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Obscure Sounds & Sonic Texts: An ISC Reading Guide

Written By: 
ISC Team
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If you hung out at In Sheep’s Clothing during daylight hours, before we lit the candles and weren’t primarily pouring whiskey, you may have noticed another collection. Yes, that wall of record spines defined our bar, but we made sure the room was filled with books, too. We put them on tables for listeners to peruse while absorbing the records: vintage Klipsch catalogues, rare Japanese disc guides, classics such as John Cage’s 1961 treatise on listening, Silence, were placed with the hope of sharing music and ideas through the written word. Reading these books has helped us deepen our relationship with music, and tipped us to countless records and artists who might have otherwise gone under the radar.

As much as we miss opening the doors to share music on our incredible listening system, we really miss providing a hub to share, talk and learn about it too. Here’s a list of some favorites books from our library.

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Obscure Sound – Chee Shimizu

A holy grail guide, Obscure Sound is a comprehensive discography of some of the best rare records from around the world. Although all the larger texts and reviews are in Japanese, the titles and new musical categories (like “Floating,” “Tropical” and “Cosmic”) are in English and make it easy to navigate through this beautifully visual guide of hidden gems. Originally compiled and published in 2013 by the revered digger Chee Shimizu, the man behind Organic Music record store in Tokyo, a revised edition has just been printed and we recommend you snag one before they’re all gone!

Love Saves the Day – Tim Lawrence

Opening with David Mancuso’s seminal “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party, Tim Lawrence tells the definitive story of American dance music culture in the 1970s – from its subterranean New York roots in NoHo and Hell’s Kitchen to its gaudy blossoming in midtown Manhattan to its wildfire transmission through America’s suburbs and urban hotspots such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark and Miami. A deep dive into the rise and fall of disco and nightclub culture with an emphasis on the music and the DJ’s that fueled it.

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Rob Young

A massive, encyclopedic and often mesmerizing history of England’s native folk music in the early 20th century. Music journalist Rob Young (who recently released the amazing Can biography All Gates Open) takes readers through British folk music and its legacy, with a focus on the folk-rock pioneers of the 1960’s. Young uses Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and others to connect musical dots to Britain’s thrilling history of art and society, its long lasting traditions and wild, idiosyncratic creativity.

Walearic Disc Guide – Shotaro Matsumoto

From the famed store manager of Coconut Disc record shop comes this excellent leftfield music guide of “Walearic” records. “Wa” translates as “Japanese” in the Japanese language and “learic” is drawn from the Ibiza-influenced blanket genre term “Balearic.” Matsumoto enlists legendary Japanese collectors such as AZ, Chee Shimizu, Flatic (Cos/Mes), Willie and others to breakdown the best of the best that is Walearic, which borrows from Easy Listening, Mood Music, New Age, Ambient, Pops, Rock, Disco, New Wave — and even Movie & Anime OST records.

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The Rest Is Noise – Alex Ross

The most widely known book on this list, The Rest is Noise was written by the highly acclaimed New Yorker critic Alex Ross, garnered earned awards and acclaim and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. And with good reason. It’s an incredibly detailed account of the bewildering evolution of 20th century classical music. From Vienna before World War I to Paris in the 1920’s, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, readers follow the rise and fall of mass politics and culture as Ross documents their relationships with classical music. He explores the nonconformist personalities behind classical music’s ascent into the avant-garde and the struggles of those pioneers who resisted the cult of the classical past and sought to (and succeeded) make the purest beauty and the purest noise, despite the resistances of conservative audiences.

Japrocksampler: How the post-war Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘n’ Roll – Julian Cope

This insightful study from visionary rock musician and the Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope explores what really happened when Western music met Eastern shores. Includes some amazing write-ups on influential groups like Apryl Fool, Flower Travellin’ Band, Les Rallizes Denudes and others. Also check Cope’s equally great Krautrocksampler for all your krautrock needs.

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More Brilliant than the Sun – Kodwo Eshun

In baisc terms, More Brilliant than the Sun is a study of black music history, its visions and visionaries and the possibilities of future music, from jazz to jungle, Sun Ra to 4hero. Radical imprint Verso Books is set to republish this mega-rare experimental take on musicology. The author offers a clear statement of intent when he writes, “By exploring the music of such musical luminaries as Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, Lee Perry, Dr Octagon, Parliament and Underground Resistance, theorist and artist Kodwo Eshun mobilizes their concepts in order to open the possibilities of sonic fiction: the hitherto unexplored intersections between science fiction and organised sound. Situated between electronic music history, media theory, science fiction and Afrodiasporic studies, More Brilliant than the Sun is one of the key works to stake a claim for the generative possibilities of Afrofuturism. The publishing date, however, has continually been pushed for years now, but there are PDFs of this foundational text out there.

Ocean of Sound: Ambient sound and radical listening in the age of communication – David Toop

David Toop’s extraordinary work of sonic history travels from the rainforests of the Amazonas to the megalopolis of Tokyo via the work of artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Sun Ra, Erik Satie, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk and Brian Wilson. An informative and invaluable look at ambient sound, and its deeply rooted history and influence.

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The Acid Archives – Patrick Lundborg

Patrick Lundborg’s Acid Archives is the ultimate guide to underground sounds and extremely rare North American private press records from 1965-1982. The book features release details and in-depth reviews for more than 5,000 obscure LPs from the USA and Canada, including reissue data and value ratings. A great reference work for all those interested in psychedelic and “outsider” musics.


We encourage our readers to support local independent shops and book sellers. If you plan on buying online, consider purchasing from the many great shops nationwide that fulfill online orders. Here’s one of our favorites: www.semicolonchi.com

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