Noise as Praise (The Word on Noise, part 13)

From quarks to quasars.
by Dave Skipper

Noise doesn’t exist in isolation as its own entity. Noise is aftereffect, always defined in relation to something other than itself. Practically, noise as sound emanates as a consequence of natural physical phenomena or of creaturely activity. The creation of noise necessarily entails the utilisation of materials, the instigation of actions, and the implementation of mechanisms. Noise is the raw, physical byproduct of some combination of design and accident, a process that by definition ends in vibrations. These vibrations traverse the gaps between their source and our bodies and ears. The functions and effects of noise are thus always grounded – tangible, experiential, recognisable. Noise in its diversity, freedom, and power is contingent on its being shackled to three parties: its generator, its travelling medium, and its detector/recipient.

And no matter how abstract noise music may be (or attempt to be) as an artform, it also cannot exist in a vacuum, literally or figuratively! The freedom of the noise-maker is contingent on their context, intentions, choices, tools, embodied limitations, and the laws of physics. True creative freedom can only ever operate and thrive within limits.

I believe that God has set limits for us for good reasons. Both physical and ethical limitations are meant to keep us safe and sane. And they are necessary and inevitable as finite created beings. Of course I believe that some limits are meant to be pushed and explored (creatively, technologically, and medically, for example), but these are more about current or perceived limits rather than absolute limits, and I believe that there are ethical limits that apply across all spheres of human thought and action. Attempting to overcome any and all limits without restraint is a quest to attain some form of divinity. At its core it’s built on a desire to be free from God, God who is sovereign and who requires our love and obedience and worship. In reality, the further we try to suppress or surpass our given creaturely limits, the deeper we descend into chaos – an increasing absence of form, meaning, and purpose.

At every turn, at every moment, we are confronted with the presence and power of God. Do you see, do you feel, do you know, do you hear? We cannot hide. His truth is inescapable. Under every rock, in every whistling breeze, through the dark watches of the night. From the stillness of the snow to the roar of the lion, from spinning quarks to exploding stars, he is there. He imbues every hue, he fills every crack, he creates every breath with meaning. He is here, present with his creation, yet he is utterly distinct from it and far above it, for he was before all things and is himself made of no substance.

I said above that noise is always defined in relation to something other than itself. My imperative as a Christian is to consider how noise is defined in relation to Jesus Christ. I have quoted the following Bible verses elsewhere on this blog already, but they are a crucial and clear summary of who Jesus is and why he matters:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Colossians 1:15-20

In this paradigm it becomes obvious to me that the primary function of noise is to praise God in Christ and to display his manifold glory. All further functions of noise* should flow from that. In down-to-earth terms, noise praises and glorifies God when it ably fulfills the various functions that God designed it for. Noise as human activity adds the requisite ethical dimension: we are able to harness noise for good or for evil.

* i.e. functions of sounds and noise and noise music, e.g. to educate / realise; to elucidate / resolve; to express / represent; to excite / rouse; to echo / reflect; to expose / reveal; to effect / react; to experience / receive; to explore / research; to evoke / remind; to eviscerate / ruin; to enrich / refine; to establish identity / recognise; to encourage / raise up; to exalt / revere; to exhort / reprove; to exasperate / rile; to entangle / rattle (this list appears in the article Creation of Noise 5/5)

Here is a psalm from the Bible that urges all creation to praise God. I’ve added in bold my own noise-oriented exhortations:

Praise the LORD.
Praise the Ultimate Noise Artist!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him in the extremities of noise as it scrapes the boundaries of cosmic frequencies and dynamics.

Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him in the otherworldliness and multidimensionality of noise that exceeds the imagination.

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him in your raging infernos, expansive explosions, and silent spinnings in space.

Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for at his command they were created,
Praise him at the very limits, for all your noises were planned and designed by him before any sound was made,
and their potentiality only came into being by the sound of his command.

and he established them for ever and ever –
he issued a decree that will never pass away.
Nothing can diminish the role and value of all the noises that he has planted throughout the universe,
for no noise can drown out his voice.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
Praise him in your tectonic rumbles, intense bone-crunching pressures, stifling darkness, and alien signals.

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
Praise him in your crackles and boomings, patterings and splatterings, whooshes and howls.

you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
Praise him in your snaps and thuds, tricklings and gushings, crunches and creaks.

wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
Praise him in your myriad onomatopoeias: snorts and bayings, stridulations and crepitations, cackles and squawks.

kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
Praise him in your colourful cultural cacophonies.

young men and women,
old men and children.
Praise him in your chattering and clattering, susurrations and cachinnations, vibrations and reverberations.

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
Let all noises praise the creator of sound;
for the wonder and detail and magnitude of his glory surpasses both the sublimity of subtle silence and the violence of vast vibrations.

And he has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
He amplifies all these praise noises into the blasting tones of victory,
a sweet musical noise from his true worshippers,
held tight to his beating heart.

Praise the LORD.
Praise the Ultimate Noise Artist!

Psalm‬ ‭148

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

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