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An incomplete and biased overview of the history of noise.
September 17, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Erupting with the blare of The Art of Noises, noise as art first nestled under the wing of futurism. Too bad they were fascists. Since then, it has expanded and spread around the world, a mirror and a mockery of music. Or maybe its future.

Sometimes under the auspices of experimentalism, sometimes as outsider art or inexplicable accident, noise is still with us, and won't likely ever go away.

Some helpful links for further research.

This is an attempt at an introduction to a widely misunderstood and varied form of art. My favorite bands composers and performance artists all suck etc. etc. Many of these links have been featured in previous mefi FPPs and threads, contains small parts, use hearing protection, best played loud, not suitable for small children.
posted by idiopath (70 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
The art of noise is weird.
posted by everichon at 10:57 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent post, also.
posted by everichon at 10:58 AM on September 17, 2009


Steve Albini plays noise. Steve Albini is a fascist.

You figure it out.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:04 AM on September 17, 2009


I used to really dig Zoviet France.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2009


Joe Beese: "Steve Albini plays noise. Steve Albini is a fascist."

Big Black is as much chamber music as it is noise. If not moreso.
posted by idiopath at 11:08 AM on September 17, 2009




Fennesz and The Hafler Trio are also worth checking out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:11 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mmm... reminds me of the semi-contemporary Musique Concrete movement, and one of my favorites - Rune Lindblad.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:16 AM on September 17, 2009


Bruce Gilbert (of Wire) did a fair amount of noise music.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:18 AM on September 17, 2009


I love the electric hum of Pan Sonic. Turn it up, just until the glasses shatter and the ears bleed, then turn it up some more.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 AM on September 17, 2009


Is there any escape? (comment # 11)
posted by greensweater at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


While many like to define noise based on what is there (intense timbre, aggressive presentation, mechanical aesthetic), I prefer to define it by what isn't there (a beat, a hook, harmonic voicing and melodic resolution).
posted by idiopath at 11:28 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]




And from Boyd and Frank's "Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing".
posted by Burhanistan at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2009


I prefer to define it by what isn't there (a beat, a hook, harmonic voicing and melodic resolution).

Some Norwegian noise goes more in this direction, e.g. Alexander Rishaug's Possible Landscape.

The thing about beats and hooks is that they create a more clearly defined space in which noise can play. The context these elements provide reduces abstraction and communicates a piece's raw emotional power more directly. Ambient noises aren't often as emotionally demanding. Even if that's by design, I'd argue ambient noise isn't often as captivating in itself as noise framed within (and fighting) a larger, more ordered structure.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Go big or go home!

A day I can't fit at least one noise album in to my playlist is a dour day indeed.
posted by Theta States at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, how I love this stuff.
I actually spin this in my chill-out room at my Friday night gig. A great counter-point to the 4/4 dance music in the other room. I've actually had a whole slew of people come up while I'm DJ'ing and say "damn, this is awesome, what is it?"

Most of the time it's some random netlabel track I randomly found.

I love it when people start grooving to Boyd Rice or NON though. That always makes me laugh.
posted by daq at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2009


Blazecock Pileon: "Ambient noises aren't often as emotionally demanding"

So you would call one of my links ambient? Which one? You can have discrete and even jarring events without having a beat. And I really think looking at noise within a musical framing fails to do it justice. Noise no more has to be considered music than graffiti has to be considered portraiture. There are many things you can do with sound that are not music.
posted by idiopath at 11:52 AM on September 17, 2009


Of course, then there's PowerNoise (TM). Harsh noises with a 4/4 beat. Or a 7/12 beat. That one messes with them.
posted by daq at 11:52 AM on September 17, 2009


I Heart Noise
posted by melt away at 12:12 PM on September 17, 2009


So you would call one of my links ambient? Which one?

The John Cage and Merzbow pieces are certainly made up of the kinds of sounds you'd find outside of any industrial plant, and so I think it's reasonable to put them into that genre.

You can have discrete and even jarring events without having a beat.

Certainly. Putting a microphone next to broken refrigerator compressor would record the same kinds of chaotic events. The context of recording, editing and performance all add to the meaning of a piece.

Noise no more has to be considered music

When listened to attentively, noise is music, at least to some, myself included. What I'm saying is that the more rhythmic elements help communicate what otherwise would need to be acquired through external knowledge.

A Merzbow production, in particular, seems to be influenced from the noisy environment most urban Japanese live in, though this knowledge may not necessarily be derived from listening to it. You'd have to do some research beyond listening to the piece itself.

