Bemoaning his failure to influence other composers, Morton Feldman (1926—1987) lamented, "I wanted to give them the freedom to be esoteric." As heard in the superb and often funny anthology of interviews and lectures, Morton Feldman Says (Hyphen), he was a brash talker, quick with opinions, and master of the pertinent parable. Feldman recounts an argument with his teacher Stefan Wolpe, who deemed his young student's music too esoteric and urged him to write music for the man on street: "And we're looking down and who's walking across 14th Street and Sixth Avenue—Jackson Pollock."

Feldman ultimately succeeded. The "esoteric" aspects of his music—volume levels that hover at the threshold of audibility and the epic, usually hour-plus length of his late work—are now crucial (and humbly liberating) extensions of 20th-century music.

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The most radical music book I've read so far this year is Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge). This jargon-free text offers a fresh alternative to the usual instruments prized by the music business (electric guitars, grooveboxes, synths). Writing for those of us who can't tell a volt from a watt, composer Nicolas Collins champions the safe, tactile exploration of home-built electronics and subtle sabotage of kiddie toys: a legion of unusual sounds lurks within those thrift-store Casio keyboards and annoying talking books.

Collins, who worked with John Cage, David Tudor, and other pioneers of live electronic music, covers immense territory, from basic soldering to making contact microphones out of piezo disks—those cheap brass wafers (pictured above) that serve as buzzers in doorbells and smoke alarms—to using sensors triggered by light and touch. The DIY attitude of Handmade Electronic Music might not revolutionize music, but it confirms that musical instruments are more accessible (and less expensive) than you think.