Sound and Noise

March 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Part and parcel of living in a cluttered urban space is that the brain is in a constant struggle to filter meaningful sound from the acoustic entropy of noise. As inevitable as noise is part of an urban (motorized, mobilized, populated) environment, as unsurprisingly is the urbanites’ search for meaningful sound. “Hey you,” Althusser’s famous phrase to explain interpellation, may refer to just about anyone in a crowded urban setting. The interpellation foregoes its ideological effectiveness. The subject is alone at large, bathed in unexpected sounds.

Sound is not to be equated with music. Sound can be an orchestrated version of noise or a fully arranged piece of music. But at the beginning of music is (a) sound. Particular sounds stick out, others wane with the passing of instruments or cars, with the seasons or the habitat. The particulars of urban sound are that no frequency is necessarily attributed to particular sources whereas natural environments seem to feature sounds within a limited frequency range with attributable sources such as birds, insects, wind or water falls.

The tension between sound and noise is a strong motif in Gaspard Kuentz und Cédric Dupire’s documentary on Japanese noise/music/sound artists called “We don’t care about music anyway” (produced by Studio Shaiprod, 2009), which is currently on tour in European cinemas and at new music festivals (ie. Maerzmusik in Berlin). The format is (inadvertently) reminiscient  of Wim Wender’s Carnet de Notes sur Vêtements et Villes (1989) by locating a form of avant-gardist creation (music or clothes) within a hyper-modern environment (Japan) where skills and crafts of former times have not only been preserved but productively influenced new techniques. It is this form of forward-looking, innovative engagement with everyday materials that characterizes many of the most striking examples of innovative culture “Made in Japan.”

In Kuentz & Dupire’s film we see Sakamoto Hiromichi shooting plastic balls from a toy hand gun against the body of his worn cello, recording the sound and feeding it back into an echo chamber. Such interaction with a material sound source characterizes much of the work presented in the film. Watch out for musical chain saws and splintering glass.

Yamakawa Fuyuki attaches contact mics to his body near the heart. The sound (electric impulse) controls a number of light bulbs randomly scattered across the floor. Along with the bumping heart beat and an obsessively controlled use of breathing for musical effect, the entire setup comes close to an installation of sound as the tension field of body and technology.

The label noise seems inappropriate for this kind of acoustic sphere. Although many of the compositions presented in the film appear as mere noise, it is a carefully controlled form of sound installation with a strong emphasis on and understanding of the material and corporeal basis of sound. The interest in mere sound, in interferences and overlaps is not unlike Steve Reich’s Phases and similar compositions (ie. “It’s gonna rain”) , which may cater to a Western ear more easily than the atonal, off-beat but still marvelously inventive tones and harmonies of Sakamoto, Yamakawa, Saidrum, Numb et. al.

[This is not a featured post and remains unrelated to business affairs of any actors mentioned in the article. The Ekoune label seems to be out of business, anyway, although their channel still has some techie stuff like the bliptronic 5000 sequencer.]

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