sits through

Noise (music)

Noise music is a term used to describe varieties of avant-garde music and sound art that may use elements such as cacophony, dissonance, atonality, noise, indeterminacy, and repetition in their realization.

Noise music can feature distortion, various types of acoustically or electronically generated noise, randomly produced electronic signals, and non-traditional musical instruments. Noise music may also incorporate manipulated recordings, static, hiss and hum, feedback, live machine sounds, custom noise software, circuit bent instruments, and non-musical vocal elements.The Futurist art movement was important for the development of the noise aesthetic, as was the Dada art movement, and later the Surrealist and Fluxus art movements, specifically the Fluxus artists Joe Jones and Takehisa Kosugi.

During the early 1900s a number of art music practitioners began exploring atonality. Composers such as Arnold Schoenberg proposed the incorporation of harmonic systems that were, at the time, considered dissonant. This lead to the development of twelve tone technique and serialism. In his book 1910: the Emancipation of Dissonance Thomas J. Harrison suggests that this development might be described as a metanarrative to justify the so called dionysian pleasures of atonal noise.

Contemporary noise music is often associated with excessive volume, particularly in the popular music domain with examples such as Heavy metal music, Jimi Hendrix’s use of feedback, and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

Other examples of music that contain noise based features include works by Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Theatre of Eternal Music, Rhys Chatham, Ryoji Ikeda, Survival Research Laboratories, Whitehouse, Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, the music of Hermann Nitsch’s Orgien Mysterien Theater, and La Monte Young’s bowed gong works from the late 1960s. Genres such as industrial, industrial techno, and glitch music exploit noise based materials.


Avant-garde precursors

Luigi Russolo, a futurist painter of the very early 20th century, was perhaps the first noise artist. His 1913 manifesto, L'Arte dei Rumori, translated as The Art of Noises, stated that the industrial revolution had given modern men a greater capacity to appreciate more complex sounds. Russolo found traditional melodic music confining and envisioned noise music as its future replacement. He designed and constructed a number of noise-generating devices called Intonarumori and assembled a noise orchestra to perform with them. A performance of his Gran Concerto Futuristico (1917) was met with strong disapproval and violence from the audience, as Russolo himself had predicted. None of his intoning devices have survived, though recently some have been reconstructed and used in performances. Although Russolo's works bear little resemblance to modern noise music, his pioneering creations cannot be overlooked as an essential stage in the evolution of this genre, and many artists are now familiar with his manifesto.

At first the art of music sought purity, limpidity and sweetness of sound. Then different sounds were amalgamated, care being taken, however, to caress the ear with gentle harmonies. Today music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds. In this way we come ever closer to noise-sound.|||Luigi Russolo
By the 1920s, modernists Edgard Varèse and George Antheil began to use early mechanical musical instruments—such as the player piano and the siren—to create music that mirrored the noise of the modern world.

In the 1930s, under the influence of Henry Cowell in San Francisco, Lou Harrison and John Cage began composing music for "junk" percussion ensembles, scouring junkyards and Chinatown antique shops for appropriately-tuned brake drums, flower pots, gongs, and more. Cage started his Imaginary Landscape series in 1939, which combined recorded sound, percussion, and, in the case of Imaginary Landscape #4, twelve radios.

In Europe, during the late 1940s, Pierre Schaeffer coined the term musique concrète to refer to the peculiar nature of sounds on tape, separated from the source that generated them initially. Following this, both in Europe and America, other modernist art music composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, G.M. Koenig, Iannis Xenakis, La Monte Young, and David Tudor, explored sound based composition. Amongst the techniques used in this period were tape manipulation, subtractive synthesis, and improvised live electronics.

Modern to postmodern noise

I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. |||John Cage The Future of Music: Credo (1937)
The art critic Rosalind Krauss argued that by 1968 artists such as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson and Richard Serra had "entered a situation the logical conditions of which can no longer be described as modernist. Sound art found itself in the same condition, but with an added emphasis on distribution. Antiform process art became the terms used to describe this post-modern post-industrial culture and the process by which it is made. Serious art music responded to this conjuncture in terms of intense noise, for example the LaMonte Young Fluxus composition 89 VI 8 C. 1:42-1:52 AM Paris Encore From Poem For Chairs, Tables, Benches, Etc..