Adding rhythmic and melodic components informs the listener of cultural and emotional cues that pure noise itself can't necessarily impart by itself. That's all I'm saying. I think noise can be appreciated as music, either way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:14 PM on September 17, 2009


I discovered Merzbow as a lifelong resident of quiet rural New England, and loved it before I lived in a city. Yes, noise can be appreciated as a sub-genre of music. But it can also be appreciated as a parallel category to music, where the two can be mixed but also have their distinct domains.

I have no objection to appreciating noise the way you do. My preferred definition of noise is influenced by being personally more interested in what is only possible as noise, what is incompatible with music or soundscape.

I appreciate noise significantly differently from the way I would ambient music - not as a background that sets a mood but as a series of perplexing or disturbing events.

Yes, a beat and a melody and harmonic progression are very helpful for conveying or inciting emotion, but often when I put some noise on, that is not what I am looking for.
posted by idiopath at 12:23 PM on September 17, 2009


Also, Blazecock, I think that when you and I say "noise", we are talking about two very different ways of listening, and the kind of sounds that are most appropriate to each of these ways of listening. It just so happens that in our language they happen to have the same name.

Also, regarding your cues and context, I would differentiate my definition of noise from music by the fact that it is experiential moreso than cultural in definition. Thousands of people from all over the world from widely varying backgrounds of culture and education have invented noise (as I use the term), totally independently from one another. A kid playing with a rubber band, or tweaking the knobs on an electronic tone generator she doesn't really understand, or rubbing a rusty nail on a chalkboard and becoming fascinated by the nauseous feeling it causes. If this gets arrested as an activity in and of itself without being integrated into a tradition of music, that is what I call noise.

I consider this "raw" noise a different kind of thing from music because it does not rely on anything more than curiosity, experimentation, and the willingness to be offended by what you hear. I would not be surprised to discover that there was some animal prone to doing noise, as I define the term.
posted by idiopath at 12:39 PM on September 17, 2009


Blazecock Pileon: When listened to attentively, noise is music, at least to some, myself included.

This could/should be expanded to the idea that "music" a process that happens within your brain, and that anything can be heard as music.


idiopath: I consider this "raw" noise a different kind of thing from music because it does not rely on anything more than curiosity, experimentation, and the willingness to be offended by what you hear.

I would contend that "raw noise" is, in effect, the process, but it is still being heard and interpreted in the brain as "music". (music defined as the conceptual innerworkings of interpreting and parsing of sound)
For example, a refrigerator compressor might offer raw noise, but it is the attention (and possibly the contextualization) that we offer it that makes it music.

All that to say, I do not think there is anything possible as noise that isn't possible as music, since by definition noise becomes music.
posted by Theta States at 12:54 PM on September 17, 2009


Theta States: "I do not think there is anything possible as noise that isn't possible as music"

The problem with this, pragmatically, is that you are then squarely in the domain of the bigots and assholes of the field of music theory.

They will tell you "this is inferior because it does not convey emotion", or that "this is inferior because it ignores our centuries of understanding of the nuances of proper technique and expression".

It is easier just not to claim any relevance to the thing they claim to be the universal experts on. Because there is no convincing them that they are not experts on all music, ever.

I don't listen to noise the way I listen to music. It, for me, is more an intellectual interest than an emotional one. I couldn't care less how skilled the performer is, or what kind of technique they are applying. I don't care if the sounds are accidentally made by some malfunctioning machine, or if they happen to be a sound some animal made, or if a composer puzzled over the sounds for years.
posted by idiopath at 1:10 PM on September 17, 2009


OK, I am going to try to take a break here. Obviously I care very much about this topic, but I am getting into GYOFB territory here.
posted by idiopath at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2009


I don't listen to noise the way I listen to music. It, for me, is more an intellectual interest than an emotional one. I couldn't care less how skilled the performer is, or what kind of technique they are applying. I don't care if the sounds are accidentally made by some malfunctioning machine, or if they happen to be a sound some animal made, or if a composer puzzled over the sounds for years.

Fun thread! idiopath, maybe you know this stuff already, but here is some recommended related stuff: the Ohm series, a collection of interesting electronic music, much of it "noisy," and the book Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts, which is pretty interesting and talks about the whole idea of "noise" in the arts in general, although it can get a bit academic at times. He talks about everything from the Futurists to John Cage to William Burroughs.

