Ricocheting as a 1960s teenager between blues guitarist, art school dropout, Super 8 film loops and psychedelic light shows, David Toop has been developing a practice that crosses boundaries of sound, listening, music and materials since 1970. This practice encompasses improvised music performance (using hybrid assemblages of electric guitars, aerophones, bone conduction, lo-fi archival recordings, paper, sound masking, water, autonomous and vibrant objects), writing, electronic sound, field recording, exhibition curating, sound art installations and opera (Star-shaped Biscuit, performed in 2012). It includes eight acclaimed books, including Rap Attack (1984), Ocean of Sound (1995), Sinister Resonance (2010), Into the Maelstrom (2016, a Guardian music book of the year, shortlisted for the Penderyn Music Book Prize), Flutter Echo (2019) and Inflamed Invisible (2019).
Briefly a member of David Cunningham’s pop project The Flying Lizards (his guitar can be heard sampled on “Water” by The Roots), he has released fifteen solo albums, from New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments on Brian Eno’s Obscure label (1975) and Sound Body on David Sylvian’s Samadhisound label (2006) to Entities Inertias Faint Beings (2016) and Apparition Paintings (2020) on Lawrence English’s ROOM40 label. His 1978 Amazonas recordings of Yanomami shamanism and ritual - released on Sub Rosa as Lost Shadows (2016) - were called by The Wire a “tsunami of weirdness” while Entities Inertias Faint Beings was described in Pitchfork as “an album about using sound to find one’s own bearings . . . again and again, understated wisps of melody, harmony, and rhythm surface briefly and disappear just as quickly, sending out ripples that supercharge every corner of this lovely, engrossing album.”
In the early 1970s he performed with sound poet Bob Cobbing, butoh dancer Mitsutaka Ishii and drummer Paul Burwell, along with key figures in improvisation, including Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Georgie Born, Hugh Davies, John Stevens, Lol Coxhill, Frank Perry and John Zorn. In recent years he has returned to collaborative performance, working with many artists and musicians including Rie Nakajima, Akio Suzuki, Max Eastley, Tania Caroline Chen, John Butcher, Ken Ikeda, Elaine Mitchener, Henry Grimes, Sharon Gal, Camille Norment, Sidsel Endresen, Alasdair Roberts, Thurston Moore, Jennifer Allum, Miya Masaoka, Extended Organ (with Paul McCarthy and Tom Recchion), Ryuichi Sakamoto and a revived Alterations, the iconoclastic improvising quartet with Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack and Terry Day first formed in 1977. He has also made many collaborative records, including Buried Dreams and Doll Creature with Max Eastley, Breath Taking with Akio Suzuki, Skin Tones with Ken Ikeda, Garden of Shadows and Light with Ryuichi Sakamoto and co-productions (with Steve Beresford) for Frank Chickens, the 49 Americans and Ivor Cutler.
Major sound art exhibitions he has curated include Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery, London (2000) and Playing John Cage at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (2005-6). In 2008, a DVD of the Belgian film – I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Portrait of David Toop Through His Records Collection – was released by Sub Rosa, and in 2017 his autobiography – Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound – was published by Du Books in Japan. His most recent records are Dirty Songs Play Dirty Songs (Audika, 2017), Suttle Sculpture (Paul Burwell and David Toop live, 1977, Sub Rosa, 2018), John Cage: Electronic Music for Piano with Tania Chen, Thurston Moore and Jon Leidecker (Omnivore, 2018), Apparition Paintings (ROOM40, 2020), Field Recordings and Fox Spirits (ROOM40, 2020), Until the Night Melts Away (with Sharon Gal and John Butcher, Shrike, 2021) and Garden of Shadows and Light (with Ryuichi Sakamoto, 33-33, 2021).
He is Professor Emeritus at London College of Communication.
I am looking forward to reading the book when it is finished and to see the progress on the blog. I’m curious about the Poe reference though.
Poe leads to Lennie Tristano, Anthoney – all will be revealed 🙂
Good luck with the completion of your project Mr Toop. A much needed work.
Thank you Pazel – support much appreciated.
According to John Szwed’s biography, Sun Ra once remarked to his musician’s at an Arkestra rehearsal something along the lines of “Y’all don’t know, but Poe know.” I am looking forward to your book.
Interesting. I’d forgotten that so thank you for the reminder.
Any Alterations scribblings planned?
Well Alterations will have to be part of it because it’s a group that tried to confront the received ideas of freedom that had evolved by the mid-70s.
Plus there’s the issue of fitting myself and the groups/musicians with whom I’ve been involved into the discourse without it becoming a solipsistic monologue – that’s something I’ve been working on through group contributions, collective perceptions of an improvisation. The discussions in the LCC improv sessions really helped to develop that way of thinking.
Hope Gong will be featured- so influential yet so overlooked.
Good luck, David, looking forward to reading it. Are you familiar with Arthur Koestler’s concepts of Holarchy and Holons? I always thought these could be useful for the discussion of improvisation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holarchy
Thanks Ohad. Holarchy and Holons, no, but now I’m intrigued. There’s a slight danger with improvisation that almost any field of theory can be applied to somehow justify it or even explain it so let’s say I’m cautious, but thank you for the link.
Ahh, from The Ghost In the Machine. I read that in my 20s but clearly don’t remember it very well 🙂
Love your posts! How do I link your wordpress to my posterous?
Thanks Elaine 🙂 I’m not sure how to link your blog to mine – some research is needed!
This sounds great…what is the planned release date may I ask?
looking forward to this one very much, David.