Now this is interesting, as the out-of-the-ordinary and unusual has to be, right? Exotica explores, well, the musically exotic: the use of experimental, avant-garde, and unconventional sounds and sights in the making of music. Jungle drums, crashing cars, dolphin sounds; leopard-skin leotards, bared breasts, fruit-salad headdresses. From Stravinsky to Josephine Baker to Burt Bacharach to Les Baxter, from the sound of medical operations to the patter of a hard rain, from rap to elevator music, David Toop explores the unusual and bizarre in music and musical performance. It’s a part of creativity, isn’t it, to put the new and different down on vinyl or up on the stage or screen? And that’s what this book is all about. It’s not about any one particular musical style, genre, or trend, but about the way the exotic finds its way into all art.
The novel, the primitive, the sexual, the uncommon
Toop covers a lot of ground here. He spends a fair amount of time on Josephine Baker, who in 1925 on the Paris stage did something she could never have done in the U.S. where she was born, and it caused a sensation even in France: she bared her breasts on stage, and also incorporated African forms and sounds into the dance, décor, and music. Toop also gives a lot of treatment to Les Baxter, whose music forayed into the mystical, pagan, sexual, and primitive as well as the simply novel. Yma Sumac, the South American singer famous for her incredible vocal range and unusual voice, also comes into play here, largely in partnership with Baxter. But the names and styles he evokes are nearly endless, all bound together by a common theme of the exotic and the anti-commonplace. With lots of interviews and anecdotal accounts, Exotica is great reading for those interested in the way music and performance art pushes the envelope’s edge, and who isn’t? You’ll want to read it for the writing as much as the material, the book being as inventive and original as its subject matter.