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Noise/Music: A History


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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Noise in Music; 2. Electricity; 3. Free; 4. Industry; 5. Inept; 6. Power; 7. Japan; 8. Merzbow; 9. Electronic; 10. Quiet; 11. Conclusion.

About the Author

Paul Hegarty teaches Philosophy and Visual Culture at University College Cork, in Ireland. He is the author of books on Bataille and Baudrillard. He jointly runs the experimental record label dotdotdotmusic, and occasionally performs in the noise "bands" Safe, and Working With Children.


Can silence be "noisy"? Why do punk banks downplay their musical abilities? What do 37 minutes of ceaseless feedback and squawking birds tell us about the human experience? Calling upon the work of noted cultural critics like Jean Baudrillard, George Bataille and Theodor Adorno, philosophy and visual culture professor Paul Hegarty delves into these questions while tracing the history of "noise" (defined at different times as "intrusive, unwanted," "lacking skill, not being appropriate" and "a threatening emptiness") from the beginnings of the 18th century concert hall music to avant-garde movements like musique concrete and free jazz to Japanese noise rocker Merzbow. Ironically, it is John Cage's notorious 4'33", in which an audience sits through four and a half minutes of "silence," that represents the beginning of noise music proper for Hegarty; the "music" made up entirely of incidental theater sounds (audience members coughing, the A/C's hum), represents perfectly the tension between the "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that makes up all noise music, from Satie to punk. Hegarty does an admirable job unpacking diverse genres of music, and his descriptions of the most bizarre pieces can be great fun to read ("clatters and reverbed chickeny sounds...come in over low throbs"). Though his style tends toward the academic (the "dialectic of Enlightenment" and Heidegger appear frequently), Hegarty's wit and knowledge make this an engaging read.
Publishers Weekly
In this rigorously researched deconstruction of noise, Paul Hegarty explains how the concept is entirely contingent upon social norms and how its inevitable emergence into music, which is simply organized noise, unfolded. Hegarty begins by arguing for the concept of noise as a socially undesirable them to the musical elites us. He then leads us on a dense yet speedy tour of pivotal moments in the evolution of noise into a component of music, focusing on salient benchmarks the Italian Futurists, recording technology, Fluxus, John Cage, Merzbow and hip-hop. By the time Hegarty arrives at modern manifestations of noise, genre neophytes will consider themselves experts. But be warned: This is not a pop history. It's an academic survey with a distinct poststructuralist ?avor, an informative read, but not a particularly fun one, unless of course you read Derrida for giggles.
Paste Magazine / July 2007
An intertwined crash course in outsider music and cultural studies, Paul Hegarty's dense new survey, Noise/Music: A History, traces noise music's avant-garde and experimental roots-from Futurism, Fluxus, and musique concr te to 1970s progressive rock and punk-and examines its more recent incarnations.One noise-engaging genre is jazz, the subject of Hegarty's most compelling chapter, in which he investigates Adorno's infamous dismissal of the form in a 1936 essay...Hegarty also offers a fresh analysis of free jazz's abstractions, tying the subgenre's oscillation between form and content, its 'attack on tonality, ' and its 'introduction of non-musical noises' to Bataille's concept of the 'formless.' The book's selected discography..should satisfy both the curious and the "extreme"'s a reminder that there's 'no sound, no noise, no silence, ' without our active participation.
Bookforum Sept. 2007

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