In fact, this book could help put some of the above discussion in context, methinks, as it precisely talks about what we mean when we talk about "noise" itself, and more interestingly (I think) it traces the history of how noise has been heard and thought about. When/if I've got more time later maybe I'll try posting something more thoughtful than this...I love this subject.
posted by dubitable at 1:23 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


idiopath: They will tell you "this is inferior because it does not convey emotion", or that "this is inferior because it ignores our centuries of understanding of the nuances of proper technique and expression".

Heh, generally I don't bother discussing noise with people that don't enjoy noise.
If someone is not in to it I certainly won't feel a need to justify my pleasure or sell it to them.
And since there's no real prestige to be had or money to be made on the genre, most artsnobs are content to leave me well enough alone on the point.
posted by Theta States at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2009


This post deserves a fucking prize. Idiopath, at the very least you are getting a very sloppy but thorough handjob from me if I ever meet you, you beautiful bastard! This gift alone is reason enough to pretend there is substance to existence.
posted by barrett caulk at 1:31 PM on September 17, 2009


dubitable: The introduction of noise within contemporary music certainly had roots in the academic. It was Russolo, a Fururist, who is often cited as the founder of noise.

20th century classical's experimental progressions resulted in the deviation from traditions in to non-traditional structures and sound elements. That, coupled with innovations in electronics and magnetic media, allowed noises to find a way in to music.

It was only with the advent of the 60s and bands like Nihilist Spasm Band did the modern noise movement truly begin. That is, a noise that was aside from academia and contemporary music society.

The Om box set is a great start, but much more focused on the birth of contemporary sound arts. (Not to say there is anything wrong with that though! I challenge any Merzbow fan to get through Bernard Parmegiani's L’Oeuvre Musicale set.)
posted by Theta States at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is great! I feel ignorant in giving such props to Cage for his role in introducing "noise" and stochastacism in music after hearing some of the older links you provide, especially those crazy futurists, who I know more through their visual art (and manifestos).
posted by kozad at 1:56 PM on September 17, 2009


I love this post, and everybody's links in it. Thanks, idiopath.
posted by ardgedee at 2:09 PM on September 17, 2009




Sometimes, noise feels so good.
posted by Slothrup at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2009


I actually spin this in my chill-out room at my Friday night gig. A great counter-point to the 4/4 dance music in the other room., Of course, then there's PowerNoise (TM). Harsh noises with a 4/4 beat. Or a 7/12 beat. That one messes with them.

damn daq, that sounds great
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2009


Metal Machine Music (sample)
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:31 PM on September 17, 2009


SPK - In flagrante delicto, including a comment from the videographer. I bought The Tyranny Of The Beat in 1992 and it started a journey that completely transformed me as a person.
posted by boo_radley at 3:38 PM on September 17, 2009


dubitable: The introduction of noise within contemporary music certainly had roots in the academic. It was Russolo, a Fururist, who is often cited as the founder of noise.

I'm not about to disagree "officially" with anyone in this thread, first of all.

But, I want to mention something I found really interesting reading through Noise, Water, Meat...which is the idea that John Cage was the first one that pushed this idea of noise being music into the conceptual space, and the argument is sort of that anything that is currently considered "noise music" has its roots in his conception. I think with a piece like 4'33", you can see where the author is coming from (er, or how I might justify my foggy remembrance of my interpretation of where the author is coming from...): that piece establishes this weird idea that music is not just music, it's anything else too. It's kind of a total mindfuck if you think hard about it and put yourself in the place of that audience and John Cage.

It may be true that "noise music" has its roots in the Futurists, but I don't think they had the same kind of mind-blowing conception that Cage employed in his work. Their idea almost seemed more political and sort of replaced ideas of orchestration with more extreme, dada-ist approaches. That is, the noise itself signified concepts in a very similar way to how orchestration was conceived, but wasn't fundamentally distinct, in a way, from how music had been done all along.

But, I'm just babbling about this stuff, I find it super interesting. Also, I loves tha noise. But I think I look at it as one (possible) end of a continuum of music, and don't necessarily try to distinguish it from music (as opposed to what I think idiopath is saying here): in fact, I find it intensely emotional and, while I certainly love the intellectual aspects of it, I think it is also intensely musical. That is, I have a very Cage-ean attitude about "noise music." Really, in fact, the more I talk about it the sillier I feel: it's just all sound really. Absolutely, fundamentally, it's all a manifestation of movement.