Also a process anti-form "free noise" emerged out of the avant-garde jazz tradition with musicians such as John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and the Arkestra, Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann, and John Zorn.In the 1970s, the concept of art itself expanded and groups like Survival Research Laboratories, Borbetomagus and Elliott Sharp embraced and extended the most dissonant and least approachable aspects of these musical/spatial concepts.

Around the same time, the first postmodern wave of industrial noise music appeared with Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and NON (aka Boyd Rice). These cassette culture releases often featured zany tape editing, stark percussion and repetitive loops distorted to the point where they may degrade into harsh noise. In the 1980s, industrial noise groups like Current 93, Hafler Trio, Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Laibach, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten performed industrial noise music mixing loud metal percussion, guitars and unconventional "instruments" (such as jackhammers and bones) in elaborate stage performances. These industrial artists experimented with varying degrees of noise production techniques. Other postmodern art movements influential to postindustrial noise art are Conceptual Art and the Neo-Dada use of techniques such as assemblage, montage, bricolage, and appropriation. Bands like Étant Donnés, Le Syndicat, Test Dept, Clock DVA, Factrix, Autopsia, Nocturnal Emissions, Whitehouse, Severed Heads and SPK soon followed.

The sudden post-industrial affordability of home cassette recording technology in the 1970s, combined with the simultaneous influence of punk rock, established the no wave aesthetic, and instigated what is commonly referred to as noise music today. When anyone could produce noise, and anyone could record and distribute it, then noise music provided a way for any person (artist or non-artist) to experiment with sound as a digital artist might with visual material.

Lou Reed's double LP album, Metal Machine Music (1975) is an early, well-known example of noise music that the music critic Lester Bangs has called the "greatest album ever made in the history of the human eardrum". It has also been cited as one of the "worst albums of all time". Reed was well aware of the electronic drone music of LaMonte Young. His Theater of Eternal Music was a seminal minimal music noise group in the mid-60s with Velvet Underground cohort John Cale, Marian Zazeela, Henry Flynt, Angus Maclise, Tony Conrad, and others. The Theater of Eternal Music's discordant sustained notes and loud amplification had influenced John Cale's subsequent contribution to the Velvet Underground in his use of both discordance and feedback. John Cale and Tony Conrad have released noise music recordings they made during the mid-sixties, such as Cale's Inside the Dream Syndicate series (The Dream Syndicate being the alternative name given by Cale and Conrad to their collective work with LaMonte Young).

The aptly-named noise rock fuses rock to noise, usually with recognizable "rock" instrumentation, but with greater use of distortion and electronic effects, varying degrees of atonality, improvisation, and white noise. One notable band of this genre is Sonic Youth who took inspiration from the no wave noise composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham (himself a student of LaMonte Young). Marc Masters, in his book on the no wave, points out that aggressively innovative early dark noise groups like Mars and DNA drew on punk rock, avant-garde minimalism and performance art. Important in this noise trajectory are the nine nights of noise music called Noise Fest that was organized by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the NYC art space White Columns in June 1981 followed by the Speed Trials noise rock series organized by Live Skull members in May 1983. Also notable in this vein is Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an avante-garde recording by John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1968 consisting of repeating tape loops as John Lennon plays on different rock instruments such as piano, organ and drums along with sound effects (including reverb, delay and distortion), changes tapes and plays other recordings, and converses with Yoko Ono, who vocalises ad-lib in response to the sounds.

Since the late 1980s in Japan there has been a prolific output of "harsh" noise music by the noise figurehead Merzbow (pseudonym for the Japanese noise artist Masami Akita who himself was inspired by the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters’s Merz art project of psychological collage).

Other Japanese noise artists include C.C.C.C., Incapacitants, KK Null, Yamazaki Maso’s Masonna, Solmania, The Gerogerigegege, Hanatarash.

Post-industrial noise artists from the 1980s, 90s and 2000s include Nicolas Collins, Boyd Rice, The Psychic Workshop, Stephen Vitiello, If, Bwana, PBK Phillip B. Klingler, Crawling With Tarts, Andrew Deutsch, Randy Grief, Robin Rimbaud, Minoy, Kim Cascone, Master/slave Relationship, Oval, Boards of Canada, Maybe Mental, Kenji Siratori, Fennesz, Matthew Underwood, Yasunao Tone, Arcane Device and others.


