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.