Musical Stories #1 / by Ben


Ben here. Trying out a new series aiming to recollect seemingly random stories that I've acquired over my (so far) brief but colourful existence. These tales will be universally linked by that ever elusive, influential creative endeavour: music. To start off, we have this beast of a book.



But if I'm talking about pitches and notes, scales and rhythm, then why does a book pop up? Well, simply because this behemoth single-handedly overviews music in the twentieth century comprehensively, and it does a brilliant job at it.

Part 1: Content

Within its pages, The Rest is Noise details the lives and works of artists, composers, musicians, writers and everyone from Bartók to Beatles, from Wagner to Warhol etc. Ross begins with the height of the Romantic Period, which triumphantly ends its reign with deafening operas and swooning symphonies often depicting grand tales of hedonistic characters. Blood, sex, revenge and corruption. Theatre plays at the time did not shy away from delving deep into dark emotions, and the accompanying music mirrored these primal instincts. Then onto the Roaring 20s; music during wartime; Avant-Garde of the 50s; rock, bop and everything else. Throughout its chapters, Ross depicts the internal and external influences that shaped artists and their music during these past decades: Philosophy, War, Religion, Politics, Economics, Social norms, Technology, Media and the list goes on. Needless to say, this is not light reading.

Part 2: Reception

How I came to acquire such a strange (and heavy) book is fairly odd but brief, nevertheless. During my teenage years, I had a chance to stay and learn at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, for an exchange program. The stay was barely a week but enjoyable and informative. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity and find out if I would be able to ever study music or musical composition at their campus, so naturally, I was directed to stern-looking yet friendly and polite (cough*posh*cough) professor. After a casual conversation, he handed me this book and advised that I should read it, and let him know what I thought of it. To my ever-lasting shame, it has been 7 years and I have not returned the book, nor have I finished it.

Part 3: Perspective

The Rest is Noise proves to be one of the most challenging and fascinating books that I have ever picked up. The magnitude of information that radiates from its carefully constructed words can be overwhelming; not to mention the listening that you can pair it with. Since it's all about music, a zealous Spotify user decided to put together all pieces mentioned in the book, and unsurprisingly, the playlist ended up being over 688 hours long. That's almost 29 days of non-stop listening! ( )


Overall, recommended for anyone gutsy enough to dive into...  how history and culture influenced the birth of atonality; how youthful renegades and mavericks tore away from classical music to find their own sound; or how tortured and inept artists created some of the most exquisite musical pieces of the twentieth century. 



Posh Professor
Alex Ross
My Mom