On my last show, I was hanging out in chat, as I often do– typing to listeners, taking requests, fielding questions, creating an additional dimension of participation for the show. Having convinced one chatter to browse over to the show’s website and actually check out the show, I was amused at his comment: “Sorry, it’s nothing but static.”
Obviously, this wasn’t the case, or this would be a rather pointless blog entry. What this fellow was hearing (and probably for the first time) was noise art. Specifically, Toshiji Mikawa, but that’s not terribly important right now. So while I got a little giggle out of his reaction, I was also troubled– “how quickly we can stop ourselves from hearing!” I wondered.
Now, I’m fully aware that noise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s fine. What bothers me is that people have allowed themselves to be conditioned to such a point that they are unable to perceive alternate forms of music. It’s not too much of a stretch to make the hypothesis that this person wouldn’t be able to perceive the music surrounding us in the natural world either.I didn’t have time to really analyze this situation as much as I would have liked, but certainly, a number of questions came to my mind. At what aural boundary might have this listener perceived the sounds to be musical? (Considering that the simple cues of it being on a radio broadcast, and being urged to listen by the DJ himself were not enough, my suspicion is that the cues would have had to be much greater!) Would increased listening time been more helpful, or would the sounds themselves need to have been altered?
Might it have been possible to broadcast a sound so foreign it could not be heard at all?
Of course, this is the sort of extreme area of thinking that attracts me the most. For a long time, I’ve tried to find or create sounds that have no “history,” no basis in the musical past. Sounds that are not as much divorced from music, as much as they should not be yet. They’re my Lovecraft sounds, things I can’t describe without a rush of adjectives, and I enjoy hunting after them. But this… a sound that can’t be heard! Amazing!
This also brings me to one of the most fascinating aspects of noise art: Noise isn’t a place, it’s a boundary. I believe it is quite possibly the only musical genre definable by individual listeners where a single track can truly BE or NOT BE noise… so its no longer the finite sounds themselves, but the threshold and needs of the listener. In this way, noise is a very complex art form that can easily develop into serious levels of thought and question. There are the basics– If “noise” is something unwanted, does it become “music” only by virtue of it being listened to with a critical ear? Am I then “chasing” something that will constantly elude me? What is the role of a message in noise?
And the deeper questions– What is the significance of our “self” in relation to noise? Is noise art asking us to expand our ability to grasp the monolithic nature of these sounds, or abandon our will to its absurdity?
Again, is it possible to make a noise so great that it can’t be heard?