Aside from being known as the most popular and widely-read music critic from The New Yorker, music enthusiast Alex Ross also wrote two best-selling books. The first of which is The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, a nonfiction book exploring modern music, garnered several awards and has been translated into 16 languages. His second book was also a success entitled Listen To This, a collection of essays on the culture of music, was published in 2010.
Alex Ross’ books not only provide an insight to his taste, opinion, and interpretation of music but also an insight to his life and his journey to becoming the music critic that he is known for today.
From Classical Music to his Discovery of Pop
As a child, Alex Ross learned and played the piano, one of the most recognizable of classical music instruments. This musical skill was also accompanied by his preference for listening and appreciating the opera and classical music solely. However, Ross eventually discovered popular music when he reached his college days. Then, he started exploring the works of 20th-century composers such as Stockhausen, Xenakis, and John Cage. From there, he made his way to the heights of popular music and its legendary artists like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.
Alex Ross described how the discovery for him was like the opposite journey of individuals who have started to unearth a liking for classical music. Ross also added how people should not be intimidated by classical music. For a long time, the genre has earned a reputation for being loved only by upper-class citizens. Ross declares that classical music lovers nowadays are regular people from all walks of life.
Journey and Development as a Music Critic
As a music critic, Alex Ross describes his writing process as not that different or not especially tricky in comparison to writing about other art forms. The challenge is for the writer to capture the essence of the work in prose, and according to Ross, this could be done through effective verbal devices like description and metaphor. His main goal as a music critic is to inspire people to explore outside their own personal preferences in music and get to experience and grow to love other genres as well.
In his books, some of the essays narrate the journey that he went through to become the recognized music critic that he is at present. One of these is a real travel experience that he had in 1995 when Alex Ross went to Europe on a one thousand dollar-budget to experience the flavors of music that the continent has to offer. He slept at cheap motels and attended every festival that he could see so that he could take in as much musical variety as possible. The journey was advice given to him by John Rockwell, a fellow critic that he worked with while he was still at The New York Times.
Alex Ross advises new music critics and writers to have a similar experience like the one he went through in Europe – that is, to soak up all kinds of music in every way that they can. Also, he seeks the guidance and advice of more experienced and season writers and critics.