For some reason, this is also bringing to mind something Cecil Taylor said once, which I don't recall exactly, but I'll paraphrase as "I think everything you do is music." I guess I believe that in a way too, I think it's a continuation of the statement that it's all a manifestation of movement.

Anyways, like I said, I don't really intend to disagree with anyone in this thread. To each her own interpretation and mode of listening and wonderful experience and understanding of noise.
posted by dubitable at 5:13 PM on September 17, 2009


Theta States: "I do not think there is anything possible as noise that isn't possible as music"

idiopath: The problem with this, pragmatically, is that you are then squarely in the domain of the bigots and assholes of the field of music theory. They will tell you "this is inferior because it does not convey emotion", or that "this is inferior because it ignores our centuries of understanding of the nuances of proper technique and expression".


Also, idiopath, I don't understand your point here...could you elaborate? I don't see why saying something that is basically "all sound is equal to music" could be constraining, quite the opposite (if I understand what you're saying correctly).
posted by dubitable at 5:17 PM on September 17, 2009


Sorry for the incessant posting...I'll stop after this...I just find it all so interesting.

Also, regarding your cues and context, I would differentiate my definition of noise from music by the fact that it is experiential moreso than cultural in definition. Thousands of people from all over the world from widely varying backgrounds of culture and education have invented noise (as I use the term), totally independently from one another. A kid playing with a rubber band, or tweaking the knobs on an electronic tone generator she doesn't really understand, or rubbing a rusty nail on a chalkboard and becoming fascinated by the nauseous feeling it causes. If this gets arrested as an activity in and of itself without being integrated into a tradition of music, that is what I call noise.

I just re-read this comment above, and it got me thinking. I find your perspective really interesting idiopath. I guess what I find curious is that, on some level, I would argue you are turning "noise" into "music" by doing this. But what is music? It's kind of a nonsense term when you start thinking hard about it. I mean, you are saying, essentially, that you enjoy sound coming from various sources produced by humans. Nothing more, it seems. How could this *not* be music?

You say,

I consider this "raw" noise a different kind of thing from music because it does not rely on anything more than curiosity, experimentation, and the willingness to be offended by what you hear. I would not be surprised to discover that there was some animal prone to doing noise, as I define the term.

But if you are offended by what you hear, you react to it, and probably try to leave the sound or end the sound. If you stay with the sound, presumably you are enjoying it, or at least choosing to experience it on some level. Isn't that enough to define music? Or should we throw the idea of music out the door? I don't know. This is the sort of conceptual mindfuck I start to get into when I start to really think hard about what Cage was doing with his work.

When we start talking about what music is and isn't, what noise is and isn't, it starts getting caught up in meaning. What is the meaning of the sound of a chainsaw? Well, it means someone nearby is running a chainsaw, and you probably shouldn't get on the wrong side of them. But then, what if it becomes a sound that you enjoy? Then you are starting to appreciate it aesthetically. How many other meanings to that chainsaw are there? Is there a way to listen to it outside of these other frameworks? How can you listen to it and enjoy it--or maintain listening to it, regardless of enjoyment, let's say--and not experience in the same way as just having it be a noise that means someone is running a chainsaw, but also not experience it on some level aesthetically?

Okay, I'll stop now. Thank you for reading my blathering if you've gotten this far.
posted by dubitable at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2009


My noise / music distinction is a pragmatic one.

It shuts up the people who want to tell me it's not music, because I already agree with them.

It distinguishes noise as being a different kind of thing; not what the music theory snobs and music critics are talking about.

It is a useful shorthand for the fact that when I want to listen to noise I don't want to have a fucking beat or melody to go with it and you can go do your music somewhere else where it isn't interfering with my noise, thank you so much (this is particularly helpful when I am trying to do noise with collaborators).

It indicates the fact that I am looking for something quite uneducated and uncultured, something so far from being cultured that you don't even have to have a brain to produce it, not to mention be human.

It makes it clear that it is not a product of creativity, expression, or conveying a specific emotion.

Between the previous two points, it hopefully cuts the stupid "genius artist" cult down a size or two.

It communicates effectively with the uninitiated. "I do noise. If you like music, you probably won't like it, because it isn't music". Someone does not have to know much about music to know what that means.
posted by idiopath at 6:46 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Awesomest thread in a long time. Weeks worth of listening material to follow up on. Thank you all.

Like dubitable, I have no interest in disagreeing with anyone, and actually idiopath's positioning of noise as a sort of counterpart of music, separate from it, has had me thinking all afternoon. I like it, as a sort of impossibly porous distinction. "Noise: the kind of music that isn't music!"

