Stay in Wonderland.
by Dave Skipper
Noise! That cryptic, tangled web, that habitation of schizophonia.
Noise! That bifurcating matrix of minutiae, that cosmic fulcrum of eternity.
Noise! That tickler of ears and destroyer of mountains.
Noise constitutes a horizon-smashing slew of contradictions, opposites, and paradoxes. Noise at turns plays the definer or the defined. Or, more often than not, the undefinable. Noise is master and slave, king and beggar, god and dust.
Start to prod the inner thoughts of noisedom and all manner of creatures start to stir, from playful sprites to thrashing behemoths, manifest through scholars, rebels, artists, and noisers of every imaginable (and unimaginable) stripe. Abstraction begets noise begets abstraction begets a bewildering proliferation of philosophies. Or is it all the other way around?
In this series I will analyse more closely the philosophical connections and underpinnings of noise. I will look at how noise-related concepts find origins and destinations amongst a veritable A-Z of isms: Actionism, Anarchism, Animism, Atheism, Buddhism, Creationism, Dadaism, Deism, Escapism, Existentialism, Futurism, Gnosticism, Hedonism, Humanism, Idealism, Marxism, Materialism, Modernism, Mysticism, Neoplatonism, Nihilism, Occultism, Postmodernism, Pragmatism, Romanticism, Satanism, Taoism, etc.
Noisism [sic] is many-tentacled!
Prominent themes will include death and resurrection, power and control, freedom and randomness. From the pagan chaos festivals of the ancient world, to Marxist theories of revolution, to quantum theory’s Uncertainty Principle, to absurdist practices in the arts. What is the true nature of noise? I will delve into ontology (the nature of being), epistemology (how do know what we know?), cosmogony (the origins of the universe), teleology (is there purpose and meaning?), eschatology (where is everything headed in the future?), ethics (what is right and wrong?), and so on. All of this connects to noise, you ask? You bet it does!
Underlying presuppositions will be laid bare, and then I will attempt to logically explore the relevant ramifications for noise that these disparate philosophies delineate or imply. To all this I will bring to bear a Christian perspective, drawing out theological principles and lines of reasoning with which I will assess the alternatives. Along the way I hope to synthesise the best (i.e. true) parts into a coherent theoretical overview of noise.
One of my goals will be to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is unique in his creation and control of noise, and that all human attempts to wrest that control from him (whether philosophically or practically) ultimately lead to futility. At the same time, I will unearth and examine the role of noise as idol, as god-destroyer, and as mirror of the glorious heights and depraved depths of humanity. I will consider how human and spiritual connections to noise are at root defined by the proponent’s relationship to truth, eternity, and the infinite, and so an inevitable interfacing of theory, ethics, and practice will surface.
The nature of this series’ project clearly makes it a major undertaking, and as I write this introduction I don’t know yet what form the results of my research will take, nor how long it will take. But for now, here is a taster of some of the anticipated upcoming terrain to be explored, by way of a string of seeming (but in some respects harmonisable) opposites:
Noise is Everything…
Noise is the conglomeration of all possibilities. Just imagine all sounds simultaneously superimposed. Noise is the underlying cause and culmination of reality, exemplified in emptiness, chance, and entropy. Order and harmony are temporary exceptions to the ultimate norm of noise.
…Noise is Nothing
Noise isn’t a ‘thing.’ Noise is merely a symbol. It is an expression or analogy of externals and internals: distortion, discord, disintegration, decay, and death. Noise represents meaninglessness, transience, and the obliteration of content.
Noise is Objective…
Noise is tightly defined scientifically, with predictable characteristics and specific applications. It is quantifiable and controllable. Noise generates diversity and patterns. The only problems that noise creates are as yet unsolved, or are ultimately no problems at all.
…Noise is Subjective
Noise is completely nebulous, it is what you choose it to be. Noise is unwanted sound, or then it is just the sounds others don’t want but which you desire and dive into. Noise cannot be defined for the masses, it is totally individual and cannot be deemed good or bad in universal terms.
Noise is Life, Creation…
An invigorating affirmation of freedom, creativity, possibility, individuality, expression, and energy: noise life for life! Noise is ubiquitous and ever-unique, the epitome of potentiality. Noise is always new, always surprising, always evolving, the quintessential home of constructive and destructive feedback…
…Noise is Death, Destruction
Noise signifies the ending of clarity and of purpose. Noise can destroy the foundations of buildings, and it can disturb and even obliterate life itself. Noise overloads and dissipates the unwanted, in the process generating new life and new forms through death…
Noise is Power…
Noise dominates the airwaves. It pummels bystanders and antagonists into submission. Noise conquers non-noise, and cannot be quashed by anything less than more noise. Noise can reach where nothing else can reach, and it can wield its power mercilessly.
