care enough to, evaluating my work or not is up to other people, not me. I can only try to focus on objective elements – releasing the first full-length popular music albums internationally from many countries (Rwanda, Malawi, South Sudan, et al) are things that can be measured. Whether it is ‘good’ or not is an entirely different and highly subjective matter. And I learned a long time ago that the music and art I love most are not the majority of people’s cup of tea. So being social and liked is a far less tangible goal than trying to be consistent, and the work itself having an internal integrity.”

In relation to his desire to help the underdog, Ian states that anyone who is empathic naturally gravitates to wherever there is injustice.

There is so much to learn and enjoy from reading Ian’s book ranging from insight in to the art and history of sound recording to the impact of traditional culture in music and how human ingenuity creatively survive  in the midst of poverty.  It is a book worth reading, visit Ian’s website which has links to independent retailers, or you can order it through iTunes or on Kindle through Amazon.

It’s always been great communicating with Ian, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Sidique is the founder of Salt Magazine. He came to Australia in 2001 after fleeing a civil war in his homeland of Sierra Leone. He studied journalism at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone and worked as a reporter for the Statesman Newspaper. He studied a Bachelor of Arts specialising in Multimedia Studies at the University of South Australia.

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