Earth Dances: Music in search of the primitive
Black Inc., February 2015
Andrew Ford's new book, Earth Dances: Music in search of the primitive, shows how composers through history have made their music less sophisticated in order to revive it. From Dunstaple to Bo Diddley, Stravinsky to Scott Walker, Peter Sculthorpe to Pussy Riot, musicians have invoked the demotic and even the barbaric, admitting drones and drums to their work, simplifying (in some cases, infantilising) their techniques. The result has often been renewal. Threaded through Ford's chapters are new interviews with six composers: Richard Barrett, Martin Bresnick, Brian Eno, Liza Lim, Pauline Oliveros and Karin Rehnqvist. Earth Dances is available from good bookshops and electronically from Amazon, iTunes etc.
> See Black Inc. for e-purchase links and details
Reviews of Earth Dances
As an example of the breadth Ford brings, his chapter on grief and music, Crying Out Loud, traverses the Beatles, Van Morrison and Maria Callas en route to Karelian lamenting, which is a structured sort of keening from Finland that lasted to the mid-20th century. From there he discusses Stravinsky and Bartok before moving to Yoko Ono and Diamanda Galas, then to . . . Bob Dylan . . . A little like Beethoven with the Diabelli variations: [Ford] takes a slight theme and creates a work of high craft and interest. [Earth Dances] is filled with insightful musical analysis made accessible for a general audience. Perhaps the best measure of success is the way Ford inspires curiosity about many obscure composers, works and bands, which challenges listeners to follow up his discussion. Thank goodness for Youtube.
Barney Zwartz, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald
A vivid and rarely less than astute history of the debt modern music simultaneously owes to the inheritances of tradition, and the texture of dissonance.
James Tierney, Kill Your Darlings
Earth Dances is an enjoyable read and full of very interesting things that not even a music specialist might know about.
Michael Hannan, The Music Trust
The book’s great strength is Ford’s dexterity in jumping from example to example, which inspires the reader to situate their own musical world between intellectual and corporeal poles.
Matthew Lorenzon, Partial Durations
When Ford writes about music, it dances off the page. His detailed descriptions are evidence of his musical ability as a composer. He is able to provide information with ease and clarity so that the most advanced connoisseur or eager novice could gain pleasure from it.
Samuel Cottell, Cut Common
Try Whistling This - writings about music
Black Inc., August 2012
Andrew Ford's new collection of writings about music is published on 1st August by Black Inc. In Try Whistling This, Ford traces the concept of dirty dancing back to the 16th century, marvels at the weirdness of Percy Grainger and consider the decision of Wilhelm Furtwängler to keep conducting under the Nazis. He explores the intersection of words and music, the bugbear of Australian musical identity, and the fundamental importance, in music and in life, of listening.
There are essays based on Ford's acclaimed radio series Music and Fashion, as well as illuminating examinations of music-makers from Mozart to Messiaen, Elgar to Brett Dean, Cole Porter to Sondheim, Bob Dylan to Randy Newman.
> Buy Try Whistling This online from Readings (Melbourne)
Reviews of Try Whistling This
This is a superb collection of essays of opinion across a broad spectrum of musical expression by our finest commentator.
Anthony Linden Jones, Music Forum
I was entirely delighted by Andrew Fords Try Whistling This: writings about music. Ford is the most literate of composers; the most musical of writers. He demonstrates a seemingly endless knowledge of his field, while writing brilliant, entertaining criticism.
David McCooey, 'Books of the Year', Australian Book Review
Should we think of Mahler's all-embracing symphonies as 'operas without the action'? Was Bob Dylan really 'the best-read and most literary popular song writer of the past 50 years'? Is improvisation something you can practise and get better at?
One of the most attractive things about Try Whistling This is that Andrew Ford – who would, incidentally, answer 'yes' to each of those questions – is constantly spinning out new ideas, asking us to see familiar things with fresh eyes, prompting us to think again about settled opinions. And then to go back to the music and listen more intently.
Attractive too is his depth of knowledge and the breadth of his musical sympathies in this collection about music and the people who make it. There's no condescension in Try Whistling This, and no suggestion that one type of music is less worthy of serious consideration than another. Music is for him an oceanic expanse, where even the pools and inlets are refreshed by tides of fashion and currents of innovation. He is as comfortable (and adept at) discussing the austere appeal of plainsong as the supple melodic lines of Hoagy Carmichael . . .