One draws these boundary lines over a territory that's littered with teleporters, thank the Lord. Xenakis (the "experimentalism" link) is a fine example -- he has all the agressive disagreeableness, lack of hook, etc. But his commitment was to musical form, always. I don't know that piece too well, but his composition was mathematically strict and he himself always held the musical end point to be of prime importance.

Noise no more has to be considered music than graffiti has to be considered portraiture.

But graffiti is still considered visual art, right? Unless it's conceptual graffiti, I guess.

Final thing, I want to link my unpopular post about Bob Ostertag. All his albums are downloadable from his website and many are quite harrowing.
posted by sleevener at 7:14 PM on September 17, 2009


idiopath, I posted without previewing, but I love everything you just said. I still feel like family resemblances provide a better model than exclusionary categories, but your reasons are quite well put. I can only imagine the conversations you must have gotten yourself into with this or than Chopin scholar. Actually, that's not true, I've been in those conversations.
posted by sleevener at 7:38 PM on September 17, 2009


You may notice that I favorited that Ostertag about 9 months ago. I am a long time Ostertag fan, but I don't consider what he does noise really (of course we have agreed my definitions are a bit idiosyncratic).

My point about noise not being portraiture just because it is graffiti was meant to indicate that even when noise incorporates or comes from music (like with Xenakis, who I included because so many noise artists cite him as an influence), one should approach it with a different set of standards, and that noise does things that are not always musical. There are a number of things that one can do with sound as art that are not necessarily music. Books on Tape. Podcasts. Soundscapes. Sound effects. Alarms, alerts, and audible notifications of various sorts. The communicative sounds of the giger counter or metal detector. All of these things can be or include music, but for the most part don't and aren't. I add noise to this list. Others clearly don't.

In other words, you suggest (portraiture : visual art :: noise : music) but I suggested (portraiture : visual art :: music : audible art) and furthermore (graffiti : visual art :: noise : audible art). WIth all that follows. Music can incorporate noise and visa versa - they are partially overlapping but distinct domains.
posted by idiopath at 7:41 PM on September 17, 2009


It may be true that "noise music" has its roots in the Futurists, but I don't think they had the same kind of mind-blowing conception that Cage employed in his work.

I think experimental music demanded a deliberate experimenter like Cage, but he was not really interested in noise as music as much as he was interested in redefining what music is, or can be, if you look at it just right. Personally, I think Brian Eno was really more the catalyst for modern noise music, including (obviously) ambient, but the concepts he pioneered also helped to bring about techno (along with industrial, which came about at around the same time as Eno's first work on ambient), and I also think the more abstract jazz pushed on this, starting with Coltrane and Miles post-Bitches Brew, but full-blown in Eric Dolphy. You could also easily credit Hendrix, Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.

As Zappa said, "You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream."
posted by krinklyfig at 7:53 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Music can incorporate noise and visa versa - they are partially overlapping but distinct domains.

I think noise can be musical, but not all noise is musical, even though sometimes it happens by accident.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:55 PM on September 17, 2009


krinklyfig: the Haters, Merzbow, the Nihilist Spasm Band, and AMM have much more to do with modern noise than Eno does, and they all were his predecessors or contemporaries as far as noise goes. Also, Eno was explicitly influenced by Cage. Eno very rarely left the beat and melody behind simultaniously, usually one or another was there in what he did, if not both.
posted by idiopath at 8:04 PM on September 17, 2009


There are a number of things that one can do with sound as art that are not necessarily music.

That's exactly right. Sometimes the line is a bit blurred, though. Although you don't have to know much about music to understand the distinction, a lot of people involved in making noise as art but not music are also musicians in different venues, and sometimes both at the same time, but this is by no means the norm. And Eno did not consider himself a musician.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:05 PM on September 17, 2009


^also add the Hajokaidan to the above list
posted by idiopath at 8:05 PM on September 17, 2009


krinklyfig: the Haters, Merzbow, the Nihilist Spasm Band, and AMM have much more to do with modern noise than Eno does, and they all were his predecessors or contemporaries as far as noise goes

I guess, yeah, it depends on what you consider modern noise. If it's more the noise which is not really music, then yes, can't disagree.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:08 PM on September 17, 2009


idiopath et al: I like everything you're all saying more the more I think about it. I can see why you didn't link Ostertag, & thanks for liking that post - I include him here for anyone in the thread who's interested.

