By Jesse Locke
Ian Brennan walks the walk to back up the talk. In his work a a producer, he has traveled to far-flung locals to capture the raw sounds of musicians such as the Zomba Prison Project, Tanzania Albinism Collective, and Khmer Rouge Survivors.
Alongside these dogged efforts in documentation, about as far as you can get from the corporate music industry, he is the author of seven books, including How Music Dies (Or Lives): Field Recording And The Battle For Democracy In The Arts and Silenced by Sound: The Music Meritocracy Myth. His latest impassioned manifesto argues how mass production and commercialization have muddied the waters of unfiltered creativity.
Brennan goes on the defensive in his first sentence, explains that âthe brevity of this book is not for want of material but is highly intentionalâ. Clearly, he cares about the communal practice of music, pushing back against vampiric venture capitlalists who would rather force related comfort food on an uncritical public than serve them something fresh. On the same page, he succinctly summaries the cultural gatekeepers this book opposes: âDriven by economics rather an culture, these financial czars want nothing more than for our future to look much like our past.â
He didnât need to worry about Muse Sickâs length, as I found myself nodding heavily at almost every page. In his brief introduction, cult film maker John Waters says reading this book will leave you âready to open your ears to new music in a whole new wayâ. The outspoken Baltimorean adds that âIanâs wrong sometimes too, but that makes reading this manifesto more fun because you want to argue, challenge, punch him in his opinionated noseâ.
Those opinions come fast and furious in the opening section, complete with Brennanâs 59 notes. His subjects of criticism include notation, recording stages, Spotify, Auto-Tune and the ways in which press release narratives overwhelm art itself. The micro-chapters vary from a few short sentences to longer passages such as his screed against the loss of âsonic diversityâ.
Compared to streaming servicesâ automatic practice of ânormalizingâ the volume of all audio files, âgenerating conformity via algorithmsâ, he argues that the dynamic range of an album like Dark Side Of The Moon is what kept it in the chart for 957 weeks. Thankfully, Brennan champions many other sales beyond Western dad rock. As the polar opposite of a poptimist, he makes a salient point that accepting mediocre art as ânot so badâ is the same impulse that keeps people in abusive relationships.
By way of corrective, he provides tips for a âMass Media Detoxâ that include listening to music that challenges you, holding âsuccessful artists to a higher level of scrutinyâ, and refusing âto celebrate music as a contrarian or ironic actâ. This is followed by the bookâs most moving section, a series of travelogues describing his experiences recording the Good Ones in Rwanda, the War Women of Kosovo, and a group with âVarying cognitive and ambulatory abilitiesâ.
Detailing how he puts the steps of his manifesto into practice, with beautiful photos by Marilena Umuhoza Delli, these recollections depict stories of strangers bonding over shared experiences. Brennan sums it up best when he writes that âthe aim is not cross-cultural collaboration, but transcendence- to achieve genuine human-to-human connectionâ.
Ian Brennan is a Grammy-winning music producer who has produced three other Grammy-nominated albums. He is the author of four books and has worked with the likes of filmmaker John Waters, Merle Haggard, and Green Day, among others. His work with international artists such as the Zomba Prison Project, Tanzania Albinism Collective, and Khmer Rouge Survivors, has been featured on the front page of the New York Times and on an Emmy-winning 60 Minutes segment with Anderson Cooper reporting. Since 1993 he has taught violence prevention and conflict resolution around the world for such prestigious organizations as the Smithsonian, New Yorkâs New School, Berklee College of Music, the University of London, the University of CaliforniaâBerkeley, and the National Accademia of Science (Rome).