Thomas Patteson’s monograph, based on his 2013 dissertation, brilliantly illuminates this fascinating but little-known chapter of German music history. Readers with special interest in the music of the Weimar Republic or the history of music technology no doubt will be captivated by the details of Patteson’s case studies. He describes the machines and careers of individuals who are often labelled ‘pioneers’ in surveys of electronic music, but whose experimental endeavours rarely have been described in detail in textbooks or scholarly literature.
Patteson’s book positions the ‘instruments for new music’ of its title not within a modernist historical trajectory, but as products of a particular time and place. Never before have the instruments of the 1920s and 1930s been so richly contextualized within a broader view of German intellectual thought. [...] Patteson conveys the status of the instruments within music institutions of the period: contemporary music festivals and radio exhibitions, the Bauhaus, the November Group artists’ organization, and the research departments established in 1928 at the Berlin Academy of Music and the Berlin Institute of Technology. He also situates the new instruments and their reception with respect to the German national politics of the interwar period. [...] As musicologists today seek to de-emphasize and demystify the archetype of the ‘genius’ composer, Patteson’s book presents an approach to music history that is neither composer- nor work-centric.
Winner of the American Musicological Society’s 2017 Lockwood Award, which recognizes a ‘book of exceptional merit’ published by an early career scholar, Instruments for New Music is an essential book for anyone who studies, writes about, or teaches topics in music technology, modernism, or Weimar culture. Patteson beautifully summarizes concepts in German intellectual history without assuming that his reader has read the relevant texts, and he includes many accessible technical discussions of the music machines and processes he writes about, breaking concepts down for readers and not assuming advanced understanding of the principles of electricity and engineering. Patteson has published the book with Luminos, the University of California Press’s open-access publishing programme for monographs, which no doubt will encourage a wide range of readers to explore this fascinating book.