Before time and space.
by Dave Skipper
There are many angles from which to tell the story of noise:
- the development of the science and physics of noise, including acoustics, psychoacoustics, etc
- historical unravellings of how modes of listening and definitions of what constitutes noise have shifted and mutated across time and cultures;
- sociological studies in how human interactions with noise have changed, especially in the light of industrialisation and the technology of amplification;
- the story of cultural and political responses to noise and noise pollution;
- the history of the discovery and scientific analysis of sounds and noises in the natural world – creatures, wind and water, natural disasters, etc;
- the growth in our understanding of the psychological and physiological effects of noise on the human mind and body;
- musicological surveys of developments in modern experimental musics including noise music;
- assembling anecdotal insights into people’s experiences of and philosophies of noise and noise music;
- how definitions of noise have expanded outside the audio realm to incorporate such fields as statistical forecasting, mathematical modelling, information technology, visual noise, social noise, and so on.
There are some fascinating studies and books out there already, spanning all the above themes. If you have read or come across anything worth reading (in any of the above categories, or others I have not listed which may be relevant) please do let me know so I can add it/them to my list! Keep an eye out for my future article series Book Reviews for summaries and thoughts on these materials.
As for noise music in particular, the paper-and-ink writings are relatively sparse and incomplete, at least as far as books are concerned. However, there are plenty of zines and magazines worth getting hold of, though many are difficult to track down due to being so niche, and having often been made in limited numbers. A lot can be gleaned from interviews in particular, of which there is a lot of great content available online which I will be mining. I will augment these by conducting personal interviews with contemporary noise artists (predominantly but not exclusively Japanese) – check out the future series Noise Interviews for those.
There is another angle on story-telling that I didn’t include on the above list because I’m not sure anyone else has tackled it before, and it’s the angle that I attempt to briefly introduce in this series of articles:
- surveying the broad sweep of history from a Biblical-theological perspective, and specifically applying this journey to noise.
In order to be complete I will need to start in eternity past and finish up in eternity future, so there is a lot of ground to cover! This journey falls into five distinct blocks:
1. Chimeric Noise
2. Creation of Noise
3. Curse of Noise
4. Cure for Noise
5. Culmination of Noise
I will outline each of these five blocks in a separate article, starting here with the first one:
1. Chimeric Noise
> Chimeric (adjective): unreal; imaginary; visionary [source: dictionary.com]
> Chimeric noise (noun): a fantastic vision of/for non-existent noise yet to be brought to reality [source: Dave Skipper]
In eternity past, the universe was no more than a thought and a plan in the mind of God.
Before noise was born, it was only a fantastic vision in his imagination.
“Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
(from the Bible – Psalm 90:2)
Before time. Before space. God who has no maker and no beginning is eternally in his now. He has always been present – present in the time of his timelessness, and present in the space of his spacelessness.
As time-bound creatures we can never grasp or enter into timelessness. Aside from sleeping or taking mind-altering drugs or undergoing hypnosis (I only recommend the first of these, and that on a daily/nightly basis), the closest we can come to a feeling of timelessness is arguably through music. When our mind and our senses are captivated by music in its potent and haunting beauty we lose track of time and forget our linear bearings. Escaping time through that most time-oriented of arts (for music can only exist and be experienced through the passage of time) – not a little ironic?!
Drone music – whether in the form of soft or dark ambient drone, acoustic or electronic drone, simple or complexly layered drone – explores this territory with special focus. Stretching out subtle timbral shifts over extended periods of time can be a very intense and meditative experience.
Various strands of noise music also exploit these concepts, either in the extreme subgenre of Harsh Noise Wall, or more dynamically in various forms. But the momentary sensation of timelessness is of course illusory, as the clock keeps ticking, the heart keeps beating, and we end up a little older and maybe a little wiser when the music/noise finally stops. Nevertheless, noise music so experienced can nudge us in the direction of imagining what it might be like to dwell in a little corner of timelessness.
“I the Lord do not change.”
(from the Bible – Malachi 3:6a)
The Bible declares the immutability of God: he does not change, he cannot change, he need not change. Outside forces cannot influence him to change. The closest parallel to immutability in the world of noise music would be the aforementioned infamous monolith of static slabs of pure noise called Harsh Noise Wall. Is God similarly static? Inert, cold, bland? Devoid of life, heart, and meaning? Inactive, passive, apathetic?
By no means. The contrast could not be more emphatic. To be human is to grow or die. Growth, progress, and change are inherent to created life of all forms. Change drives us, inspires us, defines us.
But God is totally other to us, he is not a creature but the Creator. Since God is outside of time and he was there before time began, he is not subject to the same conditions and processes that we are. Like-for-like comparisons based on our finitide and our experiences are not only futile but idolatrous. We attempt to de-deify God at our peril.
So how can his immutability be dynamic and full of life, and not static?
A major part of the resolution to this conundrum of the staticness or otherwise of God lies in one of the greatest mysteries of all: his Triune nature. Three-in-One and One-in-Three, the Trinity. The historic Christian formulation of this doctrine states that there is only one God, yet that he is three Persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. Their roles and relationships differ within the Godhead and towards humanity, but each Person fully participates in the divine nature and all of the same attributes. Christians worship only one God, not three, yet each of the three Persons are distinct Persons, not different aspects of one Person. Space prohibits me here from demonstrating these truths from the Bible in any detail: that will have to wait for another day.
