Friday, October 31, 2008

The Sound of One Voice in Conversation

When the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF) announced that Alex Ross was going to be one of their speakers and that he would be talking about listening to music, I felt an obligation to hear what he had to say. My familiarity with his book, The Rest is Noise, came primarily through Michael Kimmelman's piece about it in The New York Review; and I am still resisting any temptation to buy a copy, simply because the pile of books I have to read first is both growing and staring at me menacingly. However, given that much of what I write about music focuses on what I am beginning to call "listening comprehension" (as opposed to "reading comprehension") and given how many of those books in my to-read pile were selected through my drive to develop a "theory of listening to music" (which is addressed by neither music theory nor the psychology of listening), it would have been negligent of me to pass up an opportunity to hear an author of such repute express his point of view.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the JCCSF, the talk have been reconceived as a conversation with Joshua Kosman; and about the only thing pertaining to listening was Ross' remark that the subtitle of his book, Listening to the Twentieth Century, had deliberately omitted "music" as a final word. On the other hand Ross took great delight in waxing over his presence in the blogosphere. He talked about launching his blog while he was working on the book and about the rather impressive information resource it has become since then. He also talked about the virtue of the blogosphere for providing him with the opportunity to converse about the book, even while it was still a work in progress. This was enough to lure me to check out his site, pretty confident that I would find some way to enter the conversation taking place there. Unfortunately, what I discovered upon my initial examination was that none of the posts had been set up to collect reader comments, leading me to wonder just where the conversation was! Having had the good fortune to count John Cage as one of my teachers, I am well informed about the sound of one hand clapping; but this has got to be my first encounter with a conversation involving only one voice!

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