The scope of his coverage shows just how much music is a seemingly endless field for adventures, nourished by old traditions and enlivened by new sources of inspiration. He asks us to take the time to listen to new compositions, as well as to things we think we already know. With new music, he says, 'originality should always be the point'. Perhaps we will even find something we can whistle.
Peter Fuller, Canberra Times
Ford says he doubts he is, in fact, a proper critic at all, though he is certain he knows what one does. 'The critic must ask what it is the composer and-or performer aiming for, and then whether on its own terms the music has succeeded,' he writes in an engaging introduction. The point is, it's not the critic's job to tell us whether to like a particular piece; it's to say whether it's any good, and why (or why not).
In Try Whistling This he sets up an even broader sweep than this remit would suggest, however, first throwing at the reader a longform essay called 'Music and Fashion', refigured from a six-part radio series he presented with the same title. It's a grand stroll through the past few centuries that asks, from many different angles, a deceptively simple question: why do we like the things we like?
Stephen Fitzpatrick, The Australian
Ford writes from the frontline of music; he is composer first and a writer second. He can’t help but be caught up in the drama of creation and can empathise with Mahler, for example, who could compose only during his summer break, or Walton who sometimes found it difficult to compose at all. Where other critics might take a helicopter view, or affect objectivity, Ford has both the luxury to write about what he likes and the inclination to occasionally play favourites, but utterly without dogma. A transplanted Briton, Ford lavishes particular care on Elgar, Vaughan Williams and others – and he’ll probably send you rushing to investigate some of the non-astrological music of Gustav Holst (that is, his entire output minus The Planets suite). Australian music receives Ford’s generous and sympathetic advocacy, too, in appreciations of Richard Meale, Brett Dean and others. Naturally, Bob Dylan is here, as well as Stephen Sondheim, presented with equal wonder and affection.
Spend 15 minutes chatting with Ford (or reading one of his books) and you soon sense that there is no bottom and no sides to his knowledge. There are plenty of smart people around, but the miraculous thing about Ford’s manner is that he makes you feel smarter too.
Robert Murray, Melbourne Review
The strength of the pieces collected here lies in their approachability, making even rarefied music easier to understand, and providing pointers for adding depth to the listening experience. It's a 'bedside reader' for the musically curious, uplifted by Ford's celebratory spirit and eclectic range.
James Koehne, Adelaide Advertiser
Ford is well studied yet very accessible. Classical music dominates this tome, with considerable focus on Australia composers, but Ford does tackle Dylan, Randy Newman and Cole Porter. Most of all he shatters the idea of classical music frozen in time, breezing through centuries and styles with rare perspective.
Doug Wallen, Rolling Stone
The Sound of Pictures
Black Inc., November 2010
The Sound of Pictures: Listening to the Movies, from Hitchcock to High Fidelity looks at the ways directors have used music and other sounds in more than 400 films. How did Alfred Hitchcock use music to plant clues in his films? Why do some 'mix-tape' soundtracks work brilliantly and others fall flat? How do classics from A Clockwork Orange to The Godfather, Cinema Paradiso to High Noon, use music and sound effects to enhance what we see on screen? In addition to Ford's own essays, there are his interviews with five composers Ennio Morricone, Richard Rodney Bennett, Dick Hayman, Lalo Schifrin and Howard Shore) and five directors (Bruce Beresford, Sally Potter, Wim Wenders, Peter Greenaway and Peter Weir).
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from Readings (Melbourne)
Praise for The Sound of Pictures
Pick of the Week!
If you want to be reminded (who does?) of the too-frequent mediocrity of much criticism in this country, read the beautifully written opening essay in this entertaining book about movie soundtracks. Andrew Ford, surely one of this country's most astute music critics (and a composer to boot), writes with such knowledge and authority about film scores, the reader is left gasping at his deep attentiveness to the subtleties involved in the interplay between sound and image. He ranges widely and is as comfortable evaluating Bernard Herrmann's contribution to Hitchcock's movies as he is writing about Thomas Newman's use of marimba and tabla in American Beauty.