These sorts of distinctions are being hashed out in the poetry world right now too, speaking (not exactly) of the late Chopin (extremely noisy sound poet -- mayhem starts ~2:00).

Bed now, but thanks again for the thread and post. I've watched that Rudolf Eb.er video like five times now. Yeeks.
posted by sleevener at 8:10 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Henri Chopin performance was excellent.

Regarding Rudolf Eb.er (or Eber as I have also seen it), he was a member of the Schimpfluche Gruppe (more a performance art group than strictly a sonic ones, but they do release recordings) and he also performs as Runzelstirn & Gurglestock. If you like his stuff, I also recommend Dave Phillips and Joke Lanz, fellow members of the Schimpfluche collective with a comparable but less stark aesthetic. They all are highly inspired by the Viennese Actionists, predecessors to what became performance art, who probably are worthy of an FPP.
posted by idiopath at 8:33 PM on September 17, 2009


Great thread. Lots to think about and listen to. Thanks everyone and idiopath especially.
posted by dubitable at 9:57 PM on September 17, 2009


There are a number of things that one can do with sound as art that are not necessarily music. Books on Tape.

One further (counter)point. Again, not a disagreement about what these definitions should be necessarily--we each have our own, and that, I think, is appropriate.

Anyways, I was listening to a Japanese language recording of a short story a few months ago and, because my knowledge of the language is so poor, and because I was drunk, it morphed into something incredible. Not just sound, not words, but maybe music, I dunno. Maybe something else.
posted by dubitable at 10:01 PM on September 17, 2009


Having attempted audio manipulation, conversion and assemblage for a few years, I found that my desire to sculpt (and yes, even (gasp) evoke emotions! I know!) was frustrated. It's all fun and good using software to slow sounds to 1/100th of their original speed ... filter them to within an iota of nil... but it wears.

As for the reception: it was amply predicted by Attali.
This new activity is NOT undertaken for its exchange or use value. It is undertaken solely for the pleasure of the person who does it (its "producer"). Such activity involves a radical rejection of the specialized roles (composer, performer, audience) that dominated all previous music. (135)

The activity is entirely localized, made by a small community for that community. There is no clear distinction between consumption and production.
Yes there's something very democratic about music in which the quality of one performance is indistinguishable from another. Stravinsky certainly recognized the inextinguishable necessity of constraints in the face of a universe of infinite possibility: "The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution." (see: Oblique Strategy)

So, while Mt. St. Helens was an awesome spectacle, from a distance ... most of the time, I still prefer a nice chromatic mandala. Yes, even (gasp) design!
posted by Twang at 1:37 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


@idiopath

"They will tell you "this is inferior because it does not convey emotion", or that "this is inferior because it ignores our centuries of understanding of the nuances of proper technique and expression".

I share your frustration with that sort of approach to creative expression. But true believers need to defend their Truths from the heathen masses. "Music is being taken over by the physicists!!!" is the only such lament I've actually heard. It gets passed on and on in the endless sort of battles about what is and isn't proper Acid House Garage Funk.

I think that sort of thing will melt away in time. Music's a fluid muse. I was really happy to discover Acoustica ... a harbinger of sorts on that plane.
posted by Twang at 2:04 AM on September 18, 2009


A couple of years ago I was watching some Captain Beefheart video on YouTube when my nephew entered the room. "That music makes no sense!" he said. I was suprised by the intensity of his reaction, since it just seemed like some slightly eccentric blues rock to me (I've forgotten which song Beefheart was playing in the clip.)

To my nephew it was just noise. My own definition of music is something like: sound controlled and shaped by human hands - but not always! Some of the most beautiful things I've ever heard were produced without any intentional human intervention, such as the sound of rain water draining off of a roof and landing on various objects that had been left beneath the eaves - just random patterns that wouldn't mean much without a human ear to perceive them, and that might be an arrogant statement in and of itself.

That's both the gift and the burden (depending on your disposition) of noise - the ability to tune into the many little sonic events going on around you throughout your day, to be a little more sensitive towards your immediate surroundings. By necessity we tend to filter most of this stuff out as we go about our daily business, but to open up to it might lend a different aspect to things.

Never have understood the militancy that many people bring to unfamiliar music, though.
posted by metagnathous at 5:17 AM on September 18, 2009


Twang: "undertaken solely for the pleasure of the person who does it (its "producer")"

In my personal experience noise is appreciated even if it has no human producer, and even if it causes the producer no pleasure.

