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Discord – Mike Goldsmith ***

Subtitled ‘the story of noise’ this is a book about noise as nuisance, noise as literal discord and just what noise is – through the ages.
When I started the book I was thrilled – there really hasn’t been a good book about sound that I’ve come across, and inevitably this book puts in place a lot of the science of sound, as well as what turns it into noise. The early part is truly fascinating.
It’s very interesting in terms of noise as nuisance just how far the concept goes back, and also a delight to see the various early legal and scientific attempts to quantify it and control it. Overall, though, the plodding historical approach, almost decade by decade, does become horribly repetitive as the book continues and this really makes what would otherwise have been a truly excellent book a bit of a chore to read.
My other sadness is that there isn’t more about discordant music. As far as I have spotted there are only two references to this, first in the classical era and then 20th century. This misses some great possibilities – for example the way in Tudor/Elizabethan music, effectively a different key was used for ascending and descending note sequences, producing some startling discords – or for that matter the way Bach made use of them and then was Bowdlerized by the Victorians who thought he didn’t mean it.
Overall, then, a great start to an excellent concept, but the book doesn’t deliver consistently and can be more than a bit repetitious.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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