John Corbett's Theoretical Dance

John Corbett's Theoretical Dance

There are as many reason to be familiar with the name John Corbett as not. If you live within the Chicago media sphere, the man’s penned endless scrawling on musicians, local and those far afield. A huge portion of his work, though, focuses on players that don’t have, nor do they desire, the slightest bit of commercial viability.

Apart from that, Corbett’s endeavored to head up Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series, which attempts to cull previously recorded works and reaffirm the individual player’s influence within free musics. Again, though, focusing on rather obscure performers, Corbett turns in a great deal of work, but only the initiated are aware.

Along with all of this, he’s been working in the visual art world displaying everything from Sun Ra’s album covers to lesser know works by painters and the like that might deserve notice, but haven’t achieved any wide spread acclaim.

Having a hand in so many different creative fields, though, has granted Corbett insight into what it all means. And after having wading through a huge amount of critical theory – everything from Adorno to Baudrillard and Lyotard – this writer’s occasionally sought to organize these sometimes contrasting views and pit one against the next.

Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein aligns these different interests, but breaks down Corbett’s writing into three distinct sections.

The first, which he’s titled “Dancing in Your Head (Theoretical Jam)” comprises some of Corbett’s most dense philosophical screeds. Each is well wrought and while some portions present themselves as relatively difficult to get through without vast amounts of concentration, some of the difficulties are mitigated by the fact that Lee Perry, Sun Ra and George Clinton are found to be working in roughly the same mold. Kinda. It’s all entrancing and serves to make the remainder of the book fly by.

The next two sections, “An Ear to the Ground (Profiles in Sound)” and “Music Like Dirt (Interviews and Outerviews),” are supposed to be separated by form. And while the earlier portion is given over to Corbett’s easy going prose with the latter being Q&A in format, there’s sometimes little difference. Of course, that’s not a tremendous problem as the writer moves effortlessly between the aforementioned Clinton noiseniks Derek Bailey while noting the differences, no matter how slightly they’re perceived.

On its own, Extended Play’s nothing more than a heady read for those interested in how music’s gotten to where it is today. But it may also serve as entrance into those loftier theoretical writings mentioned throughout this book’s opening section.