The Noise Arts

The Delta Brainwave Society is a Divers Noise Arts Collective. But what, you may ask, are the noise arts?

Noise arts is a catchall term. If it is produced with the mindset or noise art, it is. This, naturally, cannot be the only designator of what makes an art ‘noise’. Indeed not. Intention would never be so solely magnified. Noise arts can only, however, be provisionally defined. They are the aspects of the arts that highlight the gaps, the breakages, the ruptures, the limitations, the failures. They are the strange stranger, the heretic that can never be orthodoxicized. They are the fringe. Sometimes for the delight of the fringe and sometimes because they have been pushed away by everyone and everything else and it simply where they find themselves. “No one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter / Sometimes that’s just the most comfortable place.”

Perhaps, when it comes down to it, the simplest way to phrase it is this:

Life is a noise art.

We are culturally programmed to narrativise. Most of us see ourselves as some version of the protagonist of our own story. We want to find the meaning written into cultural products (novels, movies, pop songs) in our day to day. It is never really there. Life is too erratic, unplanned, unpredictable, chaotic in its normalcy for that. Life is too alive. This is where the desire to claim a divine (but unknowable but I’m still certain it exists even though all evidence is to the contrary) plan comes from. There is no plan, divine or otherwise. 

But in embracing the noise of life, in making art of it, we gain a fair measure of understand and a potential level of control. 

Don’t Panic. 

The human life is the art. It is an extended aesthetic project (often unknowing & unwitting). But acceptance of the noise and art of living leads into the further noise arts. If one’s life is embraced as noise, so to one’s music, speech, writing, film&video, etc. 

This is art as the expression of living as noise. There is no meaning save living as noise. The art is an extension of the life. The life is an extension of the primal chaos. 

Post:Noise

Post:Noise is the umbrella term (it is not exactly a genre in the way that no ()holistic non-totalizing work can ever truly be classified in a codified ‘genre’) that I use to define my sonic and video/spectacle work. It is an application of thoryvology into the arts.

Briefly, it is a category that describes work undertaken with the received methods and practices of Noise but with goals beyond those most commonly associated with Noise. It does not seek to be loudest, most abrasive, or any other appellation of furthest from the norm (cf. Attali). Noise is sufficient in that respect and the work of noise artists and noisicians continues to pursue those ends. Thoryvology, and thus post:noise, recognizes the arbitrary nature of boundaries and lines of demarcation and does not apply its lines of flight in those directions. Post:Noise does not seek the fringe but embodies it, does not seek to alienate but is alienated.

The OED (the prime record of this bastard tongue) has 22 separate definitions for ‘post.’ This post will be an effort in intentional cutup contextomy (a thoryvological research method), mining from those 22 definitions of ‘post’ and the two for ‘noise’ an approximation of the concept of post:noise (postnoise, post/noise, post-noise, &c).

Life in the physical world less its core and is relatively cool way Senses relating to sound or of the brain any of the set upright ground for various purposes occurring or existing after as a make remarks or comments Strife contention wall or other barrier cancellation of up or consume a considerable part in mood in a manner perceived of a signal interfere with or times in haste to start on out of a place to say time of the actual sucker attaches a lack of zealous support relaxed time or order to sift or a quarrel to achieve general notoriety points selectively reducing a device which influenced or informed by every cultural or renown without display or ostentation the termination pulse progress is no the brain of the brain in places along similar messages in ancient occurring following an apocalypse shaped or off course unacceptable in the time an attack resulting from inflammation resulting of dissonance or inharmonious feedback that education rejects some of the more a journey time at which a special payment rejecting traditional notions in materialistic attitudes or values associated with or make available disadvantageous position summon report record or list by name meaning pay or provide trample pound a phase of discourse operating after relating to waste generated designating a of something off the marked route, human existence following or reacting to maintain to imply mention in passing relating to or designating acceleration occurring related theoretical approaches exhibiting a cultural important end of the first year result of the point in a after attending designating or relating to act entry in a ledger) with later than following since Referring to midday typified by or characteristic of deliberately for use in various momentarily swift angelic messenger worth occupying a is experienced after the cessation of time or society no longer later the auditory apparatus situated or occurring or showing awareness the fall of the importance or prevalence of the to be pleasant or melodious to information irrelevant or superfluous information distracts to be sounded produce or supply the passage falls below threshold value milieu characterized by a decline in with a wooden implement Subsequent to by voices shouting outcry various kinds the environment a radio emission from after (flawed transaction or dispossession) suitable written word existing after metamorphosis occurring event or movement before after infection from an episode of inadequate supply (specified) position a place of duty or experienced after the end of (later also of metal) Now rare or dim occurring or undertaken after duty responsibility) deflect pass off from as overdue or missing to display by name as having failed publicly as a state which exists or shift designating, or characteristic of a behind the ear behind or below reducing output without triggering unwanted change the disturbance caused by this disturbance Scandal controversy fuss to cause a the sun order to improve the decline of the importance of having (boundary marker inanimate, unresponsive, stupid whipping obscure a signal distortions or additions the part which supplies nerves of oneself postpone defer or delay push make known, advertise bring before the hand over transfer or shift (a random or irregular disturbances not part which no longer has fusion at to receive one’s comeuppance to use utter (prophecy after the event eternity mind following a decline or failure beyond the balanced state of climax the strategic position taken up or mankind a circle of time or loud, harsh, or unpleasant to pretend the brain beyond the stigma fissure which interfere with the transfer of is characteristic sound of any kind subsequent to a convulsion having undergone the time of transition designating or itself to its host situated behind time or place after such contact notice and comment talk much or tavern was kept to be frustrated up to date inform with reflexive as characteristic of the time immediately be responsible for debts publicly list exist or after the end of on which the reckoning at a stupid or contemptible statement or idea compare slightly earlier style abstract advocating following the dissolution or collapse of occupy a strategic position intoxicating beverage of the sounds produced in this affected by forces human body and longer tenable no longer strong adherence unwanted line or surface (imaginary) joining some other state of the brain caused by sounds, discordancy disturbance made after the cosmos has ceased to through an aperture or slot bring loudly about a thing Nonsense foolishness alternate sheets the first such call disgrace to advertise publicly no longer performed or applied after the emergence refine preoccupied with the past after succession at which development has continued sends an electrical signal to halt quality outcry to cry out drive public expose to ignominy obloquy or sounds produced in this way any stir become the object of general.

