By Jane Cornwell
Muse-Sick: A Music Manifesto in Fifty-Nine Notes is a radical protest. So says the filmmaker John Waters in the foreword to this fabulous, accessible, soundbite-friendly tome — a manifesto intended to drop the scales from our eyes and question the structure of everything. The Grammy award-winning producer behind the likes of Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys and Khmer Rouge Survivors, Ian Brennan is also a conflict resolution specialist and the author of seven books including 2019’s acclaimed Silenced by Sound and 2016’s How Music Dies (or Lives). He has form as a seeker of truth and a detector of bullshit; a provocateur whose love of good music and liberating disdain for the tenets of capitalism have made him a sort of music industry court jester: naming, reclaiming, confronting and declaiming from the margins in ways illuminating and audacious.
Brennan’s goal when traveling to remote regions — a la a pun Alan Lomax — is to de-exoticise, to let the sounds and singers stand on their own. Here, he wants us to revolutionize our attitudes, to be wary of such states as ‘I don’t see color’ (you probably do), or assuming that culture is ingrained in a person’s DNA (that is racist), or ascribing ‘traditional’ influences to non-Western artists (Tianariwen took their cues from Santana). Remember, too, when you’re looking at sleeve notes, that exacting foreign translations results in misunderstandings. That no diversity means cultural inbreeding, humanity is found in ‘mistakes’. He holds the believe that everyone is musical. And there are arseholes everywhere. Brennan’s aphorisms keep coming, sophistry-free so epiphany they’d make excellent oracle cards. It’s not all music meritocracy is a lie, for example.
The Left inevitably destroys its progress with friendly fire. But it’s music — which Brennan returns to in the ‘Field Recording Chronicles’ of the final chapters — that concerns us here. Muse-Sick is a mandatory read.
Ian Brennan is a Grammy-winning music producer who has produced three other Grammy-nominated albums. He is the author of four books and has worked with the likes of filmmaker John Waters, Merle Haggard, and Green Day, among others. His work with international artists such as the Zomba Prison Project, Tanzania Albinism Collective, and Khmer Rouge Survivors, has been featured on the front page of the New York Times and on an Emmy-winning 60 Minutes segment with Anderson Cooper reporting. Since 1993 he has taught violence prevention and conflict resolution around the world for such prestigious organizations as the Smithsonian, New York’s New School, Berklee College of Music, the University of London, the University of California–Berkeley, and the National Accademia of Science (Rome).