But this book is much more than just the opening essay. It is structured to include insightful interviews with five composers, including Ennio Morricone and the New York jazz pianist Dick Hyman; six critical essays on topics as diverse as 'Pop Goes the Score' (with an excellent analysis of the role played by the song 'High Noon' in the movie of the same name) and 'Listening for Clues in Hitchcock'; and interviews with directors including Bruce Beresford, Sally Potter, Wim Wenders and Peter Weir.
For most moviegoers, the most effective music operates as a subconscious backdrop, so this book's appeal lies in the way it bypasses the images and storylines and brings the soundtrack to the fore. It makes readers think and respond differently to movies and become much more aware of the role played by music, its manipulative power and the importance of song choice.
Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald
In writing The Sound of Pictures, Ford wanted to 'discuss actual films and not other people's theories about them' and expressed his desire that it should be free of academic obfuscation. Ford has done exactly that, producing an immensely readable book, full of revealing information and interesting anecdotes. The Sound of Pictures will be joyfully read by movie and music fans alike.
Peter Crossing, The Canberra Times
[T]his extended think-piece on the historical role and range of movie music is one of the best works since Adorno and Hans Eisler's ancient Composing for Films, which has been the standard film school text forever and runs the high art line until you want to scream.
The Sound of Pictures is a must-read for anyone with an interest in film or music.
Terry Oberg, The Courier-Mail
Ford's roving curiosity and inclusive prose ensure The Sound of Pictures holds premium interest for all movie enthusiasts, casual and committed.
Gerard Elson, Bookseller+Publisher
The Sound of Pictures is a consciousness-raising affair that helps the film buff and even the most casual viewer understand how music complements a film.
Martin Stevenson, The Examiner
Music can be integral to making a film work, but it's the director and the starts who generally get the credit. More power to Ford for showering a little attention on the contribution of screen composers with such well-informed enthusiasm.
Alistair Jones, The Australian
Talking to Kinky and Karlheinz
- 170 musicians get vocal
on The Music Show
ABC Books, March 2008
Talking to Kinky and Karlheinz is the title of a new book of interviews from ABC Books in which, as the subtitle has it, '170 musicians get vocal on The Music Show'. Ford has presented this radio program – something of a ABC Saturday morning institution – since 1995, and the new book, edited by Anni Heino, brings together conversations with guests such as John Adams, Victoria de los Ángeles, Robyn Archer, Pierre Boulez, David Byrne, Harry Connick Jr, Bob Geldof, k.d.lang, Tom Lehrer, Yehudi Menuhin, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mitsuko Uchida.
> Visit the website of The Music Show,
The variety of musicians interviewed in the book - 45 of them at some length, another 125 of them or so represented by pithily related comments - corresponds to the amazing mixture of talent heard on ABC Radio National's The Music Show on Saturday mornings. Jazz musicians, opera conductors, concert soloists, country and western performers, orchestral composers, pop and rock composer-singers, directors, scene designers, even the occasional writer, all make their appearances . . . For wit I give first place to the peerless mouth-organ player Larry Adler; for deep-seated goodness and wisdom Bob Copper of Rottingdean, whose family has been singing traditional songs in parts for generations. Similarly inspiring is Kev Carmody's account of how the indigenous droving camps he knew in his younger days lapped up radio broadcasts of Bach and discussed at length the characters of Dylan Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood.
Roger Covell, Sydney Morning Herald
Radio National's The Music Show makes cleaning the house on a Saturday morning almost bearable. Just when I'm getting into an existential funk about the pointlessness of it all, I'll be diverted by pianist
Mitsuko Uchida talking about the crucial differences between Beethoven and Mozart, or jazz singer Annie Ross recalling the time she had to fill in for Billie Holiday . . . As someone who isn't a music aficionado, I often don't know the interviewees but it usually doesn't matter. In radio and book form, these conversations are an entertaining education in what it means to make music.
