lyell bark's Reviews > The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

The Rest Is Noise by Alex  Ross
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's review
Oct 27, 2010

really liked it

good things about this book:

a) learn a lot of kewl things about your favorite 20th c. composers. schoengerg thot of musical notes as a weird physionognomy thing! berg, webern and schoenberg all enlisted for wwi service and here was a cute picture of them all geared up but it's not printed. morton fieldman was a sibelius fan! messiaen was straight laced and boring, in his personal life newayz! stravisky was on the payolla of the cia even tho he didn't know it! the cia also funded and promoted institutes and festival for dudes like boulez, cage, and otehr dudes who practiced 12-tone, atonal, experimental music since it was in opposition to [late] romanticism [hitler's favorites, 'natch] + was was looked on with suspicion by the soviets. c00l

b) learn kewl things about composers u don't listen to! copeland didn't write fanfare for teh common man for kitschy stupid beef advertisemtnts! he actually wrote it for "the common man" i.e. the proletariat mass of humanity who were going to get 2 live in social-democratic or communist paradises. haha, jokes on you copeland, now you're associated in the popular imagination with beef commercials, AND we live in a late-capitalist hellhole on a planet that's dying, hohoho.

c) the dude can write well about music, not overly personal response stuff, but not too dry and academic either! altho if you have no musical grounding maybe look up things like "sonata form" and "scherzo" 'and "ostinato" and "triads" maybe...?

bad things about this book:

a) narrative view of hitory sort of smooths things over and is a bit too simplistic and pat. but i guess if you're covering like 10 or 20 major composers in depth in their historical context, their associated aesthetic movements, and lots of lesser known [mostly] dudes in a single 540 page volume, things will get compressed... but your favorite 2nd string associate of the 2nd viennese school may only get a name-check [nikos skalkottas :-( ]

b) the stuff about rock music felt sort of tackd on, but it's like 2 pages out of 500 so it's not that big a deal. also he used the word "achingly" a couple times, which i associate with pitchfork, who are of course the purveyors of all music trite, kitschy, and stupid; please use a different word...

c) his central thesis is a bit obvious and the last chapter is sort of rushed, but he doesn't really have many cannonical figures to work with so to speak, so it's understandable....

overall pretty good book imo if yr interested in 20th c. composed/notational/art-music-in-the-european-tradition/notational music. i can't really see someone being like "damn, time to listen to moses und aron and die soldaten and the galgoitic mass!" but maybe, who knows. the best chapters were imo th ones that stayed focused on one or two figures, or the ppl i knew least about [in my case copeland, he was actually sort of cool >,>] + alex ross has got a nice blog with samples and stuff, and like if you don't know waht an a minor chord sounds like you can literally listen to it on wikipedia, whoa, if you're totally in the dark about that sort of thing. ok

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