Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor's Music
BY YOU NAKAI | 768 Pages | 300+ illustrations | OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2021 | $74
You Nakai fabricates music(ians), dance(rs), haunted musical houses, nursery rhymes, and other forms of performance as a member of No Collective and publishes experimental children's books and other literary oddities as a member of Already Not Yet.
He is currently affiliated with the University of Tokyo where he teaches "Other Musics," "Archi-Choreographies," and "The Archaeology of Influence," as well as with Kyoto City University of Arts, where he teaches “Fake Western Music History” and “Experimental Pet Sounds.”
David Tudor is remembered today in two guises: as an extraordinary pianist of post-war avant-garde music who worked closely with composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and as a founding figure of live-electronic music. His early realization of indeterminate graphic scores and his later performances using homemade modular instruments both inspired a whole generation of musicians. But his notorious reticence, his esoteric approaches, and the diversity of his creative output—which began with the organ and ended with visual art—have kept Tudor a puzzle, strangely befitting for a figure who was known for his deep love of puzzles.
Reminded by the Instruments sets out to solve the puzzle of David Tudor by applying Tudor’s own methods for approaching the materials of others to the vast archive of materials that he himself left behind. You Nakai deftly coordinates instruments, electronic circuits, sketches, diagrams, recordings, letters, receipts, customs declaration forms, and testimonies like modular pieces of a giant puzzle to reveal the long-hidden nature of Tudor’s creative process. Rejecting the established narrative of Tudor as a performer-turned-composer, this book presents a lively portrait of an artist whose activity always merged both of these roles. In simulating Tudor’s distinct focus on what he called “the specific principles which exist inside each material,” Nakai undermines discourses on sound and illuminates our understanding of the instruments behind the sounds in post-war experimental music.
"You Nakai's book is a remarkable achievement that illuminates the breadth and depth of David Tudor's life and work as a composer-performer. Based on extensive analytical research and interviews with Tudor's surviving creative associates, it charts his evolution from organist and virtuoso pianist to his innovative live-electronic music, ending with his final explorations of sound and space. Engagingly written and eminently readable, this extraordinary study offers fresh insights into Tudor's reclusive personal life and elusive creative complexities."
- Gordon Mumma, composer, Professor Emeritus, University of California
"A groundbreaking book that not only provides unique insight into the work of one of America’s most influential if enigmatic electronic pioneers, but shifts the very paradigm of musical analysis in the aftermath of the transistor."
- Nicolas Collins, Professor, Department of Sound, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Author, Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge)
"The narrative is pieced together from painstaking archival research, interviews with Tudor’s associates, and through Nakai’s own music making experiments. By exploring practical ways of discovering and knowing alongside his archival and analytical research, the author created for himself the “hunting and testing grounds” for the ideas he elaborates and interrogates in the book. Nakai’s style is clear, elegant and refreshingly free of academic jargon and intellectual posturing. Anyone can pick this book up and become engrossed, from the level of the casual and curious all the way to postgraduate researchers and musicologists."
- Leah Kardos, The Wire
"On page 85 at the moment. At this point, words are inadequate to express my admiration for You Nakai’s achievement with this book, and the depth of its effect on my understanding of not just its subject (Tudor) but the entire world of postwar avant-gardeism. […] About every 15 pages I have to put the book down and try to assimilate the revelations that “Reminded…” dishes out, and then get out other books on Cage and Stockhausen, and recordings, and dig the new perspectives Nakai’s research and insight have bestowed upon them. And this is still chapter one I’m talking about!"
- Djll, goodreads
"I had the distinct privilege of attending the performances of David Tudor's seminal work, Bandoneon ! at 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, and later worked with him on numerous E.A.T. projects. Especially memorable is a glorious two-week stay on a Swedish island with David in the early 1970s, where we were exploring its sound and environmental properties with the goal of his mounting a concert there. The concert was never performed, but our friendship continued for many years.
Nakai’s work illuminates the mystery between the inputs Tudor used to activate his electronic systems, the actions he took during his performances and the output of the sounds the audience hears. Reminded by the Instruments, one can say with confidence, is the definitive book on Tudor’s compositions and compositional practices and is invaluable for scholars, musicians and composers who want to understand Tudor’s processes and, in the future, perform them.
- Julie Martin, Director, Experiments in Art and Technology
You Nakai, 2020-21, All rights reserved