This Weekend: Stay In and Read the New Alex Ross Book, Listen to This

10/01/2010 4:02 PM |


There are many good shows going on this weekend, which Lauren will tell you all about a little later on, I’m sure. There are new movies opening up, too, like that one about Friendster, with the guy from the Backstreet Boys. That seems really interesting. But what I’m most excited about doing this weekend is sitting on my couch and reading Listen to This, the new book from longtime New Yorker music critic Alex Ross.

His excellent first book, The Rest Is Noise, was an exhaustive look at classical music of the 20th century and the influences it had on the culture at large. In Listen to This, Ross provides, in his own words, “a panoramic view of the musical scene, from Bach to Björk and beyond.” In fact, here are more of his own words:

I treat pop music as serious art and classical music as part of the wider culture; my hope is that the book will serve as an introduction to crucial figures and ideas in classical music, and also give an alternative perspective on modern pop. Listen to This includes material already published in The New Yorker as well as pieces written or heavily revised for the occasion. The first chapter, from which the title comes, appeared in the magazine in 2004. The second chapter, “Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues,” is entirely new—a rapid-moving history of music told through bass lines. The third chapter, “Infernal Machines,” weaves together various thoughts on music and technology. And it goes from there, touching on Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Brahms, Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Sonic Youth, Cecil Taylor, and a dozen others. At the back of the book is a 4000-word survey of recommended recordings. The audiobook version, which I recorded myself, contains more than thirty musical selections.

Ross is creating a real experience for the reader here, with the 4000-word (!) recommended listening section he mentioned, plus this streaming, 19-track audio guide that corresponds with essays in the book, an iTunes playlist, and an extremely helpful glossary of musical terms. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.