The deeper we dig into the Trinity, the more glorious and the less troublesome or embarrassing it is. It is a magnificent paradox that permeates the whole of our reality in multitudinous ways. Further contemplation and analysis on the Trinity will open up some very exciting avenues for noise and noise music, which is material for other articles. Relevant to my train of thought here is simply the point that God has always been in community. Living, wholesome, dynamic community.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began…
“‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
(from the Bible – John 17:5,24)
Relationships cannot be static, and a three-way relationship of boundless love, glory, wisdom, purity, joy, holiness, power, righteousness, and goodness can only yield overflowing cascades of even more love and joy. Far from being bland and running out of steam at the zenith of perfection, God’s eternal three-in-one community is the very essence and definition of the absolute maximum abundance of fullness of life!
Sometimes I try to imagine how God might have initiated a conversation about his plan for creating noise – although since there are no future unknowns to God my brain quickly begins to fry in attempting to comprehend how God could start anything within himself, including conversation! It’s a mystery indeed.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
(from the Bible – 1 John 1:5)
God is uncreated Spirit, pure Being, pure Light. To our raw physical existence it may sound like his substance is ethereal, wispy, nothingy. But our feeble imaginations are flawed and grasping, for although our life and world are real enough, he is really real. Everything we know and everything that exists is contingent on his incomprehensible and complete essence.
Light as we know it is comprised of photons within a specific narrow frequency range. Pure white light contains all the visible wavelengths of visible light. On either side of visible light are infrared and ultraviolet light, detectable by some creatures’ eyes and specialised imaging equipment. The entire spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies goes from extremely low frequency waves through infra-red, visible, and ultra-violet all the way to x-rays and gamma rays.
Imagine being able to see photons from across the entire electromagnetic spectrum! Imagine that purest and fullest light in which resides all the frequencies! Maybe this gives a tiny glimpse into imagining the archetypal, intense, utter Light that is God. His Light knows no limits. Yet he created photons, so his Light is of another order altogether. His is the original, the first, the source of anything that we understand of as light.
When it comes to frequencies, we more readily think of sound and pitch than the frequencies of light. The audio-wave counterpart to white light is (surprise, surprise) white noise, defined as a random signal having equal intensity at different frequencies. What about all the frequencies? So called infinite-bandwidth white noise exists only in theory. In reality the bandwidth (that is, the frequency range) of any audio signal is limited by the nature of the sound-making source, by the medium of soundwave propagation (air, water, etc), and by the limits of the senses or apparatus that perceive the sound.
But again, imagine that there are no limits to the range of frequencies that can be generated and heard! What would it be like to hear and experience that maximal white noise? Terrifically noisy I should think!
God is Light, but he is not made ‘of’ anything, photons or otherwise. Created light is just that: created by God. God as Light doesn’t conform neatly to anything that we can sense or analyse. God as infinite-bandwidth Light, if we can express it like that, means that in him are no unrealised potentialities. He is complete and infinite in all his ways. Yet at the same time all possibilities are bound up in him – nothing can be thought or done outside of his predestinating plan and knowledge and power and wisdom.
The fulness of noise’s capabilities are merely a miniscule subset of the creative possibilities eternally present in God. And this is not a chaotic mess in the nature or mind of God – he is pure Light, whiter than white, his glory refractable into countless myriads of colours and sounds. Every conceivable combination and permutation of frequencies, whether visual or sonic, are ever unhidden to him.
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
(from the Bible – Revelation 1:8)
What was significant for noise back in the pre-time of eternity past, when God was all-present and satisfied in the perfect and undiluted community of the Trinity? A key point is found in the very absence of any and every noise as we know it in pre-history. God is utterly self-sufficient, therefore there is no need for noise to exist at all.
All the detrimental dimensions of noise have no place in God. In him there is no disorder, no confusion, no ambiguity, no shifting like the shadows. In God there is nothing unwanted, unneeded, extraneous. In him there is absolute clarity, purpose, faithfulness. Nothing about him is subject to disintegration or decay. His will and his nature are untainted by chaos, uninfected by corruption, unaffected by calamity, unacquainted to contamination. He is at the same time the noisiest One and the most silent One. In his uniqueness he is without noise, in his transcendence he is above all noise, and in his eternity he is before all noise.
The inescapable conclusion is that noise in and of itself has no intrinsic importance: nothing outside of God is required to exist, and nothing can have any value that originates in itself. The value noise has comes by virtue of God creating it – he imputes value and meaning to everything he has made.
“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.”
(from the Bible – 1 Timothy 6:15b-16)
Bringing the above points together: God’s timelessness and immutability, his unchangeableness, is nevertheless a living, dynamic state of being because he eternally dwells in relationship. And therefore noise that hints at timelessness and immutability, and that is unafraid to permute any and all available ‘infinite-bandwidth white noise’ frequencies and possibilities, is best served by also forming dynamic interplays, structures, layers, and relationships within itself.
The truth of God’s transcendent eternity is more precious and wonderful than we could figure out on our own. For God is not made in our image, that we could compare or construct him according to our experience and ideals.
In contemplating the nature of the eternal God, I am led to conclude that the starting-point for the history of noise is actually to forget all about noise, and to meditate on and worship God alone. Recognising that his infinite worth is the essential foundation to all of reality is thus to recognise that God alone is the essential foundation for noise.
The other side is that the seeds for noise have been present in God for all eternity, i.e. all of his attributes which exhibit themselves in noise (see especially the article series The Ultimate Noisician, for example the article Voice of Noise 2/4) were part of his nature from eternity past. These attributes were not hidden or latent, waiting for their specific form of revelation in noise to be actualised. Put another way, noise doesn’t bring anything new to the table as far as God is concerned. For us, though, the gift of noise can bring a lot of new experiences, new ideas, and new insights about both ourselves and God… wow!
Next time: Creation of Noise…
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!