In defining noise music and its value, Paul Hegarty (2007) cites the work of noted cultural critics Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille and Theodor Adorno and through their work traces the history of "noise". He defines noise at different times as "intrusive, unwanted," "lacking skill, not being appropriate" and "a threatening emptiness". He traces these trends starting with 18th century concert hall music. Hegarty contends that it is John Cage's composition 4'33", in which an audience sits through four and a half minutes of "silence" (Cage 1973), that represents the beginning of noise music proper. For Hegarty, "noise music", as with 4'33", is that music made up of incidental sounds that represent perfectly the tension between "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that make up all noise music from Erik Satie to NON to Glenn Branca.

Writer Douglas Kahn, in his work Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (1999), discusses the use of noise as a medium and explores the ideas of Antonin Artaud, George Brecht, William Burroughs, Sergei Eisenstein, Fluxus, Allan Kaprow, Michael McClure, Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, Luigi Russolo and Dziga Vertov.

In Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985), Jacques Attali explores the relationship between noise music and the future of society. He indicates that noise music is a predictor of social change and demonstrates how noise acts as the subconscious of society - validating and testing new social and political realities.


Like much of modern and contemporary art, noise music takes characteristics of the perceived negative traits of noise mentioned below and uses them in aesthetic and imaginative ways. One can find the distinct effort to create something harshly beautiful from something perceived as ugly in what can be identified as a search for the post-industrial sublime (philosophy) in art.

Noise is incomprehensible yet it is noise that we truly seek since the greatest truth lies behind the greatest resistance.|||Morton Feldman from "Sound, Noise, Varèse, Boulez"
In music, dissonance is the quality of sounds which seems "unstable", and has an aural "need" to "resolve" to a "stable" consonance. Despite the fact that words like "unpleasant" and "grating" are often used to describe the sound of harsh dissonance, in fact all music with a harmonic or tonal basis—even music which is perceived as generally harmonious—incorporates some degree of dissonance. In common use, the word noise means unwanted sound or noise pollution. In electronics noise can refer to the electronic signal corresponding to acoustic noise (in an audio system) or the electronic signal corresponding to the (visual) noise commonly seen as 'snow' on a degraded television or video image. In signal processing or computing it can be considered data without meaning; that is, data that is not being used to transmit a signal, but is simply produced as an unwanted by-product of other activities. Noise can block, distort, or change the meaning of a message in both human and electronic communication.

White noise is a random signal (or process) with a flat power spectral density. In other words, the signal contains equal power within a fixed bandwidth at any center frequency. White noise is considered analogous to white light which contains all frequencies.

In much the same way the early modernists were inspired by naïve art, some contemporary digital art noise musicians are excited by the archaic audio technologies such as wire-recorders, the 8-track cartridge, and vinyl records. Many artists not only build their own noise-generating devices, but even their own specialized recording equipment and custom software (for example, the C++ software used in creating the viral symphOny by Joseph Nechvatal).

Noise compilations

  • An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volumes 1–7 Sub Rosa, various artists (1920–2007)
  • Japanese Independent Music (2000) various artists, Paris Sonore
  • Just Another Asshole #5 (1981) compilation LP (CD reissue 1995 on Atavistic #ALP39CD), producers: Barbara Ess & Glenn Branca
  • New York Noise (2003) Soul Jazz B00009OYSE
  • New York Noise, Vol. 2 (2006) Soul Jazz B000CHYHOG
  • New York Noise, Vol. 3 (2006) Soul Jazz B000HEZ5CC
  • Noise May-Day 2003, various artists, Coquette Japan CD Catalog#: NMD-2003
  • No New York (1978) Antilles, (2006) Lilith, B000B63ISE