Fiona Capp, The Age
This was never going to be an unbiased review. Having said that, Talking to Kinky and Karlheinz more than lives up to the expectations of this rusted-on listener. One of the joys of The Music Show is its eclecticism: the show's charter is to cover as many types of music as possible, and it spans classical, jazz, folk, blues, country, gospel, comedy, rock and pop . . . [The book] reflects the element of suprise always present in [the show] . . . An interview with Chad Morgan, discussing the perfect country song (everyone dies), is immediately followed by Yehudi Menuhin's recollections of playing to recently liberated prisoners of Bergen-Belsen concertration camp.
Robyn Murray, Southern Highlands News
In Defence of Classical Music
ABC Books, September 2005
In his new book, In Defence of Classical Music, Andrew Ford asks how the symphonies of Beethoven and string quartets of Brahms can possibly be relevant post 9/11. He argues that it is precisely because we live in discordant times that classical music is more valuable than ever.
'Classical music is not escapism,' Ford maintains, 'it is a form of consolation. A retreat, certainly, but a retreat into reality rather than away from it.'
Following the essay which gives the book its title, there are ten shorter essays on individual composers: Dowland, Haydn, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Sibelius, Ravel, John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Ross Bolleter. Finally, in an attempt to take the reader into the mind of a composer, Ford turns to his own music, with discussions of The Waltz Book, Learning to Howl, and Manhattan Epiphanies.
The book is brilliant - especially Part I, which is a necessary prelude to
everything I have ever written about music, though neither I nor anyone else
has ever done it!
Emeritus Professor of Music, University of York
Andrew Ford relishes the debate, arguing that the classical music audience
must bring 'its ears, its concentration, its imagination and its memory' to
the experience. No, classical music will not make you a better human being
('a particularly insidious myth'), yet why, Ford wonders, did he have a
bigger appetite for the classics immediately after September 11, 2001, 'in
particular the string quartets of Brahms'? Wonderful mysteries.
Tony Maniaty, The Australian
He summarises his argument by bravely pointing out that 'classical music is
a source not only of consolation but of certainty . . . it reaffirms
creativity because it has survived'. Here is a cause that is elegantly,
perhaps classically, argued.
Martin Stevenson, The Examiner, Launceston
A great read!
Kate de Goldi, "Good Morning", TVNZ
This book is currently out of print (try AbeBooks.com).
> Read a sample!
Speaking in Tongues:
the Songs of Van Morrison
ABC Books 2005
by Martin Buzacott and Andrew Ford
Not another biography but something rare in pop music and unique in the literature about Van Morrison: a detailed examination of his words and music, and of how they collide and intersect when he sings them.
Speaking in Tongues falls into two main parts. Part One, “A Sense of Wonder”, examines the themes and variations in his songs: images of childhood; musical heroes; transcendence and religion; responses to nature and literature; and Morrison's consistently truculent relationship with the rest of the world's population. Building on this exploration of the building blocks of Morrison's work, Part Two, “A Working Man in His Prime”, looks at Morrison's studio work album by album, song by song. Finally the book returns the reader to the central concern in any Morrison song – the sound of his voice.
It must be said that Speaking in Tongues is not for the casual acquaintance with Morrison's work. If you used to hum Jackie Wilson Said and like Michael Buble's version of Moondance and think that makes you a Morrison fan, this book, with its exhaustive critiques of each album going back to 1968 and lists of the musicians and writers namechecked in Van the Man's songs (Ray Charles, Piaf, Blake, Camus, Plato and so on) will disabuse and confuse you.
But for the devotees, and there must be many of them, because his albums still make it into the charts and his concerts always sell out, this will be like an extended soak in a gigantic bath of warm Golden Syrup.
Shaun Carney, The Age
> You can order this title at the price of AUD 25 + postage
by contacting Andrew Ford directly.
> Read a sample!
ABC Books 2002
Erudite, unpretentious, provocative, passionate, succinct, kind, combative and sometimes wildly funny, Ford is the least pompous musical essayist I've encountered. Ranging from Arnold Schoenberg's last years to the vicissitudes of historically informed performance . . . Ford's essays are pitched somewhere between the dinner party anecdote and the post-doctoral lecture.
Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday
There's nothing stuffy or pious here, just a refreshingly inclusive, embracing and playful tone, underpinned with sound scholarship.
Caroline Baum, Good Reading
Undue Noise provides the collective evidence of what most of us already knew: that Andrew Ford is one of those rare masters of both the musical and the verbal genres. And more: his writings are not just some verbal accompaniment to the music in question, but mysteriously resonate with the music.
