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.]

Time (Part 3)

September 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

This last part of the series will be about perception in relation to time. From the reversal of time in advertising to the reflections on time displacement through media, the structuring aspect of time seems primarily geared at perception. Gilles Deleuze talked about modern cinema as a way to “crystallize time” (Cinema 2: The Time Image). In Videofilosofia, Maurizio Lazzarato (1997) contended that visual media are “condensation machines of time” which impose their own indexicality. Following Bergson, Lazzarato finds as much truth and beauty in the moving image as an aesthetic form, as former generations could find in the written word.

That media change the perception of time is not a new claim, but digital media seem to flow in both the direction of acceleration and punctualization, the latter being equal to slowing down perception to a minuscule instance. The close-up, the long-distance shot, still life,  slow-motion shots and similar optical forms have punctualized the flow of moving images. While hundreds of frames flicker by, the image remains the same and is presented to the spectator for inspection. It is literally the experience of the duration of time, which is then offered in the visual medium, independent of the narrative, aesthetic or material qualities the image will have in a sequence.

In the video by William Basinski of the 9/11 site the music and images double the impression of time passing. Especially in the 64-minute version of Disintegration Loop No. 1.1, video and audio track play against each other by contrasting two models of time. While the loop is cyclical, the passing of the smoke against the skyline dissolves linearly. Basinski created the loops while digitizing tape recordings. Surprisingly, the 20 year-old tape was gradually disintegrating as the coated plastic tape slid by the magnetic reader head. This gradual abrasion process of the material is documented in the audio loops.

“[T]he loops themselves are stunning, ethereal studies in sound so fluid that the listener scarcely registers the fact that it’s nothing but many hundreds of repetitions of a brief, simple loop that they’re hearing. I imagine that life within the womb might sound something akin to these slowly swelling, beauteous snatches of orchestral majesty and memory-haze synthesizer. The pieces are uniformly consonant, embellished with distant whalesong arpeggios and echoing percussion.” (Review by Joe Tangari, 2004)

Basinski ascribes a religious quality to these loops, which seem to develop their own reality by proceeding in time. In an interview from 2009 he describes his first experience of the time dimension and how it played out in the recording:

“I was just blown away by what had just happened and I was incredibly moved by the whole redemptive quality of what I’d just experienced, that each of these loops had disintegrated in its own way and its own time, yet the life and death of the melody was redeemed in another medium. I was a Catholic growing up, I thought, maybe there is hope after all! [laughs].”

Basinski’s music is built around the slowed down alteration of audio sequences.  Each loop can be discerned by certain vague, repetitive elements, but the gradual linear variation creates a perception of time passing as such. Against the accelerative drive of electronic music in the 90’s, his pieces foreground the perception of details and gradual change. By puncturing a linear flow and reassembling it into discrete, cyclical units, Basinski reverses the drive of time to devour its own echo in the moment of passing. Time passing is presented on a golden tablet.

“All we can expect of time is its reversability”, said Jean Baudrillard in Cool Memories 1980-1985 (p.23). Linear and cyclical time do not necessarily relate to each other. But in digital media, both time dimensions play out simultaneously, which might explain our stupefaction with coming to terms with immediacy, where our brain is trained to reflect on perception only in retrospect. The beginning of reversal starts from the instances between each unit, from the void of silence.


Popkomm Punkt komm

September 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

Für die Popkomm ist man zu alt oder zu neu. Unter .de war kein Platz mehr, da hat man sich aus Coolnessgründen gleich das .com geklaut, weil das klingt doch auch viel besser. Popkomm [dot] com. Wenn das mal keine Bubble ist. Für alle Nichteingeweihten: Das ist eine Messe und natürlich, wie bei allen Messen, ein “Standortfaktor” und ein “Motor” und sonst noch vieles mehr, aber eigentlich ist es ein Nabelpiercingschaubudentheater, auf dem sich noch der Mythos von der grossen Entdeckung zelebrieren lässt.

Die Augen geradeaus

Berührend, geradezu schleichend-peinlich, kommt jeder Satz über die Popkomm in einer Mischung aus Existenzphilosophie und Kapital daher, geradezu als hätte jeder darauf gewartet, hier her kommen zu dürfen. Punkt 1) Es gibt viele Musiker, die sich tatsächlich weiterentwickeln. Punkt 2) Viele werden entwickelt. Von anderen, für andere und vor allem als Produkt. Darüber sollte man ehrlich sein, sonst fängt es an weh zu tun. Standorte leben von dem standing das man in ihnen geniesst. Bild oder Spiegel, keiner kann es sich verkneifen, den Erlöser für die Ahnungslosen oder Besserwisser zu spielen. Beruhigend zu wissen, dass auch die Mitglieder von einer sehr populären jugendlichen Band nach Paris fahren, um dort vor allem den Eiffelturm zu photographieren. Sehr beruhigend und wenig überraschend. Ebenso wie die Diskursethik ihrer Anhänger: TheseAntitheseSynthese.

Eine Messe mit dem rührseeligen Motto “Plug in to success” auf der man vor allem “essential, effective, global” sein soll (muss?) ist kein Woodstock, kein Wacken, kein Ereignis und schon gar kein Spass. Ausser man hat viel zu erzählen, eigentlich immer das selbe, und die Hände in den Taschen voller Buttons, Pins und Werbeflyer, die alle untergebracht werden wollen. Man füllt sich selbst die Schlagzeilen aus, und darin liegt die eigentliche Magie. Daniel Boorstin wäre stolz. Auf alle. Auch euch, auf dich, und dich und dich. Denn ihr seid alle dabei. Ich auch. Es lebe die Narretei. Global. Für alle. Und vor allem: “effective”.


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