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Noise music is a category of music that is characterised by the expressive use of noise within a musical context. This type of music tends to challenge the distinction that is made in conventional musical practices between musical and non-musical sound. Noise music includes a wide range of musical styles and sound-based creative practices that feature noise as a primary aspect.
According to Danish noise and music theorist Torben Sangild, one single definition of noise in music is not possible. Sangild instead provides three basic definitions of noise: a musical acoustics definition, a second communicative definition based on distortion or disturbance of a communicative signal, and a third definition based in subjectivity (what is noise to one person can be meaningful to another; what was considered unpleasant sound yesterday is not today).
According to Murray Schafer there are four types of noise: unwanted noise, unmusical sound, any loud sound, and a disturbance in any signaling system (such as static on a telephone). Definitions regarding what is considered noise, relative to music, have changed over time.Ben Watson, in his article Noise as Permanent Revolution, points out that Ludwig van Beethoven's Grosse Fuge (1825) "sounded like noise" to his audience at the time. Indeed, Beethoven's publishers persuaded him to remove it from its original setting as the last movement of a string quartet. He did so, replacing it with a sparkling Allegro. They subsequently published it separately.
In attempting to define noise music and its value, Paul Hegarty (2007) cites the work of noted cultural critics Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille and Theodor Adorno and through their work traces the history of "noise". He defines noise at different times as "intrusive, unwanted", "lacking skill, not being appropriate" and "a threatening emptiness". He traces these trends starting with 18th-century concert hall music. Hegarty contends that it is John Cage's composition 4'33", in which an audience sits through four and a half minutes of "silence" (Cage 1973), that represents the beginning of noise music proper. For Hegarty, "noise music", as with 4'33", is that music made up of incidental sounds that represent perfectly the tension between "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that make up all noise music from Erik Satie to NON to Glenn Branca. Writing about Japanese noise music, Hegarty suggests that "it is not a genre, but it is also a genre that is multiple, and characterized by this very multiplicity ... Japanese noise music can come in all styles, referring to all other genres ... but crucially asks the question of genre--what does it mean to be categorized, categorizable, definable?" (Hegarty 2007:133).
In common use, the word noise means unwanted sound or noise pollution.
In electronics noise can refer to the electronic signal corresponding to acoustic noise (in an audio system) or the electronic signal corresponding to the (visual) noise commonly seen as 'snow' on a degraded television or video image. In signal processing or computing it can be considered data without meaning; that is, data that is not being used to transmit a signal, but is simply produced as an unwanted by-product of other activities. Noise can block, distort, or change the meaning of a message in both human and electronic communication.
White noise is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density. In other words, the signal contains equal power within a fixed bandwidth at any center frequency. White noise is considered analogous to white light which contains all frequencies.
Luigi Russolo, an Italian Futurist artist of the very early 20th century, was perhaps the first noise artist. His 1913 manifesto, L'Arte dei Rumori, translated as The Art of Noises, stated that the industrial revolution had given modern men a greater capacity to appreciate more complex sounds. Russolo found traditional melodic music confining and envisioned noise music as its future replacement. He designed and constructed a number of noise-generating devices called intonarumori and assembled a noise orchestra to perform with them. Works entitled Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a City) and Convegno d'aeroplani e d'automobili (The Meeting of Aeroplanes and Automobiles) were both performed for the first time in 1914.
A performance of his Gran Concerto Futuristico (1917) was met with strong disapproval and violence from the audience, as Russolo himself had predicted. None of his intoning devices have survived, though recently some have been reconstructed and used in performances. Although Russolo's works bear little resemblance to contemporary noise music such as Japanoise, his efforts helped to introduce noise as a musical aesthetic and broaden the perception of sound as an artistic medium.
At first the art of music sought purity, limpidity and sweetness of sound. Then different sounds were amalgamated, care being taken, however, to caress the ear with gentle harmonies. Today music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds. In this way we come ever closer to noise-sound.
Antonio Russolo, Luigi's brother and fellow Italian Futurist composer, produced a recording of two works featuring the original intonarumori. The 1921 made phonograph with works entitled Corale and Serenata, combined conventional orchestral music set against the famous noise machines and is the only surviving sound recording.
In 1930 Paul Hindemith and Ernst Toch recycled records to create sound montages and in 1936 Edgard Varèse experimented with records, playing them backwards, and at varying speeds. Varese had earlier used sirens to create what he called a "continuous flowing curve" of sound that he could not achieve with acoustic instruments. In 1931, Varese's Ionisation for 13 players featured 2 sirens, a lion's roar, and used 37 percussion instruments to create a repertoire of unpitched sounds making it the first musical work to be organized solely on the basis of noise. In remarking on Varese's contributions the American composer John Cage stated that Varese had "established the present nature of music" and that he had "moved into the field of sound itself while others were still discriminating 'musical tones' from noises".
In an essay written in 1937, Cage expressed an interest in using extra-musical materials and came to distinguish between found sounds, which he called noise, and musical sounds, examples of which included: rain, static between radio channels, and "a truck at fifty miles per hour". Essentially, Cage made no distinction, in his view all sounds have the potential to be used creatively. His aim was to capture and control elements of the sonic environment and employ a method of sound organisation, a term borrowed from Varese, to bring meaning to the sound materials. Cage began in 1939 to create a series of works that explored his stated aims, the first being Imaginary Landscape #1 for instruments including two variable speed turntables with frequency recordings.
In 1961, James Tenney composed Analogue #1: Noise Study (for tape) using computer synthesized noise and Collage No.1 (Blue Suede) (for tape) by sampling and manipulating a famous Elvis Presley recording.
I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard.
Under the influence of Henry Cowell in San Francisco in the late 1940s,Lou Harrison and John Cage began composing music for junk (waste) percussion ensembles, scouring junkyards and Chinatown antique shops for appropriately tuned brake drums, flower pots, gongs, and more.
In Europe, during the late 1940s, Pierre Schaeffer coined the term musique concrète to refer to the peculiar nature of sounds on tape, separated from the source that generated them initially. Pierre Schaeffer helped form Studio d'Essai de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française in France during World War II. Initially serving the French Resistance, Studio d'Essai became a hub for musical development centered around implementing electronic devices in compositions. It was from this group that musique concrète was developed. A type of electroacoustic music, musique concrète is characterized by its use of recorded sound, electronics, tape, animate and inanimate sound sources, and various manipulation techniques. The first of Schaeffer's Cinq études de bruits, or Five Noise Etudes, consisted of transformed locomotive sounds. The last étude, Étude pathétique, makes use of sounds recorded from sauce pans and canal boats.
In 1951, Cage's Imaginary Landscape #4, a work for twelve radio receivers, was premiered in New York. Performance of the composition necessitated the use of a score that contained indications for various wavelengths, durations, and dynamic levels, all of which had been determined using chance operations.
A year later in 1952, Cage applied his aleatoric methods to tape-based composition. Also in 1952, Karlheinz Stockhausen completed a modest musique concrète student piece entitled Etude. Cage's work resulted in his famous work Williams Mix, which was made up of some six hundred tape fragments arranged according to the demands of the I Ching. Cage's early radical phase reached its height that summer of 1952, when he unveiled the first art "happening" at Black Mountain College, and 4'33", the so-called controversial "silent piece". The premiere of 4'33" was performed by David Tudor. The audience saw him sit at the piano, and close the lid of the piano. Some time later, without having played any notes, he opened the lid. A while after that, again having played nothing, he closed the lid. And after a period of time, he opened the lid once more and rose from the piano. The piece had passed without a note being played, in fact without Tudor or anyone else on stage having made any deliberate sound, although he timed the lengths on a stopwatch while turning the pages of the score. Only then could the audience recognize what Cage insisted upon: that there is no such thing as silence. Noise is always happening that makes musical sound. In 1957, Edgard Varèse created on tape an extended piece of electronic music using noises created by scraping, thumping and blowing titled Poème électronique.
In 1960, John Cage completed his noise composition Cartridge Music for phono cartridges with foreign objects replacing the 'stylus' and small sounds amplified by contact microphones. Also in 1960, Nam June Paik composed Fluxusobjekt for fixed tape and hand-controlled tape playback head. On May 8, 1960, six young Japanese musicians, including Takehisa Kosugi and Yasunao Tone, formed the Group Ongaku with two tape recordings of noise music: Automatism and Object. These recordings made use of a mixture of traditional musical instruments along with a vacuum cleaner, a radio, an oil drum, a doll, and a set of dishes. Moreover, the speed of the tape recording was manipulated, further distorting the sounds being recorded. Canada's Nihilist Spasm Band, the world's longest-running noise act, was formed in 1965 in London, Ontario and continues to perform and record to this day, having survived to work with many of the newer generation which they themselves had influenced, such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Jojo Hiroshige of Hijokaidan. In 1967, Musica Elettronica Viva, a live acoustic/electronic improvisational group formed in Rome, made a recording titled SpaceCraft using contact microphones on such "non-musical" objects as panes of glass and motor oil cans that was recorded at the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin. At the end of the sixties, they took part in the collective noise action called Lo Zoo initiated by the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto.
The art criticRosalind Krauss argued that by 1968 artists such as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, and Richard Serra had "entered a situation the logical conditions of which can no longer be described as modernist."Sound art found itself in the same condition, but with an added emphasis on distribution. Antiform process art became the terms used to describe this postmodernpost-industrial culture and the process by which it is made. Serious art music responded to this conjuncture in terms of intense noise, for example the La Monte YoungFluxus composition 89 VI 8 C. 1:42-1:52 AM Paris Encore from Poem For Chairs, Tables, Benches, Etc. Young's composition Two Sounds (1960) was composed for amplified percussion and window panes and his Poem for Tables, Chairs and Benches, Etc. (1960) used the sounds of furniture scraping across the floor.
Since the early 1980s, Japan has produced a significant output of characteristically harsh bands, sometimes referred to as Japanoise, with perhaps the best known being Merzbow (pseudonym for the Japanese noise artist Masami Akita who himself was inspired by the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters's Merz art project of psychologicalcollage). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Akita took Metal Machine Music as a point of departure and further abstracted the noise aesthetic by freeing the sound from guitar based feedback alone, a development that is thought to have heralded noise music as a genre. According to Hegarty (2007), "in many ways it only makes sense to talk of noise music since the advent of various types of noise produced in Japanese music, and in terms of quantity this is really to do with the 1990s onwards ... with the vast growth of Japanese noise, finally, noise music becomes a genre". Other key Japanese noise artists that contributed to this upsurge of activity include Hijokaidan, Boredoms, C.C.C.C., Incapacitants, KK Null, Yamazaki Maso's Masonna, Solmania, K2, The Gerogerigegege and Hanatarash. Nick Cain of The Wire identifies the "primacy of Japanese Noise artists like Merzbow, Hijokaidan and Incapacitants" as one of the major developments in noise music since 1990.
Following the wake of industrial noise, noise rock, no wave, and harsh noise, there has been a flood of noise musicians whose ambient, microsound, or glitch-based work is often subtler to the ear.Kim Cascone refers to this development as a postdigital movement and describes it as an "aesthetic of failure." Some of this music has seen wide distribution thanks to peer-to-peer file sharing services and netlabels offering free releases. Steve Goodman characterizes this widespread outpouring of free noise based media as a "noise virus."
An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volumes 1-7Sub Rosa, Various Artists (1920-2012)
Bip-Hop Generation (2001-2008) Volumes 1-9, various artists, Paris
Independent Dark Electronics Volume #1 (2008) IDE
Japanese Independent Music (2000) various artists, Paris Sonore
^Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007): 3-19.
^Caleb Kelly, Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction (Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 2009): 60-76.
^Matthew Biro, The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin, 2009, p. 50.
^Documents at The International Dada archive at The University of Iowa show that Antisymphonie was held at the Graphisches Kabinett, Kurfürstendamm 232, at 7:45 PM. The printed program lists 5 numbers: "Proclamation dada 1919" by Huelsenbeck, "Simultan-Gedicht" performed by 7 people, "Bruitistisches Gedicht" performed by Huelsenbeck (these latter 2 pieces grouped together under the category "DADA-machine"), "Seelenautomobil" by Hausmann, and finally, Golyscheff's Antisymphonie in 3 movements, subtitled "Musikalische Kriegsguillotine". The 3 movements of Golyscheff's piece are titled "provokatorische Spritze", "chaotische Mundhöhle oder das submarine Flugzeug", and "zusammenklappbares Hyper-fis-chendur".
^Owen Smith, Fluxus: The History of an Attitude (San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1998), pp. 7 & 82.
^Piekut, Benjamin. Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits. 2012. p. 193
^Observatori A.C. (ed.), Observatori 2008: After The Future (Valencia, Spain: Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, 2008), p. 80.
^In "Futurism and Musical Notes", Daniele Lombardi discusses the mysterious case of the French composer Carol-Bérard; a pupil of Isaac Albéniz. Carol-Bérard is said to have composed a Symphony of Mechanical Forces in 1910, but little evidence has emerged thus far to establish this assertion.
^Benjamin Thorn,"Luigi Russolo (1885-1947)", in Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook, edited by Larry Sitsky, foreword by Jonathan Kramer, 415-19 (Westport and London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002). ISBN0-313-29689-8. Citation on page 419.
^Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007), pp. 13-14.
^László Moholy-Nagy in 1923 recognized the unprecedented efforts of the Italian Futurists to broaden our perception of sound using noise. In an article in Der Storm #7, he outlined the fundamentals of his own experimentation: "I have suggested to change the gramophone from a reproductive instrument to a productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic information, the acoustic phenomenon itself originates by engraving the necessary Ritchriftreihen (etched grooves)." He presents detailed descriptions for manipulating discs, creating "real sound forms" to train people to be "true music receivers and creators" (Rice 1994,[page needed]).
^Seastones was re-released in stereo on CD by Rykodisc in 1991. The CD version includes the original nine-section "Sea Stones" (42:34) from February 1975, and a live, previously unreleased, six-section version (31:05) from December 1975.
^Goodman, Steve. "Contagious Noise: From Digital Glitches to Audio Viruses", in Parikka, Jussi and Sampson, Tony D. (eds.) The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press. 2009. pp. 128.
^Goodman, Steve. "Contagious Noise: From Digital Glitches to Audio Viruses", in Parikka and Sampson (eds.) The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press. 2009. pp. 129-130.
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Continuo.wordpress.com, Sound recordings from Nicolas Schöffer's spatiodynamic sculptures sourced from the DVD of an exhibition at Espace Gantner, France, 2004, titled Précurseur de l'art cybernétique.