Also, Aphex Twin is obviously emotional and expressive, and obviously music, and not the sort of thing I thought I was talking about at all. My point was that "creative expression" and "conveying emotion" (and now that you mention it, "pleasure") are actually distractions from noise - that is, asking about them was asking the wrong question if you want to appreciate noise on its own terms. This isn't art being displaced by physics because you don't need to have any understanding of it in order to do it or appreciate it.

The Haters released a piece of music that consisted of a cottonball glued to a square of cardboard. Written on the other side of the cardboard were these instructions (paraphrase): "hold this side of the cardboard flat against your ear, and rub the cotton". That is noise. Who is the "producer"?. The guy who glued a cottonball to a piece of cardboard? The guy who had the idea of doing that? The person who follows the instructions? Which of these persons feels pleasure?

Twang: "most of the time, I still prefer a nice chromatic mandala. Yes, even (gasp) design!"

I studied one on one with a composer who taught me that composition was the act of making that which would not be there if not for the effort of the composer. He accused my work of simply showing something as itself rather than making something new. I had many arguments with him before agreeing that what I was doing was not composition. By his definition it clearly was not. I am older now. I do compose now. I also do noise. I listen to music sometimes, noise sometimes.
posted by idiopath at 5:34 AM on September 18, 2009


metagnathous: "A couple of years ago I was watching some Captain Beefheart video on YouTube when my nephew entered the room. "That music makes no sense!" he said. I was suprised by the intensity of his reaction, since it just seemed like some slightly eccentric blues rock to me
By necessity we tend to filter most of this stuff out as we go about our daily business, but to open up to it might lend a different aspect to things.
Never have understood the militancy that many people bring to unfamiliar music, though."



This was one of the great discoveries in learning avant-garde music: Realizing how and when your brain starts picking up new patterns, deriving new pleasures from things which you know at one point you didn't comprehend as music/pleasurable/interesting.

For many types of music I can remember periods in my youth of hearing it and being turned away from it, not understanding it. And then later in life I would come back to it and it would all make sense, and I had learned how to listen to it.
posted by Theta States at 6:36 AM on September 18, 2009


idiopath: I studied one on one with a composer who taught me that composition was the act of making that which would not be there if not for the effort of the composer. He accused my work of simply showing something as itself rather than making something new. I had many arguments with him before agreeing that what I was doing was not composition. By his definition it clearly was not.

But did your composer friend demand that composition is required to make music?
While I can agree with his definition of composition, even if your just dangling your contact microphones in to a pile of dirt, you can still be making music to my ears. And that's all that really matters to me.

I much prefer "design" to "composition" when it comes to abstract sound pieces anyways. Composed abstract music tends to always still sound like composed music.
When a sound system is designed or proposed (like Larsen's cotton ball, like Tudor's feedback sculptures, like some of the Mego crew's MSP patches, like Yamazaki's coins and f/x pedal chain, etc), the sound comes out ordered by the design, but is not composed per se. And that tends to be the most satisfying for me.

The only people I ever have spats with are those that claim some sort role of role as proprietary arbitrator for the definition of music, instead of allowing it to merely be an internal process in the receiving individual.
posted by Theta States at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2009


Brian Eno was brought up above, and though I would not consider him a pioneer by any means in this field, he is probably responsible more than any other human being for making it possible for people to appreciate it. He provides the intermediate "training wheels" for people who want to transition from listening to pop music to listening to challenging or experimental musics.

He did a great lecture, available somewhere on mp3, where he talked about the relationship between himself and music being a life long conversation, and music he would make or listen to would make sense in the context of that conversation. I appreciate this because it is the most down to earth explanation I have ever seen for a dialectic, and pretty plainly explicates how his music eases people into the outer limits of things musical.
posted by idiopath at 6:46 AM on September 18, 2009


This was one of the great discoveries in learning avant-garde music: Realizing how and when your brain starts picking up new patterns, deriving new pleasures from things which you know at one point you didn't comprehend as music/pleasurable/interesting.

For many types of music I can remember periods in my youth of hearing it and being turned away from it, not understanding it. And then later in life I would come back to it and it would all make sense, and I had learned how to listen to it.


I've also found that the things that require some effort to appreciate tend to be the ones that stick with me the longest, while those that are immediately alluring can have less staying power. This of course applies to other things in addition to music.
posted by metagnathous at 6:49 AM on September 18, 2009


I appreciate noise significantly differently from the way I would ambient music - not as a background that sets a mood but as a series of perplexing or disturbing events.

This is the best explanation of both why to listen to noise and how to listen to noise I have ever read.