 That explains it, right?

Noise has no past: hypocritical noise theory

Noise has no past.

This is not to say that the past wasn’t noisy or that things have not been called noise throughout history. Certainly, that remains the case. But noise remains in a perpetual present.

What is noise, what is regarded as noise, what is found to be noisy shifts with culture, location, time, &c. This isn’t to make the claim that noise is wholly contextual or based solely on perspective. There are definitions of noise, views of noise, understandings of noise that are far more fixed (notably the scientific ones). But many, if not all, of the cultural approaches to noise, the (hypo)critical understandings of noise are fluid, transitory, and without a past. Rock ‘n roll was noisy. Punk was noisy. Dodecaphony was noisy. But it would be a stretch to call any of those noisy now. This is hardly new. Attali made this point decades ago.

But that noise is a bleeding edge (or as Hegarty notes always fails at being noise) is a space that can be more fully explored.

Noise has no memory.

No past means no memory. But what does it mean that noise has no memory? What does it imply? What is carried along which such a claim (accusation?)? What does it even mean to have no memory? To have no concept of the before, of the previously disrupted, of the signals pulled from the static? What can be done with such a concept? Can there be a politics without memory?

 

sonic / filmic / liminal

these are not good work.

or, I am not in a position to judge them as such.

but they serve a purpose. They exist to make a point, or attempt one. I like them well enough.

I am not particularly inclined towards image work. This has long been a disappointment for me. I haven’t taken to cameras, though I have owned a few. I am terrible with figures (both photographic and pictographic). My pacing seems wrong. But I like what I do with sound.

Sound by itself, especially that which I am calling my post-noise work (post-noise in the sense of post-rock. it comes after and is informed by foundational noise artists but is not of the same tradition, cannot approach noise in the same manner), likely creates interesting visual imagery in the mind’s eye. It is likely not what is herein paired.

And it is that pairing, that forced juxtaposition that is meant to be focused upon here. Images out of focus, repeated, permuted, stalled that are forced into conversation with sonic elements that drift, that also permute but differently, that do not align. What is the reason? Why these images? Why these sounds? What does it all mean?

I make noise to be liminal. To test boundaries, to recognize and trace boundaries. To raise questions that cannot yet be answered. The abyss is calling. We lack perspective. One must enter the vortex, knowledge (even knowledge through madness) is necessary for life. These videos seek one such liminal zone, one such barrier island, one such no man’s land. Do they find it? Do any of us?

 

music courtesy of Delta Brainwave Society

film courtesy of Delta Brainwave Society

 

without listening.

There is no sound, no noise, no silence, even, without listening.