…Noise is Weakness
Noise is born of brokenness. Noise is incomplete. Noise is defective. Noise is everything that is wrong with a system, with an instrument, with a line of communication. Noise celebrates the underdog, focuses on the ignored, loves the despised, and gives a platform for the weak.
Noise is Sacred…
Noise is the purity of probability and aggression. It is precious and untouchable. Noise is a divine gift, bestowed into the hands and ears of all creation without discrimination. Noise dovetails with the euphoric and the mysterious, with joy and with awe.
…Noise is Profane
Noise is transgression, perversion, anti-something, anti-anything. Noise is defined by what it is not, by what it is in opposition to. Noise delights to shock, annoy, distort, and despise. Noise revels in darkness and in its own version of truth.
Noise is Eternal…
Noise is the unceasing and common thread that ties together origins and destinies. Noise as absolute meaninglessness is the one sure thing to outlast everything else. Noise therefore touches on eternity past and eternity future. Noise is irreversible and infinite in reach.
…Noise is Momentary
Noise encapsulates the transience of life. It is beyond our grasp, here one moment and gone the next. Noise constantly shifts, it cannot be captured or pinned down. Noise inhabits a temporary existence, a microcosm of the ultimate fate of the universe. Noise is irrelevant.
Noise is Natural…
Noise is a normal and integral part of the natural world. Noise is to be embraced and explored, not shunned or fought. Sounds of animals and storms, patterns of clouds and smoke, paths of rot and decay. Noise may have negative aspects, but it is ultimately ‘meant to be.’
…Noise is Unnatural
Noise is aberration and anomaly. Noise is interruption and disruption. Noise is exemplified in genetic mutations, epileptic fits, data glitches, and antisocial pollution. Noise belongs to machines, errors, and pests. Noise may have positive aspects, but it is ultimately a problem.
Noise is Art…
Noise is an expansive tool, a fantastic playground of aural treasures, the widest palette imaginable of sonic colours and textures. Noise is an invitation to innovation, craftsmanship, and happy accidents. Noise can express the full gamut of abstract thought and visceral sensations.
…Noise is Anti-Art
Noise is a cry against commercialism and elitism. It takes a stand against the establishment, against popular culture, against conservative values. Noise is a statement against the gods of power, money, and religion. Noise seeks to impact without the trappings of influence.
Noise is Freedom…
Noise denotes an unshackling from rules, norms, expectations, and restraints. Noise is lawlessness: no limits and no boundaries. Noise sets the agenda. Noise exists and thrives on its own terms, or then it allows you to define your own terms.
…Noise is Bondage
Noise stunts progress and inhibits knowledge. Noise brings disease, discord, and confusion. Noise traps its prey, clouds the mind, and frustrates the will. Noise obfuscates and overwhelms. Noise corners you and crushes you with no recourse to escape or overcome.
Noise is Control…
Noise is any given system’s determining factor, overriding and subsuming the non-noise. Noise supersedes signal, in the process redirecting and reassigning into newly defined trajectories. In the hand of the wielder, noise can conform and dictate any desired agenda.
…Noise is Chaos
Noise is unpredictable, uncontrollable, indeterminate. It renders truth, safety, knowledge, and certainty to be obsolete, unattainable, and non-existent. Chaos rules history and the cosmos. Randomness and purposelessness reign supreme.
My particular interest is sonic noise, and especially the spectrum of what can be subsumed under the umbrella term of ‘noise music’. But it should be evident that in order to investigate noise as deeply and comprehensively as possible, it is also vital to delve into the wider definitions and appearances of noise in non-audio realms. However, along the way I intend always to bring the discussion back into audio (and musical) orbits. I hope that connections that may appear on the surface to be tenuous or contrived will prove to be legitimate and enlightening. It should go without saying that these connections will not necessarily appeal to, nor be agreed upon, by other noise artists. On the other hand, there are many noise artists who verbalise certain aesthetic or philosophical commitments that should resonate with some of my studies (indeed I will reference some such artists directly), even when my analysis and conclusions head off in different directions.
As I face the task I have set myself I am both excited and daunted. My work is cut out for me! I have a responsibility to be rigorous in my analysis and accurate in how I portray opposing viewpoints. Of all the article series that I am working on, this is the one where I will find myself most challenged by the depth and breadth of the material to engage with. As is the case across this blog, I view my writings here as mere surveys and introductions and first thoughts on noise, with fuller treatment deserving more extensive and comprehensive research. Whether I get to do that myself, or whether I just lay out some foundations and raise some questions for others to pursue in greater depth, remains to be seen.
I feel a little like Neo in the Matrix, pausing before taking the red pill. I feel a heady thrill of compulsion and fear. Am I ready to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes? And will you join me along the way?
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
Next in this series, I will get the ball rolling with some reflections on Lou Reed’s seminal album of expansive electric guitar feedback: Metal Machine Music.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!