Fantastic, fantastic post.
posted by winna at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2009


Having just fallen in love with Henri Chopin thanks to sleevener's link above, I just discovered erratum, which I would have linked to in the main post here if I had known it existed, and is an excellent source of mp3s and leads for artists to explore.

Chopin is totally blowing my mind right now.

dubitable: "Anyways, I was listening to a Japanese language recording of a short story a few months ago and, because my knowledge of the language is so poor, and because I was drunk, it morphed into something incredible"

In looking into Henri Chopin's work I am learning more about sound-poetry, and your anecdote sounds like a pretty good description of the sound-poem experience to me right now.

Theta States: "But did your composer friend demand that composition is required to make music?"

No, he did not. If he had hung up on that issue I think I would have been studying with someone else. Regarding design vs. composition I wish I had a chance to bring that question with him before he died, because he was as much an advocate of the importance of being a designer as he was the importance of being a composer.

Funny enough I knew a fan of Henri Chopin at the time and I accused him of trying to make noise some sort of folk music, which he took as a compliment. I wish he had been a bit more persuasive, because I would have benefited greatly from hearing Henri Chopin's work a decade sooner.

In conclusion: Henri Chopin.
posted by idiopath at 11:37 PM on September 18, 2009


God, Merzbow is so fucking good.

Just a few other mentions: Sheer Hellish Miasma, by Kevin Drumm, is a fantastic entry point into the world of noise; it's mostly created with looped and delayed guitar distortion, so there's a bit of a hook to grab onto if you're new to the genre. Also, Guilty Connector (featured in one of the videos in the FPP along with John Wiese) is doing some really interesting stuff. And finally, don't forget the Mego label, home to some of the most interesting digital noise being made at the moment.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2009


"It communicates effectively with the uninitiated. "I do noise. If you like music, you probably won't like it, because it isn't music". Someone does not have to know much about music to know what that means."

God, how pretentious!

Look, I like this post, even though youtube is fucking up for me again (it seems a little odd to complain about the stuttering of streaming latency in noise, but there you are). But arguing that "noise" isn't "music" based on tautological grounds is silly and exclusive needlessly. It's like arguing that it's not art—music is sonic art, a subset of art. Everything else, especially with the 20th century emphasis on expanding materials and definitions, every other definition is only useful in terms of giving something to strain against; a negative formulation rather than a positive one.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm screwing around with field recordings and looping in Amadeus this morning.
posted by klangklangston at 9:46 AM on September 19, 2009


klangklangston: "youtube is fucking up for me agani"

I suggest downloadhelper, it is a firefox plugin that gets you the video file out of flash objects.

klangklangston: "God, how pretentious!"

What is your objection to telling a potential listener that they probably won't like this stuff? It isn't a value judgment, I am not saying anyone isn't good enough to listen to it. I am not even telling them not to listen. Just that most people hear this stuff and hate it.
posted by idiopath at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: one more thing

if your definition of music is large enough to include the accidental sounds of broken machines (not recorded - directly experienced), the random sounds of the street filtering in the window, or an executable file piped directly into the sound card, we are arguing about terminology but talking about the same thing. If you would fail to call any of those things music, that is exactly why I make the pragmatic gesture of saying "noise, not music".
posted by idiopath at 11:20 AM on September 19, 2009


"if your definition of music is large enough to include the accidental sounds of broken machines (not recorded - directly experienced), the random sounds of the street filtering in the window, or an executable file piped directly into the sound card, we are arguing about terminology but talking about the same thing."

"Music" is based on the brain's response to sounds, attempting to create continuity out of disparate moments—much like how both animation and comics work. This is obviously edge cases, but I'd say that here it's listening with a mind toward intentionally listening that makes this "music." I'd also say that while you may classify every sound as "noise" and only a subset of those as "music," you're also not listening and appreciating every noise or sound around you. You tune a fair amount out. So if you're going to make a distinction, you also have to answer why you tune some stuff out—you don't listen to all noise, you listen to noise that interests you. "Noise that interests you" is congruent to "music," at least for me.
posted by klangklangston at 5:24 PM on September 19, 2009


I just noticed that I was simultaniously listening to "what it is", by Derek Bailey, and "Mama", by Schimpfluch Gruppe, while programming, and the fact that each of the three activities were tickling distinctly separate parts of my attention, reminding me of our discussion here of whether noise is listened to in the same way one listens to music.
posted by idiopath at 5:43 PM on October 6, 2009


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