Paul Hegarty closes his excellent work Noise/Music (a direct heir of Attali) with a chapter headed with the above quote. This is, unfortunately, a stance on sound studies that I cannot agree with. The tree falling in the forest does not need me or any other listening subject to fall. To make the claim that the sound pressure levels or the vibrations created by said fall must be somehow null and void because no actor was on scene to ‘listen’ is beyond what I am willing to claim. There has been (and continues to be) debate in philosophy about correlationalsim (cf. Meillassoux) and about what might exist or fail to exist or fail to be recognized as existing outside of the human subject to think it existence. Noise theory seems to have skirted the edges of much of this theorizing, ignored because noise is, at root, the ignored, the suppressed, the excluded.

But despite Hegarty’s correlationalist stance, much can be made of his work:

What exactly noise is, or what it should do, alters through history, and this means that any account of noise is a history of disruptions and disturbances.

Disruption and disturbance are inherently political terms. They can be used to multiple ends and can, indeed, be ends in themselves.

As well as this disruptive element, noise must also be thought of as constantly failing – failing to stay noise, as it becomes familiar, or acceptable practice.

The failure to stay noise, as well, remains a constant issue in noise theory. Stemming from Attali’s judgments of noise as a moving target as the avant garde that forces the political, noise always fails to be itself. It disrupts until that disruption is normalized, it offends until the offense becomes commonplace, one man’s noise becomes his kid’s music. Certainly the question of annoyance echoes regularly in the failure of noise to stay noise (how long is it annoying, is it still noise so long as one remains annoyed?). But that seems a secondary issue to the role of noise in motion (constant vibration, unable to be pinned down).

But what Hegarty keeps circling back to is the listener. Noise demands a listener. Noise is nothing, noise does not and cannot exist without listening.

First, even in this model, noise needs a listener – probably some sort of animal or a non-organic machine with hearing capacities (both can be classified as ‘hearing machines’), in the vicinity of the noise so that the soundwaves can be heard. The sound then has to be perceived as dangerous to the functioning of the hearing machine. Without these two moments, we might have a sound, but we do not have noise.

If noise is to be defined relationally this quote remains valid. If the human subject is the whole of knowledge, if there is no knowledge or thought beyond the thinking and knowing subject, then clearly this is the whole of knowable noise. But I would venture further. The philosophers of OOO and speculative realism have tread this ground before me (with much better reasoning and citation) so I’ll not go too deep into the theory. But the fact remains that the world exists beyond the capacity of the human subject. Sound withdraws, noise withdraws, those objects that emit or cause to emit sound and noise withdraw. And the human subject itself withdraws. We cannot fully know the object. Nor it us or other objects. But I do not want to make the claim that sound is only noise in relation to an offended subject. That sound itself might not exist as such without a listening subject. Sound pressure waves are things. Noise is a thing. Noise is an object. And it withdraws.

Noise is negative: it is unwanted, other, not something ordered. It is negatively defined – i.e. by what it is not (not acceptable sound, not music, not valid, not a message or a meaning), but it is also a negativity.

Noise is not just volume, but the spread, dissemination and dispersal of its non-message.

All quotes from:

Hegarty, Paul. Noise/Music: A History. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.

On Attali’s Noise.

Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.

Jacques Attali is a seminal figure in noise. Nearly as prominent as John Cage and Luigi Russolo. Perhaps that is the issue.

Attali focuses his research on music and political economy. Likely, I will be drawing heavily from his work and the work of those he has influenced. But for him, noise also remains relational. Noise is everywhere, it is essential:

Today, it is unavoidable, as if, in a world now devoid of meaning, a background noise were increasingly necessary to give people a sense of security.

and arguments have been made that we can no longer abide the quiet, the silence of life without constantly blaring mp3s. But Attali never gets to what noise is as such.

For Attali:

With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world.

and

To make noise is to interrupt a transmission, to disconnect, to kill. It is a simulacrum of murder.

but

Noise, then, does not exist in itself, but only in relation to the system within which it is inscribed: emitter, transmitter, receiver.

And this remains the issue. For Attali, noise is a moving target. Noise is whatever it needs to be to disturb and disrupt the status quo. It is that music that is ahead of the curve and presaging the to-come of politics. But inevitably it will itself become passé, it will be brought into the fold, become meaningful and commonplace, and thus cease to be noise as some newer more aggressive/transgressive form takes its place in the cycle.

 

Attali makes an early foray into the noise as violence and physically dangerous milieu:

In its biological reality, noise is a source of pain. Beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial weapon of death. The ear, which transforms sound signals into electric impulses addressed to the brain, can be damaged, and even destroyed, when the frequency of a sound exceeds 20,000 hertz, or when its intensity exceeds 80 decibels. Diminished intellectual capacity, accelerated respiration and heartbeat, hypertension, slowed digestion, neurosis, altered diction: these are the consequences of excessive sound in the environment.

