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                          -book review

publication date March 2005


The Trouble with Music by Mat Callahan is the fiercest new exposition of the state of current practices around music, and the social impact of music vs. the current music industry in the history of world music.  Written by an author who has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years as musician, engineer, manager, and producer, this book is articulate, passionate, and cleansing, presenting a powerful case for disassociation with the processed music of money & media moguls, and through attentive discrimination, reclaiming the muse in music.

The underlying theme is in contention of the modern condition that has prevailed since the advent of the corporate commercialization of music into a commodity, and of it’s devastating results on the unifying spirit that music represents, not as revolt or complaint, but as fact.  Callahan loudly exposes truth from untruth, the conformity that has taken hold within the world of free market, free music and radio/media that would seek to dictate modern tendencies in music, robbing humanity of the authentic experience of musical creation, performance, and perception. At one time, music had the power to raise  consciousness as a medium of physical, emotional, and mental expression, of conflict, of intimacy, as a gift of experience from an artist’s soul. That is now debased into a massive regression through the marketing of music as product, of chanelling mass direction and funneling creativity into a corporate criteria of “stars created”,  “units sold”, and largely media-driven synthetic “success-stories”, conversely robbing the artist and the public of the very soul and fundamental relationship with music. 

Callahan probes the actuality of the question of mastery, accomplishment, and human effort, making vivid arguments and pointing to numerous examples of mastery from that of the authentic artists, as we have known them to the mastery of those contributing to the corruption of the function of music in our society. Significantly, he also points to the heightened meaning of authentic performance and mastery in music, the sharing of a personal relationship through music, a more fundamental experience accessing truth through thought, creativity, and artistic awareness; not the pursuit of fame, the spoiling of ego, the more replicable sales fodder, created & styled by advertisements, hot-lights, fast dance, fashion, make-overs and booty; the hype, and hoorah that would seek to disguise the truth of music into a bastard product to a  public that cannot recognize that this is the music that has been cloned, not “discovered”, and delivered to their ever more short attention and starved appetite for entertainment, where brighter & louder is better, “must have” and “in your face now” -not the music, but the products, the videos, the mugs, the t-shirts, the stuff surrounding the “star”. The “star” not the talented, recognised by the populace, but the pick of the pushers pushing the production to the entertained.  

As an improvisor, composer, performer, theorist and artist, I find The Trouble with Music  to be utterly fascinating and true. But more than that, it is inspiring.  If this can’t inspire musicians to take back their own world, nothing can.

I sit with the silence, and with the value of being a real human being, with human experience, breathing into the reality of the many hours logged-in of listening, practice, study, and meditation that goes into my personal musical background and capability. The potential that is there all the time, to create a true expression, to deliver the expression in the moment that it is created, for my own soul study, with an openness to share with others in a performance or a casual moment of unselfconciousness sharing.  

          What Matt Calahan has pointed out has caused me to be thoughtful in my own conviction not to saturate the market with repetitious CD recordings of myself in my moment, but to aspire to create with a true honesty to the sacred potential and limitations of each moment of musical sound and direction, and allow the muse of the subconscious music to be my guide.

          This is nothing that the world market would or should have anything to do with. It is mine. It is an expression of my unique being here on this earth. It is no more or less than the beauty of the 5 pointed leaf that would fall at the end of it’s season. To those who are in the network of my path, they may have the opportunity of witnessing this great crossing of consciousness. It is however, private and personal, and I would ask that they would behold this fragile world of my music in respect. That they could appreciate would mean that mastery is attained, in successful opening of minds and hearts, and in the communication that can exist through the inherent meaning already existent in the vibration of the music and the arrangement of the sounds (and or words) associated with the moment of observation. This deep listening experience is the true muse. The ability to open one’s awareness to the medium of the heart. Music is an expression of the Great Mystery (some call it Life) that can be contained in a sound, a cluster, a group of frogs toning, a voice ringing, singing language thought forms, or a vibrating instrument, or collective of human beings combining their sounds & musical gestures to create a work of art, an art form of music that belongs only to them, that cannot be bought or sold as a product, but that is as intimate and personal as a prayer.

          Reading The Trouble With Music  inspires me to reclaim this rich heritage of our ancestors. To make music is a way to connect with our own history and our collective and personal spirituality.  It is an activity which when shared among friends, family, and others, has the power to bring people closer together in shared experience and in the collective study of ourselves and the world contained in the music. 

    "Timeless music is humanity, a generic multitude, not the individual or any One. 
It is the connection between people, the Commons that is  called forth by the herald
of music for which music, itself, exists". 

The “timelessness” that Callahan points out is truly a social process that is always evolving many, and “all at once”.  I invite you to read this book, to search your soul, to discard that which you don’t need, and join together in reclaiming music for our collective Commons.

LaDonna Smith

contact: josh@AKPRESS.ORG