Electronic Inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-Garde.

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Author: Laura Zattra
Date: Summer 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,076 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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Electronic Inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-Garde, by Jennifer Iverson. New Cultural History of Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. xi, 303 pp.

The Westdeutscher Rundfunk (West German Radio) in Cologne (WDR studio), one of the first institutional electronic music studios to be established in either Europe or the United States, has never before been the topic of an entire monograph. Jennifer Iverson's Electronic Inspirations finally fills this vacuum. Iverson's groundbreaking analysis is based on the idea that there is a pressing need to revise several persistent narratives surrounding the WDR studio, the Darmstadt Summer Courses, and the role of Karlheinz Stockhausen. This book invites us to turn our attention to a larger network of persons and institutions that fostered new music and electronic music in the postwar era.

Over the decades, several international music laboratories have been the subject of research. The WDR studio, however, has received little attention prior to Iverson's publication, barring some short histories presented in textbooks, and scattered essays by scholars, mosdy in German. (2) Historians, musicologists, and music theorists have had no choice but to explore the original official publications of the WDR studio, where, in the early days, technicians, musicians, and composers including Stockhausen, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Henri Pousseur, Mauricio Kagel, Gyorgy Ligeti, John Cage, and numerous others "met and mingled" (p. 7). (The stuciio was established in 1951 and closed its doors in 2000.) In these writings and interviews, composers working at the studio (note: composers!) presented their views on their positions and musical works (Iverson presents a list of about 150 primary sources), thereby creating their own legacy through an intentional "rhetoric of autonomy" (as described by Charles Wilson), which Iverson questions. (3) It is only in recent years that scholars have begun to produce additional research on the studio and its milieu. (4)

What is Iverson's approach to tackling the project of writing a history of the WDR? With research interests in twentieth-century music, sound studies, and disability studies, Iverson opts for a methodology that gives significantly more attention to hidden and semi-hidden dynamics, actors, and networks of institutions. The topic of the "invisible collaborator" is a recurrent theme throughout the book. (5) In this respect, the "Glossary of Actors" is especially valuable for its attention to short biographies of artists, composers, impresarios, instrument builders, intellectuals, scientists, and studio technicians. These persons collaborated, gathered financial support, and found new approaches to thinking about and creating sound. To understand the broader historical and cultural significance of the studio, Iverson moves away from examining "great men and great works" (p. 2). In so doing, she follows an emerging tendency that attempts to recalibrate certain stereotyped views about electronic music as explored in a recent conference held in London, "Alternative Histories of Electronic Music" (2016), (6) and in Andrey Smirnov's study of technological experiments in the early Soviet Union (little known outside of Russia). (7)

Electronic Inspirations takes a bold stance in breaking the "rhetoric of autonomy" that surrounded the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A679119010