The best books about sound, living, and experience

Stephen Rush Author Of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman
By Stephen Rush

Who am I?

I am a professor of music at the University of Michigan, where I have taught theory, jazz, music composition, and music technology for 34 years. 


I wrote...

Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman

By Stephen Rush,

Book cover of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman

What is my book about?

Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman discusses Ornette Coleman's musical philosophy of "Harmolodics," an improvisational approach deeply inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Falling under the guise of "free jazz," Harmolodics can be difficult to understand, even for seasoned musicians and musicologists. This book contains a long interview with Ornette Coleman, as well as many musical examples illustrating the principles that were behind his wonderful music.  

The books I picked & why

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Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

By Simone Browne,

Book cover of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

Why this book?

She really gets at the heart of how Brown and Black bodies are seenand what is fascinating to me is the approach through current “technical art” and a good discussion of architecture. I had a class focus on her discussion—lengthy—about surveillance and race. It’s extremely poignant, and something whites especially just don’t think about. I will never again go through an airport without thinking about her book. 

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

By Simone Browne,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dark Matters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Dark Matters Simone Browne locates the conditions of blackness as a key site through which surveillance is practiced, narrated, and resisted. She shows how contemporary surveillance technologies and practices are informed by the long history of racial formation and by the methods of policing black life under slavery, such as branding, runaway slave notices, and lantern laws. Placing surveillance studies into conversation with the archive of transatlantic slavery and its afterlife, Browne draws from black feminist theory, sociology, and cultural studies to analyze texts as diverse as the methods of surveilling blackness she discusses: from the design of the…


Silence: Lectures and Writings

By John Cage,

Book cover of Silence: Lectures and Writings

Why this book?

I love John Cage’s book Silence so much. I find myself quoting it almost daily (honestly), and the “Lecture on Nothing” is a document that illustrates traditional sonata form, while using silence as content, repetition as meaning, and humor as power. I wish I had written it.

Silence: Lectures and Writings

By John Cage,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Silence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Silence, John Cage's first book and epic masterpiece, was published in October 1961. In these lectures, scores, and writings, Cage tries, as he says, to find a way of writing that comes from ideas, is not about them, but that produces them. Often these writings include mesostics and essays created by subjecting the work of other writers to chance procedures using the I Ching. Fifty years later comes a beautiful new edition with a foreword by eminent music critic Kyle Gann. A landmark book in American arts and culture, Silence has been translated into more than forty languages and has…


The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records

By Len Lyons,

Book cover of The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records

Why this book?

Lyons' 100 Best Jazz Albums shaped my listening for a long, long time. His references to Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Art Ensemble were well-written and hugely informed. Some of the choices are now extremely dated, but it is a great overview of the history of jazz (up to the early 1980s). It could give even an experienced listener or artist some pointers about where to round out their listening. Jazz is twice as old now (as a genre) as it was when I was coming up, so there’s so much more to listen to, and so much more has happened. This book should be a listening test for every student and faculty member—especially everything Duke and before and after Monk.  

The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records

By Len Lyons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 101 Best Jazz Albums as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 101 Best Jazz Albums


1Q84

By Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (translator), Philip ­Gabriel (translator)

Book cover of 1Q84

Why this book?

It is a sprawling book—it’s very long but worth it. His approach to character development is unequalled by anyone other than Tolstoy, in my opinion. And yet, unlike Tolstoy, his characters shock, take deep dives into places unforeseen (magical realism), and have contemporary problems with guilt, purpose/meaning, and aesthetics.  

1Q84

By Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (translator), Philip ­Gabriel (translator)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked 1Q84 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her.

She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course…


A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

By T.M. Krishna,

Book cover of A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

Why this book?

T.N. Krishnan’s book discusses Carnatic (south Indian) music in depth, sure. But more importantly, he discusses why music matters, what it’s for, emotion, and human existence. It’s a primer in art, philosophy, and intention. Read it along with Ramani Maharshi’s writings, and one is pretty much ready to be fully human. 

A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

By T.M. Krishna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Southern Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


One of the foremost Karnatik vocalists today, T.M. Krishna writes lucidly and passionately about the form, its history, its problems and where it stands todayT.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration of the tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Taking nothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum - musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople - Krishna provides a path-breaking overview of south Indian classical music.


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