Tapping the Source

Hardback Edition

James Wood

First Edition, 2022
© 2022
ISBN: 978-0-9931761-9-7


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In Tapping the Source, the author brings different times and diverse musical cultures right into the heart of contemporary music making. This extraordinary book brings to life a concept which the German philosopher Helmuth Plessner referred to as Fern-Nähe: the faraway comes closer and merges into today’s understanding of the superdiversity of music as theory and practice. Perusing the histories and cultures of the systematisations of rhythm, temperament and modes, and tapping the very earliest known sources from ancient Greece and early India, Wood unfolds the sheer infinity of present possibilities. In so doing, he has produced a book which bears resemblance to few theoretical works in music history and theory, although it could without effort be compared to the rigorous and explorative attempts of Harry Partch in the twentieth century, or Gioseffo Zarlino in the sixteenth century. These are as much treatises as they are narratives to be taken up and continued not only by composers, but by readers from many fields.

This astonishing book gives us a thorough and perfectly lucid exposition of ancient music theories, especially Greek and Indian. That, however, is only the beginning. Tapping the source, James Wood finds it has by no means run dry. Matters of tuning and scale, of rhythmic order and definition, may be as crucial to music today as they were millennia ago. By proceeding from these basic questions, Wood sketches a music history in which Aristoxenus and Śārngadeva are far more imposing figures than J. S. Bach, post-Renaissance European civilisation loses its privilege, the works of recent and current composers (Messiaen, Partch, Xenakis, Ligeti, La Monte Young, the author himself) are seen in a new light shining from a distant past, and the future is full of possibility.

– Paul Griffiths

In a rarely beautiful combination of lifelong experience, highly reflective knowledge and conceptual courage, the admirably persistent author succeeds in creating a reference work that, on the one hand, will enrich theoretical discussions as a comprehensive guide and, on the other, may stimulate and provoke the artistic imagination of composers in a profound way. In Wood’s multi-perspective approach, ancient harmonic and rhythmic systems, otherwise studied in the isolated fields of musicology and composition, take on an unparalleled actuality and colorfulness. His perfectly focused analyses of 20th century compositions vividly introduce us to the aesthetic potential of ancient techniques. This book is a gift that accompanies one for a lifetime, a truly inexhaustible source that I look forward to tapping again and again.

– Hanspeter Kyburz

For at least the last 300 years, Western music has been mostly based on the major and minor modes, tuned in equal temperament, that we call tonality. And yet, these modes represent just two instances amongst a vast range of modal possibilities meticulously researched and clearly presented by James Wood in this remarkable book. Tapping the Source is essential reading for any composer who wants to investigate the ancient sources of our modes, tunings and rhythms, and their effect on the marches and counter marches in music composition, with the intention of embarking on a new creative direction at a time when art music appears to be facing its most challenging crisis. A definitive book on the subject.

– Alejandro Viñao

760pp, 182mm x 257mm, hardback edition, mono