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Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,095 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Sun Ra, Brian Eno, Lee Perry, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Brian Wilson are interviewed in this extraordinary work of sonic history. It travels from the rainforests of Amazonas to virtual Las Vegas; from David Lynch's dream house high in the Hollywood Hills to the megalopolis of Tokyo.

Ocean of Sound begins in 1889 at the Paris exposition when
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Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 22nd 2001 by Serpent's Tail (first published 1995)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  1,095 ratings  ·  47 reviews


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Chris
Mar 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sound
I listen to a lot of boring music. Really boring. Astonishingly boring. This book helped me understand why.



'Ocean of Sound' is a loose meditation on accidental and intentional ambient sound. It's meandering and inconclusive. It privileges tone over facts. I love it.



Debussy hears a Balinese gamelan orchestra in Paris in 1931. Sun Ra composes and performs the history of the future in the late 1950s. Japanese soundscape gardens designed around the noises particular insects make. Richard D. James
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Simon
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this pretty frustrating. I don't mind books which are wide-ranging and unafraid to explore the fringes of their subject matter, but this was pretty much *all* fringe, with less than half of it conforming to my expectations of what a book about ambient music should be like. Maybe that's my fault (or the fault of the back cover blurb writer), but I can't really see the relevance of the extended chapter describing in tedious detail the author's journey into the amazon rainforest. So he made ...more
Individualfrog
Even now, 15 years on, this is a book that makes me feel pleasantly like I'm living in the future. It's sort of like a William Gibson novel, a constant stream of semi-bewildering cross-cultural syncretic references, in a fascinating poetic style. Appropriately enough, it's a great book for browsing around in, which is what I did with it for all these years until just recently I decided to read it all the way through at last.

I once told a friend that it was a book about ambient music, and saw
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Djll
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I mean it, literally, when I say I cannot imagine music writing that is better than what's in these pages. Something very close to the pleasure of discovering new musics is experienced, reading his prose. The Toop reader comes away informed, and the mind buzzing for more.

As with his Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom, David Toop adopts a subtly immersive approach related to the main theme, doing his best in Ocean of Sound to put his thoughts into an ideascape
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Sean
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: available, music, art
Less a survey of ambient music at the turn of the millennium than a drifting across its synchronic plane, through regions of anthropology, travelogue, surrealism, philosophy, poetry, visual art, popular culture, reverie it is to sound as Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space is to place. Dense with media references, this is best read at a daydream's pace, with a highlighter (or .txt document, in my case) at hand.

(To demonstrate the volume of references: I consider myself well-versed in the
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Miles
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Probably the best book about music I've read yet.

More a collection of essays, journal entries and quips, coherently anthologized.

Not just about "Ambient" music. Links disparate movements from music concrete to free jazz to new age to hip hop and techno.
Anders
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ocean of Sound was written by David Toop, a British music-thinker, who has a history within the British free improvised scene of the 70's. Published in 1995, very current. My impression is he free-associated and free-wheeled through a whole roster of ideas and musicians, possible and impossible realms of music as a phenomenon, and linked them to general cultural trends of previous and tangibly close eras. I find his writing on point using a personal sphere of examples and drawn connections. He ...more
flannery
Really wonderful survey of "ambient," expanded to include jimi hendrix, rahsaan roland kirk, kate bush, etc. More to do with world-building than rock and roll. Hippie but not hokey. "There is talk of the object of the future as something evanescent, light, psychic; of immaterial objects akin to images or holograms." // "Transient non-articulated feelings... 'The Poetics of Space,' whether the ambience of a room, the ribbon of road, or the boundless envelopment of oceanic space." (!!) LOVELY, ...more
Elized
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reverberating reflections on the development of ambient music and its linkages to the main musical currents (pun intended) of the last Century or so. The book reads (at times) like a historical memoir of Toop's own life as it is more than peppered with his experiences and relationships to soundscapes and eminent musicians. I felt like it lost its way a bit in the middle, hence not giving the full five stars. I also felt personally resentful about Toop's references to people who have clearly ...more
Jethro Wall
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I admire David's effort to create an expansive, personal narrative of the development of ambient music from Debussy to Ryuichi Sakamoto. Without appealing to any sense of objective authority, Toop is able to draw connections between chill-out spaces, rave culture, Sun Ra, Kate Bush, Aphex Twin, Derek Bailey, and Derrick May. I did find the amount of name-dropping a bit overwhelming, but I enjoyed checking out some of their music. If you don't already have a working knowledge of musical ...more
Chris Harris
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This isn't just a potted history of ambient music, although it covers the subject comprehensively. It's a meditation on why people make music, what music is, and what it does to us, delivered during a journey that takes us from the reverberant Fort Worden Cistern in Port Townsend to the upper reaches of the Amazonas. It's a journey in the company of a bewildering cast of characteers that includes Yanomami shamans, Brian Eno, La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros, and Richard "Aphex Twin" James. The ...more
Cjg1988
Mar 30, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
To a degree, the author delivers what is promised by the title of this book: David Toop clearly is a radical and avid listener of all sorts of music, broadly classified as ambient or otherwise. Toop refers to a dazzling array of musical genres and artists which tempts you to explore further. While the book offers some interesting nuggets, it remains far too ambient, impressionistic and anecdotal, at the cost of not making or even having a point. The one point that does come across strongly ...more
Declan Cochran
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
like gaston bachelard's 'the poetics of space', but for recorded sound. dense and yet warm, toop threatens to jump off the deep end into obscure inscrutability, but he's a generous sage of an author. far too many insights and knowledge pearls for one sitting, this book seems to invite dog-eared pages as a way to mark something curious that you might want to research later; this I gladly obliged him.
Bill Fisher
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Best book of music criticism Ive ever read. I have returned to this book over and over for inspiration when I am looking for a slightly different direction in my listening. If you like music that is more about rhythms and textures designed to entrance and transport the listener, this book is your bible. ...more
Alex Delogu
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on music I have read. The fact that the book has a discography is laudable. If the genre of ambient music wrote a diary it would read like this. An ethnographic patchwork of environmental sound.
Vel
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
all over the place // stellar writing // ultimately scratching the surface
Eric
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best books about music I've ever read. The story about Aphex Twin using a set of food blenders and sand paper at a DJ set was worth the price alone.
Nick Carnac
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
,,,,,,subversive and accurate account of the mindful music scene,,,,,
D.A.Calf
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent assemblage of connections, references and concepts. If only there was a little less David Toop wrapped up up in it all.
Andrew
May 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, music, discography
"The sound object, represented most dramatically by the romantic symphonies of the nineteenth century, has been fractured and remade into a shifting, open lattice on which new ideas can hang, or through which they can pass and interweave. This is one metaphor. Landscape is another - a conjured place through which the music moves and in which the listener can wander."

