Saturday, October 27, 2007

his voice is a little higher than i expected

But I'm excited to see him in person when he comes on his book tour nearby!

Courtesy of Lisa Hirsch both for alerting us about this specific appearance at the big G and the general authors series. Here's Alex Ross's talk:

I also have a couple thoughts based on the observations that others have made regarding the paucity of material dedicated to women composers that Hirsch brought up and made reference to.

Not having purchased the book yet (mi dispiace!), my thoughts are simply preliminary. There are a couple things that strike me as curious. So far as I can tell, the book cover

on its face, makes no distinction about a focus on *western* ("classical") music, despite the book seeming (judging from the Table of Contents) to focus pretty much on this topic exclusively. It's just sort of assumed that it'll be about western music. I understand that the provocative title of "the rest is noise" is meant to segue into Ross's observations that there are many linkages and fewer boundaries between so-called classical music and other "forms" of music in the 20th century than one normally thinks (so his book is about music and not just classical), but in a sense it also seems dismissive of non-western music -- the implication being that "if it's not covered here, it's just noise!"

In a sense, it's this title that makes it sit a little uneasily for me, now that I think about it. Obviously, no tome could possibly cover everything of interest in western music of the 20th century, but I think there is an element of, well, not irresponsibility, exactly -- perhaps insensitivity -- to attaching such a provocative (all-encompassing) title to a book that cannot possibly (even in theory, much less in practice, given length limitations that Ross implicitly alludes to) talk about everything that *isn't* "noise."

On the other hand, the title is pretty damned sexy. "The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century in the West" or "The Rest is Not Western: Listening to the Twentieth Century" just sound castrated. And, I must confess that it didn't really dawn upon me how exclusionary such a title could be until fairly recently (i.e., now).

[To my mind, there are at least two ways to read it. One is to say, all's well and good if the target audience and the author can refrain from repeating what is understood by both parties. (The response being twofold: {abstractly} excluding, or at least de-prioritizing, those who do not understand runs counter to the purported objective of such a book in the first place; and that there is a fine though important distinction between what is implicitly or explicitly understood in a conversation and what is invisible in a conversation -- I would argue that in this case, it seems the latter is more explanatory.) Another (not mutually exclusive) way to read what missing titular implications might mean could be to say that it was not purposeful (and very likely covered in the text quite close to the beginning). [Response being that even just discovered something that just popped up doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered and commensurate action take. Reductive example - just because I didn't know I had a pimple before I looked in the mirror doesn't mean it's invited to stay.]

I mean, it's a small data point because, as I mention, I'm quite sure that the "Western" qualification comes within the first 10 pages, and it's really quite premature to form anything resembling an opinion without considering the entirety of book itself. But a work's title isn't exactly the least important or meaningful of its assets, and underlying implications of "The Rest is Noise" are really quite more impactful than first appears. For instance, I don't think anybody would dream of titling a book "The Rest is Not Fit to Eat: Award-Winning Recipes" and then have the book be about western food. Nor would I dream of buying a book called "The Rest is Superstition: Twentieth Century Chemistry" and have it just be about organic synthesis. What makes it seem less jarring to speak of Music (with a capital M) when we really mean "western music"? It's been interesting to think about it. I have a couple inchoate ideas but no answers.

As far as the women composers point that has been brought up, it does seem a little strange that it would be a deliberate oversight, particularly as juxtaposed against "invisible [male] composers" (and with the pieces that Alex has written about Björk, Gubaidulina {pssst, do they make appearances in his book?}, and his concern with the Vienna Philharmonic's stance on gender).

I don't really have any sort of real opinion on this subject since I have yet to peruse the book and have no real way of knowing (short of reading it myself!) how I would think such a subject is treated. My only observation would that a really classy way of speaking about them would be simply acknowledging the difficulty that women composers have and do experience. Invisibility is an issue, and it seems clear that Alex Ross also has very clear ideas on women composers who are not "justly" neglected.

Hmm. Rainy thoughts on a rainy day. More later, mebbe :)

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