[…]

Since it is a threat of death, noise is a concern of power; when power founds its legitimacy on the fear it inspires, on its capacity to create social order, on its univocal monopoly of violence, it monopolizes noise.

But even then noise cannot remain fixed for him. Cannot remain an as such or an in itself. Cannot be defined without a human subject to be in pain, a human subject to be threatened with death, a human subject to be empowered or disempowered. This logic is often reduced to the simplistic noise abatement campaigns and annoyance rather than elevated to philosophical and ontological realms. Perhaps that is an elitist claim, diminishing the value of grassroots anti-noise campaigning for the quiet comforts of the ivory tower (btw, anyone know directions to that place and is there like a special key or handshake to get in?) where one can listen to Merzbow album after album in peace. And perhaps, at a level it is. But anti-noise campaigns that are about annoyance rather than more generally about exploitation and alienation are off the mark as well. And a broader understanding of noise and its transformative and emancipative powers, regardless of the idleness necessary to think such thoughts, is not wasted nor apolitical.

 

 

 

All quotes from:

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. Print.

Noisy Relations.

Herein, however, lies a problem, for if noise can become what it is not, what exactly is it?

The problem of defining noise – one notably absent for noise abatement campaigners – is a central project for Greg Hainge’s Noise Matters. For him it is not the simple manner of finding any and all ways to reduce noise such that we can go back to Arcadian idylls because noise, especially noise given its broad definitions, is inevitable.

noise is the ineluctable travelling companion of information

Hainge, in his intro, attempts at certain all encompassing definitions, gives nods to information theory and physics:

For the physicist, noise can be defined as a non-periodic complex sound, in other words, a sound that can be decomposed into a large number of waves all of different frequencies that (according to Fourier’s theorem) are not multiples of one basic frequency and which do not therefore enter into harmonic relations with each other.

but does not truly try to find a definition that would (because really does such a thing exist?) meaningfully combine the colloquial and common sense definitions with ones from musicology, acoustics, information theory, physics, art, experimental psychology, &c &c. Perhaps, then, a metaphoric reading of the physics definition above might be apt. Noise is the non-periodic complex combination of all of its complimentary and competing definitions that do not enter into harmonic relations. Not that that necessary solves the matter, but it is a more holistic means of approaching the subject. And the last thing any theorist wants is to be caught out in the cold having forgot about Vickers. Applesauce, bitch.

What Hainge does offer is this:

For whilst noise may seem like an eminently unproblematic term, concept or phenomenon when one does not really attend to it – and, as claimed here, we spend most of our time attempting not to attend to it – as soon as one does stop to think about noise actually is, one quickly realizes that its meanings and definitions are highly subjective and unstable.

Though again, might one not comment that noise itself is often found to be subjective and unstable. Is this not a case of art imitating life. Theory inevitably forced to maintain that the primal chaos cannot so easily be chained?

 

My main contention with Hainge is that noise for him remains solely relational. There is no noise-as-such, no noise-in-itself, only a noise that demands a human(listenting)subject to determine it to be noise.

Indeed, if the ontology of noise is relational, as has been suggested, then it can never be pinned down to one definitive thing, its points and coordinates will never remain fixed, able to be mapped, but will always only ever arise in different sites, with different characteristics according to the specificities of the expressive assemblage in which it is born again.

Now I certainly do not want to pin down noise into a definitive thing. But I would like to explore the thingness of noise. There are many things that are unfixed that are not solely defined by the human subjects that interact with them. But the way out of the correlationalism of noise is a road not traveled and the night is dark and full of terrors.

 

So what can be added to the conversation, to the theoretical discourse that wants to maintain that

Noise, then, is and of itself is nothing, for it arises only in the relational process through which the world and its objects express themselves in an infinite number of possible relations, assemblages or expressive forms.

while also claiming that there is a noise beyond the human subjects that are affected by it. That wants to find an object oriented ontology of noise. An ontology that understands that noise withdraws from human understanding and that the human understanding of noise cannot claim to be the whole of what noise is (cf. Harman).

 

Noise, then, is that which unmoors the world from the illusory fixity to which we tie it down in an attempt to keep it in place, to separate its elements out from each other and elevate ourselves about the ‘natural world’, subjecting it to our will and mastery as though we were somehow separated from nature.

 Hainge seems to be just on the cusp of thinking a noise beyond the human. A noise unmoored from our fixity. But he does not find it, theorize it, or explore it (if he is even looking for it, aware of it, or willing to admit that such a thing might exist). Thus the narrow path remains open. Let us see where it might lead.

 

All quotes from:

Hainge, Greg. Noise Matters: Towards and Ontology of Noise. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.