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Henry Cow


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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction. Feral Experimentalism 1
1. You Can't Play This Music at Cambridge | 1968-73 29
2. Faust and the Virgins | 1973 76
3. Contentment Is Hopeless, Unrest Is Progress | 1974 119
4. Death to the Individual: Slapp Happy | 1974-75 157
5. Europa | 1975-76 199
6. The Roads Leading to Rome | 1976-77 242
7. No Joy Anymore | London 1977 293
8. Henry Cow Always Had to Be Henry Cow | 1978 345
Afterword. The Vernacular Avant-Garde 387
Notes 409
Bibliography 455
Index 479

About the Author

Benjamin Piekut is Associate Professor of Music at Cornell University, author of Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits, and editor of Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies.


"What was it all about, to me? Thinking. Henry Cow really thought about the why, the what, the appropriate methods of making music. Their riveting music was the sound of thinking out loud: Henry Cow seemed to be asking, 'So, what is the significance of these sounds in our heads?' And they were always witty: just look at the name of the band and the unwearable sock representing 'the Henry Cow legend.' I am very glad this book exists. Henry Cow's history-in all its inevitable turbulence-tells an inspiring story." -- Robert Wyatt
"In this landmark monograph, Benjamin Piekut offers a stunning new theoretical framework for writing the history of 'adventurous' music in the late twentieth century, realizing that theory in practice by replicating in his graceful prose the improvised relation to the world he seeks to illuminate. Through his gripping account of the band Henry Cow, he reconstructs the cultural space of what he calls the 'vernacular avant-garde,' where musicians learn from records rather than in institutions, live uncertainty, cross genres, improvise responses to novel situations, work with and against record companies, and embrace avant-gardism without negation. It is rare to finish a monumental monograph with a gasp. A must-read intervention and instant classic!" -- Tamara Levitz, Professor of Musicology and Comparative Literature, University of California Los Angeles
"Henry Cow: The World Is A Problem provides an exhaustive account of an incomparable group pushing music to its limits, on a linear mission to change civilization and its culture forever." * Jazzwise *
"A fascinating and pacey read, stitched together painstakingly from over 90 original interviews and both public and private texts including Hodgkinson's extensive diaries. The combination of narrative background, musical analysis and critical insight should open the door for a new generation of listeners." -- Phil England * The Wire *
"Exhaustive and illuminating." -- Kurt Gottschalk * New York City Jazz Record *
"Mixing a highly readable musicological analysis with fascinating details about the band's often-turbulent existence, Piekut's book is a fitting tribute to Henry Cow's importance and legacy in a notable but marginalised movement of 20th century music." -- Sid Smith * Prog Magazine *
"This biography is many things but its main strength is as a chronicle of the band's extraordinary history which spanned barely a decade, meticulously researched from a vast array of sources, not just from the music papers of the times but via interviews with the musicians, plus access to private musicians' notes, diaries and minutes from the band's many documented meetings. . . . A remarkable project: compelling, unique and requiring considerable powers of concentration and assiduousness-somewhat like the band themselves." -- Phil Howitt * Facelift *
"It's hard to think of another group that did as much as Henry Cow to distance themselves from the usual Dionysian image and activities of your typical rock band. . . . All things considered, it doesn't sound like it was much fun at all. But this book is." -- Daniel Spicer * Jazzwise *
"Why would this book appeal to anyone had never heard of Henry Cow? Well, I think that anyone that is interested in the development of British underground or counter-cultural music through the late sixties and seventies will find this book fascinating. As will anyone that is interested in the working out of a musical response to prevailing sociopolitical circumstances. And, as much as anything, it provides universal insights into a group of people and managing complex relationships where, at times, it seems that what would help most would be a psychological understanding of intergroup processes." -- Phil Stringer * Free Jazz Collective *

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