T Fool's Reviews > The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

The Rest Is Noise by Alex  Ross
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Jul 09, 09

bookshelves: reviewed-books
Read in July, 2009

One’s ignorance -- one being the hodge-podge listener of all musics obviously known and rarely rare -- that ignorance smacks right up against this book, which blends interesting tidbits of ‘great man’ biography and historical watersheds with the motivations mysterious and crass whereby putative genius stretches and recombines the old into the what’s not been there before.

The incubation of novelty gets explained in terms both of audience reaction and insider musical techno-language. But even with a skilled and modestly-served-out technical language, a review of music fails real adequacy. Alex Ross’s writing is superb. The nature of the musical art, though, is to be heard, and its basis is emotional, deeply so.

Without a way of speaking about it, most of us simply emote, or – if we’re better, like Ross – translate the heard into the visual dimension of written metaphor. Music’s a place for romantics – even those romantics who eschew ‘Romantic’-period music and go for the rationally classical or for the modern in whatever guise – spare, raucous, jarring, weird, or only referentially reverential.

Twentieth Century ‘serious’ music, a hard-sell for this plebeian world craving what makes the lower two-thirds of the body twitch, nevertheless runs through – give the ear that chance – the very body it seems to want to distort. After the megadeath we’re keenly aware of and whose breath seems to be stertorously sleeping one off in the valley just over the hill, our sound values begin to catch up. There’s beauty in the ‘un-’.

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