After several books in which he perceptively explored the place and meaning of sound in our lives — including Oceans of Sound, Exotica, Haunted Weather, Sinister Resonance and Into the Maelstrom — now David Toop tells us how he came by his deep love and remarkable understanding of music. Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound, first published two years ago in Japan, where he has a devoted following, is now available in an English edition, and will provide valuable reading for anyone interested in the breadth of Toop’s interests.
That certainly includes me. If Toop is interested in something, the chances are that I will be, too. As signposts to the journey he describes, he appends a list of stuff he liked at the time. The period 1967-70, for instance, when he was in his late teens, includes Junior Wells’s Hoodoo Man Blues, Nico’s The Marble Index, the SME’s Karyobin, and Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Ten years later he was listening to Little Beaver’s “Party Down”, Cachao y su Descarga, Dr Alimentado’s “Ride on Brother”, Walt Dickerson’s Peace and Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame”. And so on. Our kind of person, I think.
His book is the story of how a boy from London’s northern suburbs found the music that gave volume, depth and direction to his life. Because his story parallels the experience of so many, and because Toop writes equally well about epiphanies and tragedies, it invites and secures the reader’s empathy.
As a journalist, Toop wrote for many publications (The Face, The Wire and others) and was heavily involved in two magazines, Musics and Collusion, that — among other things — chronicled the activities in the 1970s and early ’80s of the “second generation” of British free improvisers, of whom he was a prominent member, along with his frequent collaborators Steve Beresford, Paul Burwell, Max Eastley, Peter Cusack and others.
Their work is featured in Further Perspectives and Distortions, an excellent three-CD box subtitled “An Encyclopedia of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music 1976-1984”. Its time-frame means that it includes the wilder work of people associated with jazz-rooted free improvisation, contemporary classical, punk rock and post-punk, from AMM through Gavin Bryars and Alternative TV to This Heat, the Pop Group and Henry Cow. Other mavericks include the Roberts Wyatt and Fripp, Bob Cobbing, Ron Geesin, David Cunningham and Fred Frith.
The way I’ve listened to it is mostly to let each disc run — the tracks are sequenced alphabetically, by artist — and not to bother with checking the origin of each item. Sometimes I couldn’t help myself from wanting to know that a brilliant drum solo was from a Soft Machine track (John Marshall, presumably), or that an irresistible electro-groove was This Hear’s “24 Track Loop”. I enjoyed the 4min 28sec of silence halfway through the second disc, titled “(Extract from) The Compassion and Humanity of Margaret Thatcher” and credited to No Artist.
Those highlights aside (and there are, of course, others), the way I’ve chosen to listen means that the rustlings and bangings and jagged guitars and squeals and howls and pneumatic drilling and rantings and mutterings blend into each other like a mosaic-portrait of an edgy, difficult and often stimulating time, when almost everything was political. Maybe we’re heading that way again.
* The photograph of David Toop is by Fabio Lugaro, and is on the cover of Flutter Echo, which is published by Ecstatic Peace Library. The box set Further Perspectives and Distortions is on the Cherry Red label.