BOOK REVIEW: Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History

BOOK REVIEW: Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History 2

When James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins & Keith Aoki wrote their graphic novel “Theft! A History of Music”, they begin in 1400 BC in Mesopotamia (Ancient Greece) where they traced the earliest use of musical notation which was developed further by the Romans who added symbols above the text for notes with lines representing rhythm. With Boyle and Jenkins being legal professors; “Theft! A History of Music” naturally focused upon the legal aspects of music developments such as how the rise of direct sampling led to a jump in legal challenges and changes in legislation.

Whilst “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” does not cover legal history; it goes back much further to 41,000 BCE where they trace the first flutes which were made from either griffin vultures bones or woolly mammoth tusks.

As the title suggests, this full-colour graphic folds out into an impressive 2.4 metres. Whilst “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” towers over even the tallest of people; it is the probably one of the most accessible and easy to follow guides about music for all from children in their early years to adults by explaining things in small, informative, bitesize chunks. As well as showing how singing and playing musical instruments has become more technical, advanced and sophisticated; “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” also explains the sociological advancements brought about through music. The Mbuti people of the Congo in 2500 BCE played the melimo trumpet to see off evil spirits whilst in Greenland 2000 BCE people played the Inuit qilaat drum as people argued out their disagreements.  Chinese philosopher Confucius found guidance when he played his favourite musical stringed instrument: the quin.

One interesting element that is often overlooked is music’s influence is in the origins and development of religion which this book discusses. Bilal ibn Rabah was “one of the most trusted companions” of the Islamic prophet Muhammad whom Muhammad chose to become the first muezzin prayer caller because of his “deep and clear voice”. Since 1563, the Jewish Synagogue has appointed cantors/hazzans to lead congregations with a “sweet singing voice” in “songful and chanting prayer”.

Whilst the majority of people are aware that music is global, “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” not only reinforces this point; it shows that many of the developments of everyday instruments such as the lute originates in ninth-century Iraq with the oud. Furthermore, it was the Chinese in the sixteenth century who developed the first tuning system for instruments such as the keyboard. Probably one of the most powerful things music has done was not only to allow inclusiveness for disabled people; it also allowed them to thrive and be honoured. Since the seventeenth century in Japan blind musicians (“Kengyō”) have been employed at the Japanese court to play the 13 string koto.

“Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” beautifully strips back the monetary, political and legal consequences of inventions and innovations to solely focus on how solo and group musicians were able to evolve and continue to reach new peaks in their craft. For example, when discussing the development of printed music in the sixteenth century; we learn that this change enabled musicians for the first time to see how quietly or loudly they needed to play their instruments.  Likewise, the introduction of double-escapement action on the piano enabled notes to be played more quickly.

The latter half of this graphic history focuses on music in the twentieth century up until the modern day. As well as focusing on the impact of the ability to record music along with Bollywood, Jazz, rock 'n' roll, hip hop and Beatlemania; one also learns how music not only survived but thrived in German prisoner-of-war camps during World War Two when prisoner Olivier Messiaen not only wrote “Quartet At The End Of Time” but also performed it with other inmates live to other prisoners and Nazi guards on broken instruments.

Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History

As “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” moves into the twenty-first century, the evolution of file sharing and digital music is explained. No stone is left unturned. With a book beginning in 41,000 BCE; it is still current by discussing AI tool Muse Net which was launched in 2019 which allows songs to be created with ten different instruments in fifteen different styles.

With “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” made in associated with the Royal Albert Hall, a tribute is given to the artists who have performed there who include David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, Adele and Jay-Z. “Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” also contains one of the clearest, easy to learn and follow illustrations of the arrangements of an orchestra.

“Music: A Fold-Out Graphic History” is more than just an essential read and reference book; as one sees the list of the artists who have performed at the Royal Albert Hall; one is reminded just how vital music and the venues that provide a platform for live artists are.

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