See also


  • Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985) University of Minnesota Press, Translated by Brian Massumi. Foreword by Fredric Jameson, afterword by Susan McClary
  • Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic, collected writings, Greil Marcus, ed. (1988) Anchor Press
  • John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (1973) Wesleyan (first edition 1961)
  • John Cage, The Future of Music: Credo (1937) in Silence: Lectures and Writings (1973) by John Cage, Wesleyan University Press
  • Lawrence Cahoone, From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology (1996) Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell
  • Henry Cowell The Joys of Noise in Audio Culture. Readings in Modern Music, C. Cox & D. Warner (eds), pp. 22- 24, Continuum, New York
  • DeLone et al. (eds.), Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music (1975) Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall
  • Erika Doss, Twentieth-Century American Art, Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Amy Dempsey, Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Schools and Movements (2002) New York: Harry A. Abrams
  • Alec Foege. Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story (1994) New York: St. Martin’s Press
  • Charlie Gere, Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg
  • Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (1992) Blackwell Publishing
  • Thomas J. Harrison, 1910, the Emancipation of Dissonance (1996) Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Eugene Hecht, Optics (4th ed.) (2001) Pearson Education
  • Paul Hegarty, Full With Noise: Theory and Japanese Noise Music, pp. 86-98 in Life in the Wires (2004) eds. Arthur Kroker & Marilouise Kroker, NWP Ctheory Books, Victoria, Canada
  • Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (2007) Continuum International Publishing Group
  • Hermann von Helmholtz,On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1885) 2nd English edition. New York: Dover Publications
  • Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (1995) Routledge
  • RoseLee Goldberg, Performance: Live Art Since 1960 (1998) Harry N. Abrams, NY NY
  • Douglas Kahn, Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (1999) MIT Press
  • Mark Kemp, She Who Laughs Last: Yoko Ono Reconsidered (July/Aug, 1992) Option Magazine
  • Rosalind E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avant Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1979) The MIT Press; Reprint edition (1986) Sculpture in the Expanded Field, The MIT Press
  • Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (2006) New York and London: Continuum International Publishing
  • Dan Lander and Lexier Micah, (eds.) Sound by Artists (1990) Toronto: Art Metropole/Walter Phillips Gallery
  • Zoya Kocur & Simon Leung, Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985 (2005) Blackwell Publishing
  • Alan Licht, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (2007) New York: Rizzoli
  • Simon Malpas, The Postmodern (2005) Routledge
  • Marc Masters, No Wave (2007) Black Dog Publishing, London
  • John P. McGowan, Postmodernism and its Critics (1991) Cornell University Press
  • Thurston Moore, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture (2004) Universe
  • Joseph Nechvatal, Towards a Sound Ecstatic Electronica (2000) The Thing
  • Steven Mygind Pedersen, notes on [[Joseph Nechvatal]: viral symphOny (2007) Institute for Electronic Arts, School of Art & Design, Alfred University]
  • Amanda Petrusich, Pitchfork net Lou Reed Interview
  • Frank Popper, From Technological to Virtual Art (2007) MIT Press/Leonardo Books
  • Karl Ruhrberg, Ingo F. Walther, Art of the 20th Century (2000) Taschen
  • Jim Samson, Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900–1920 (1977) New York: W.W. Norton & Company
  • Piero Scaruffi, Japanese Noise-Core (2003)
  • Richard Sheppard, Modernism-Dada-Postmodernism (2000) Northwestern University Press
  • Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in 20th-Century Art (2001) New York: The Free Press
  • James Tenney, A History of "Consonance" and "Dissonance" (1988) White Plains, NY: Excelsior; New York: Gordon and Breach
  • Steven Watson, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (2003) Pantheon, New York
  • Michael Woods, Art of the Western World (1989) Summit Books
  • Brett Woodward (ed.), Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise (1999) Melbourne, Cologne: Extreme


Further reading

  • Masami Akita, The Beauty of Noise: An Interview with Masami Akita of Merzbow (2004) in Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (C. Cox and D. Warner, eds.) Continuum, New York,
  • Miguel Álvarez-Fernández Dissonance, Sex and Noise: (Re)Building (Hi)Stories of Electroacoustic Music (2005) in ICMC 2005: Free Sound Conference Proceedings, Barcelona: International Computer Music Conference; International Computer Music Association; SuviSoft Oy Ltd.
  • Kim Cascone, The Aesthetics of Failure: 'Post-Digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music (2002) originally published in Computer Music Journal 24:4 Winter 2002, MIT Press
  • Paula Court, New York Noise: Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978-88 (2007) Soul Jazz Records
  • Charlie Gere, Digital Culture (2000) Reaktion
  • Paul Hegarty, The Art of Noise (2005) Talk given to Visual Arts Society at UCC
  • Douglas Kahn & Gregory Whitehead (eds.), Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde (1992) MIT Press
  • Frank Popper, Art of the Electronic Age (1997) Thames & Hudson, London
  • RE/Search No. 6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook (1983) RE/Search Publications
  • Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises (1986) New York: Pendragon
  • Torben Sangild, The Aesthetics of Noise (2002) web published at UbuWeb
  • R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape (1993) Destiny Books

External links


Search another word or see sits throughon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature