Beauty in Noise (series: Beauty in Noise, part 1)

Parables and parallels.

by Dave Skipper

Introduction

Background noise is a constant feature of life. These noisy sounds can be highly functional, and range from the enjoyable to the tolerable to the intolerable. Wind and waves. Machines and tools. From the buzz of the city to the clamour of the jungle.

Some noises soothe. Some noises provoke memories and induce nostalgia. Some noises alert us to danger. Some noises are interesting enough to make us stop and listen. Pretty much all noises indicate activity of some kind.

Dictionary definitions and conventional wisdom usually posit noise as all bad: unpleasant, unwanted, unwelcome. Noise as a general descriptor implies ugliness and dissonance. Grating, irritating, and even damaging. Stop the noise, or at least try and escape from it!

And as for noise music… what? Cacophonous, raucous, and damaging! It’s just noise, it’s not music at all!

I don’t deny the reality of noise’s tremendous capabilities to sit alongside stress, distress, destruction, irritation, confusion, and pain. Nor do I quibble with the understanding that these negative realities come in both objective and subjective forms. But my writings on this blog overwhelmingly take the opposite stance, namely that noise is – or can be – desirable, wonderful, and beautiful.

Noise is…

Some of the characteristics of noise which crop up again and again in the context of noise music include:

  • randomness and chaos
  • distortion and non-pure waveforms
  • atonality or non-specific tonality
  • nonlinearity of form and structure
  • complexity of details and layering
  • spontaneity and improvisation
  • exploration of excess
  • constructive and destructive feedback
  • breaking of traditions and expectations
  • blurring of boundaries and genre

All of these characteristics can be found in many other contexts in the natural world and in many branches of human study and thought.

The series Noise Tools will distil some of these characteristics in direct relation to sonic noise and the making of noise music.

The series Noise. Life. Death. will delve into the philosophical, epistemological, metaphysical, and existential dimensions and ramifications of some of these characteristics.

In this series – Beauty in Noise – I will take a step back, or sideways, from my primary focus of noise music. Here I will be seeking out parables and parallels of noise in predominantly non-audio realms, as well as tracing examples of beauty from across the gamut of audio noise. In so doing, we will uncover the hidden beauty of noise in unexpected places.

Beauty in Noise is all about the aesthetics of noise in their curious ubiquity and mesmerising juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity. I want to demonstrate that noise is more integral to the makeup of reality than we normally realise, and in ways that anyone can spot and appreciate. This may or may not lead to a new taste for noise music per se, but at the very least I want to remove some of the stigma that noise tends to have.

Conclusion

The modus operandi for this series will be presenting vignettes.

I will muse, speculate, and meditate.

I will analyse less, contemplate more.

I will share concepts and images that I find along the way that inspire me in their oblique correlations to my love of noise music.

Overall, expect shorter pieces than elsewhere on this blog (maximum of about 1,000 words, compared to a range of 1,000 – 5,000 words for my usual articles).

Without giving too much away, some of the topics that will find their place here will come from such diverse fields as computer science, cosmology, entomology (the study of insects), fluid dynamics, human relationships, Japanese culture, soil science, visual arts, mathematical modelling, meteorology, the seasons, and so on.

As these articles will be a bit more bite-sized, they may sometimes appear on weekdays in between the usual lengthier weekend articles.

Enjoy the beauty in noise with me…

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