Malcolm Gillies, Sounds Australian
Beware John Howard! Don't read this book, don't even think about it. Don't be sucked in by the catchy graphics on the front cover depicting those ubiquitous icons of populist music, the electric guitar and drums, This book is NOT for you. It's by a bone fide member of the chattering class, an elitist and, God forbid, an intellectual. However, it is for anyone who is genuinely interested in the musical life of Australia in particular, with timely reality checks to the rest of spaceship Earth.
Claudio Pompili, Music Forum
Ford's intellectual energy, his preparedness to expound on anything tangentially connected with music, his confident, sustained and entertaining pronouncements on the sheer indispensability of music to world civilisation are cornerstones that give some stability and sense of cohesion to so multifarious a group of often very brief articles.
Ian Holtham, Australian Book Review
This book is currently out of print (try AbeBooks.com)
> Read a sample from Undue noise!
music in the 20th century
An updated 3rd edition of Illegal Harmonies has been released in May 2011 from Black Inc.
"Listen. What do you hear?"
The original 10-part radio series that has since its completion been broadcast several times on ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National:
Illegal Harmonies is regarded by many as one of the finest programs produced by ABC Radio in the past decade."
Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald
Modern audiences need to learn how to listen and Andrew Ford might be just the man to do the teaching.
Chris Boyd, Australian Financial Review"
Andrew Ford's mastery of that lively, engaging clarity of style which one associates with seasoned radio broadcasters, enables him to perform a service for non-specialists similar to that provided by Paul Davies in connection with the modern revolution in physics.
Joe Rich, Australian Book Review
You could write a review of this book in four words: Buy it and rejoice.
Geoffrey Tozer, 24 Hours
Illegal Harmonies is a book very hard to put down. It brims with useful information, very up-to-date, and it is splendidly researched, above all written in a friendly, even chatty, but never condescending manner. The finely honed style of writing is a pleasure in itself. And if reading it makes me want to argue about some of its mission statements, that is totally to its credit. I wish I could hear all the music it mentions ...
Fred Blanks, Quadrant
It's both highly and deeply illuminating, and is a delight to read since it sounds like Andrew Ford talking: off the cuff, but with a vivacious lucidity that not many professional authors can rival . . . Ford offers a series of 'moments' that remind us of the pristine nature of each musical experience, yet at the same time reveal connections between things superficially disparate. Spotting the links is the heart of intelligence, and I'll hazard that this is the most intelligent book about modern music that, over a long life, has come my way. . . I can't do better than conclude with the words with which Ford ends this bravely brilliant book:
We all need to engage with music to some degree or other: with minimalist music, hardly at all; with a composer like Schoenberg, rather a lot. But however good our powers of concentration, however acute our critical faculties, if we want music to be strong enough to help, we must begin by listening, and listening hard. So, listen.
What do you hear?
Wilfrid Mellers, The Musical Times
> Read a sample from
> Buy Illegal harmonies from Readings (Melbourne)
Composer to Composer: conversations about contemporary music
Interviews with 30 composers including Andriessen, Birtwistle, Boulez, Cage, Carter, Donatoni, Ferneyhough, Gubaidulina, Lim, Meale, Reich, Saariaho, Sculthorpe, Stockhausen, Tavener and Tippett
Tell your friends about this book, especially those who think there hasn't been any decent music written since Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven.
Tony Gould, Editions
The real value . . . may be to encourage its readers to seek out the sounds that these many different and fascinatingly individual voices have created, and perhaps even to enjoy them.
David Matthews, Times Literary Supplement
The recounting of . . . moments of human struggle and the discreetly helpful background commentary [make] it a better introduction to contemporary music for the general reader than any textbook could ever be
Ivan Hewett, BBC Music Magazine
. . . one of the best collections of its kind I have read . . . concise, sharp and stylistically responsive to the different characters under scrutiny.
Michael White, The Independent on Sunday
Ford is skilled at drawing out the personalities behind the techniques.
Arnold Whittall, The Musical Times
Buy Composer to Composer from Amazon.com
Read a sample
from Composer to Composer!