Book Review: Alan Licht’s “Common Tones: Selected Interviews With Artists And Musicians 1995-2020”

Guitarist, conceptual artist, rock ’n’ roller, improviser, minimalist, music journalist, film archivist, booking agent and curator—no one’s ever going to accuse Alan Licht of being stuck in one lane. Not only does he do it all, he does it pretty well, and it took all those skills to make Common Tones: Selected Interviews With Artists And Musicians 1995-2020 possible. 

The book collects interviews that became the foundation of articles that appeared in The Wire, Bomb, Chickfactor and other publications. The subjects include Suicide, Matthew Barney, Greg Tate, Christian Marclay, Rhys Chatham, Michael Snow, ANOHNI, Adris Hoyos and Milford Graves. Many, but not all, are New York eminences, just like Licht. 

Licht’s interviews are never perfunctory. He brings a depth of knowledge to each encounter, not only of what the artist has done, but of the milieu in which they operated. His own depth of practice facilitates a rapport that draws out notorious cranks like Lou Reed and Tom Verlaine, and gets mind-bending proto-minimalist fiddler and cultural critic Henry Flynt talking about how he learned the steps to The Mash. No matter which name lures you to pick up Common Tones, you’ll find the book hard to put down, because even when you don’t know who he’s talking to, by the end of the chapter, you’ll be ready to know more. 

—Bill Meyer