Soundtracks, Pachinko Parlors, and Other Forms of Noise


In British musician and critic David Toop’s groundbreaking 1995 book Ocean of Sound, he sketched a crooked path through ambient sonics that linked figures as seemingly disparate as Sun Ra, Claude Debussy, and Don DeLillo. His experiential, episodic writing style suited his subject matter’s dreamy, strange, amorphous sprawl.

Haunted Weather, ostensibly about contemporary music and technology, is similarly nonlinear. Toop is almost excessively well-read and well-traveled, and his wide-angle view can be disorienting. He dots his dense prose with quotes from Grandmaster Flash and Jean-Luc Godard; Akira Kurosawa film scores feature here, as do Joseph Cornell’s boxes. Fortunately, just when things seem to get unglued, Toop wanders into an idea so compellingly weird it’s difficult to stop reading. He references scientific research into how sounds of chewing influence the taste of food, and analyzes the hypnotic effect of the incessant clacking steel balls in Japan’s pachinko parlors.

A recurring theme is Toop’s own North London home. He recounts his efforts to cut down on his backyard’s rambling Englishness, and attempts to install a more orderly Japanese garden. These horticultural asides dovetail neatly with a chapter on generative music—sound that grows from a set of initial conditions—and to a discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s theoretical ideas of the rhizome.

Toop writes of music fashioned from street traffic, CD skips, egg slicers, and laptops that crash too often. He shows how even the most coldly digital music—far from being a polished procession of ones and zeroes—is, at some level, organic and rotting, earthly and imperfect.