Toop presents his subject in a similarly non-linear fashion. Some parts are more successful than others; not all meandering is of
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Halliday
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Halliday by: Steven
"The magician is assisted by a boy, to whom (in the dark) he speaks at a distance through a tube formed of the windpipes of cranes, storks, or swans ... A skull is made from the omentum of an ox, Etruscan wax, and gypsum and is connected with the windpipe of a crane through which an assistant speaks. Then burning coals and incense are put around it, and the skull vanishes (by the wax melting)."
There is enough raw musicological data in this little book to last a lifetime. Fuck what yo mama say --
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Nick Johnston
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Pretty amazing voyage into the murky realms of recorded sound. Ocean of Sound is a good title: the connections Toop makes between disparate musics and musicians does give the book an oceanic feel that defies traditional analysis, much like most of the music he touches on. A book like this leaves you wanting more, but that's probably the whole idea... I feel like when I reread it, it will be a different book.
Adam Patterson
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
I flew through this one, and really appreciate this kind of journalism/journaling. Lots of jumping around and connecting seemingly disparate pieces of 20th century music into, well, like a kind of a large body of salt-water, except with, like, sound instead of starfish.

He's a bit of an-extra-corraly-colored writer at times, with the Poetry knob turned up high to a point that will turn some more bare-bones favoring readers straight off, but I can hang with that sorta language just fine.
Jindřich Mynarz
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
- "You have to accept what's there. To hear nothing, you have to be dead."

This book is stuck halfway between art and research report, which is a difficult position be in. The author mixes mood-evoking snippets with random factoids into fragmentary accounts of ambient music history. The sampled mixture is enjoyable at times but ends up together rather as a white noise texture than a consistent whole.
Bret
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
If you are interested in the history of artists/performers who push the boundaries of music/performance/sound-based art, this is the author to read. I usually have to have a notebook close by so that I can write down music that I need to check out or revisit. I created a lot of sound-based sculptures while I was in school, so this was right up my alley.
Will
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
this is a really interesting and in-depth study of ambient music. the only thing that keeps me from giving 5 stars is the writing approach, which is a little too stylized for me, but it kind of works well with the kind of music that it's talking about. pretty crucial for talking about ambient music in all forms.
Tosh
Nov 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
David Toop is one of the better 'music' writers out there right now. He's also a composer, but alas this is a creative 'study' on ambiant music of all sorts. I can't imagine having a music library (books) and not having this and Toop's other book "Exotica" part of the collection. Essential reading and fascinating history.
Ray Dunsmore
A strange and interesting journey through the efforts of musicians to create landscapes with sound; to describe only with their instruments a strange mental landscape. The prose gets very interesting in parts, and the music described within (handily compiled in a "discography" appendix) is stunning, second to none.
Ryan Dohm
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Been many years since I've read this, but I forgot how wonderful Toop's prose is. So Impressionistic yet futuristic and otherworldly. Reminiscent of William Gibson's not-quite-present/near-future style.
Jonathan
Oct 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
I learned I need to re-read it, with an eye for taking notes. Whilst I've heard of, if not heard, a fair number of the musicians described within it, there are hops and allusions to others and other aural delights among the excellent dalliances with Eno and his ilk which invite pursuit.
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David Toop (born 5 May 1949) is an English musician, author, and professor and chair of audio culture and improvisation at the London College of Communication. He is a regular contributor to British music magazine The Wire and the British magazine The Face. He was a member of the Flying Lizards

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