Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise – the best digitally-augmented book I’ve come across

May 27, 2010 at 10:18 am 2 comments

by Alec Patton

I’ve been reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross (classical music critic for the New Yorker). It’s a history of ‘classical’ music in the 20th century, and if you want a sense of how brilliant the book is, read Steven Poole’s review in the Guardian.

My theme is different: what I’m interested in is the relationship between books and digital media. This is not a ‘death of the book’ piece – books aren’t going anywhere for a while – they’re convenient, portable, durable, more of them are being printed than ever before, and people like using them – so everyone CHILL OUT about that.

However, everyone who’s ever read a book about music has shared a common frustration: you can’t HEAR anything, so your ears are basically making educated guesses based on the author’s descriptions.

Fortunately, Alex Ross’s website has a detailed (and totally free) audio companion to the book – chapter by chapter you can here extracts from the music, including piano demonstrations of particular scales and motifs, and links to sites where you can hear more.

It seems to me that this is what digital technology is best for: not replacing books with expensive and highly-stealable portable equipment, but augmenting it with free content that’s accessible to anyone with internet access and a pair of headphones.


Entry filed under: Innovation Worldwide.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Simon Bracken  |  August 2, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I agree. I’ve recently been listening to Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, which I would find highly frustrating if reading the book without being able to hear the music. The audio book solves this, but it’s harly going to stop me from reading.

    On the other hand, if I hadn’t had the audio book I would probably have just searched for the music online and unboubtedly – and totally legally of course – would have found it. We do our own augmentation usually, do we not?

    It does make a difference have specially-designed content to augment books, and when this isn’t done by the publisher, there’s no reason it can’t be done anyway. I feel a new wiki-site idea emerging – to which my response usually is: it probablty exists already.

  • 2. Alec  |  August 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Interesting that you mention An Equal Music, because a fantastic double album was produced to accompany the book. Seth was involved in putting it together, and one of the main violinists on it is the very man who inspired him to write the book!, It includes the first-ever CD recording of the Beethoven quintet that features so prominently in the book.


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