Exotica: Fabricated Soundscapes in a Real World: Fabricated Soundscapes in the Real World
Following his highly regarded exploration of ambient music, < I> Ocean of Sound, David Toop has produced another exhilarating cultural investigation in Exotica, a guide to the diversity of Western musical responses to the foreign, the alien, the other. Moving from the easy-listening recordings of Les Baxter and Martin Denny, which overlaid exotic instrumentation onto familiar "semi-jazz or Latin beats", to the avant-garde music of Harry Partch and Sun Ra, Toop shows how the worlds of lowbrow and highbrow culture equally betrayed a complex fascination with the exotic, and often erotic, allure of non-Western music. But this is no straight history, for the book draws on literature, anthropology, cultural history, and travelogue to produce a shifting, suggestive network of connections and correspondences, imbricating musical appropriations and colonial attitudes. However, Toop also shows how permeable cultural boundaries can be: his account of the rapid spread of Hawaiian slide guitar techniques into Blues and Bollywood soundtracks (and taken up by artists in Japan, Burma and Zaire) humorously demonstrates that any simple notion of cultural "authenticity" is suspect, as does the fact that the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu was overwhelmed by hearing, as a young man in Paris, Josephine Baker's "chinoiserie" recording " Ma Tonkinoise".
The book is as stylistically diverse as its subject matter, moving from the raw and painful autobiography of the introduction, through the science-fiction casbah environments of the fictional opening chapters, and into the deftly collaged and juxtaposed accounts of the music (where else would one find chapters on Ornette Coleman, Burt Bacharach and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan next to each other? ). With < I> Exotica, Toop's intelligence, wit, and openness to diversity supplies us with an admirably erratic compass with which to navigate his redrawn, culturally porous topography. -< I> Burhan Tufail