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Noise music

Music Sound

Noise music

Ambient industrial | Harsh noise | Japanoise

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Noise music is music that uses sounds regarded as unpleasant or painful under normal circumstances. "Noise" music is regarded by some as a contradiction in terms, because "noise" is generally defined as unwanted and undesigned or unintentional sound and music as the opposite (see Definition of music). However, "noise" in a more general sense refers to any extremely loud or discordant sound, and that these sounds are often the basis of noise music. Secondly, as famous noise musician Masami Akita said, "If by noise you mean uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to me." Noise music is not necessarily "noise" to the listeners, although it is certainly "noisy" in the more general sense of the term.


Characteristics and influences

Noise music is loosely related to industrial, sharing its DIY ethos, independence and ethic of using "non-musical" sources. It also shares with early, Throbbing Gristle-era Industrial, a fascination with the hypnotic, and magical qualities of sound. Often punishing and abrasive, Noise music can be difficult listening, ranging from the free-form extreme electronic music of Merzbow and Masonna to the more sculptured sounds of Otomo Yoshihide and Aube, to the cold haiku sound-scapes of Ryoji Ikeda or Toshimaru Nakamura.


Luigi Russolo

Luigi Russolo, a Futurist painter of the very early 20th century, was perhaps the first Noise Musician. His 1913 manifesto L'Arte de Rumori (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. 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 familiar with his manifesto.

Other early composers

Beginning in the 1920s, composers (in particular Edgard Varèse and George Antheil) began to use early mechanical musical instruments--such as the player piano and the siren--to create music that referenced the noise of the modern world. John Cage began composing his Imaginary Landscape series in 1939, which combined elements like recorded sound, percussion, and (in the case of Imaginary Landscape #4) twelve radios. After the second world war, other composers (including Pierre Schaeffer, Iannis Xenakis, and Karlheinz Stockhausen) started to experiment with early synthesizers, tape machines and radio equipment to produce electronic music, often with very abstract sounds and structures. Much of this music has proven influential on the creators of noise music.

With the advent of the radio, Pierre Schaeffer coined the term musique concrete to refer to the peculiar nature of sounds on tape, separated from the source that generated them initially. His ideas about non-referential sounds take their most extreme form in noise music, which often blurs or obscures the actions which produced the sounds while also suggesting the physicality of sound itself.

In all the cases of these forerunners, the sudden affordability of home recording technology in the 1970s with the simultaneous influence of punk rock established a new aesthetic of non-musicians creating music. 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 painter might with visual material. Noise began in earnest when classical avant-garde ideas became democratised, separated from the academic thought that started it, and experimented with by laymen with nothing at stake other than making music for its own end.

Boyd Rice

American archivist and writer Boyd Rice has been a seminal influence on Noise music. Starting in 1975, Rice began experimenting with the possibilities of pure sound. In his live performances, he attached an electric fan to an electric guitar and also used an electric shoe polisher as an instrument. He created extremely loud, cascading walls of noise and played pieces of recorded conversations, news reports, and music just beneath the threshold of comprehensibility. Rice has created works that combine brutal soundscapes with various poetics. He has also structured noise elements into harmonious, rhythmic pieces that defy easy categorization.


Originally influenced by the sounds of European bands like Whitehouse, Japanese style noise music then pushed this approach to an extreme of loudness and density, which in turn became a major influence on western noise bands. Sometimes known as "Japanoise" (not just as a pun in English, but even in Japanese: ジャパノイズ ), it is usually associated with "harsh" characteristics including walls of white noise, non-linear pulses, beats, sampled loops, dialogue, and sirens. Since the late 1980's this Japanese style has been probably the most prolific and noticeable part of the Noise Music scene. Thus in magazines and the popular imagination the term Noise Music is often closely associated with this style. Likewise the popularity and prolific output of musicians such as the aforementioned Noise Music figurehead/posterboy Merzbow, Otomo Yoshihide and other names like KK Null, Masonna, The Gerogerigegege and Hanatarash (founded by Boredoms frontman, Yamatsuka Eye) have made Japan something of a Mecca for many noise fans. In terms of sales, Noise music is not particularly more popular in Japan than in Europe or America. However, there is perhaps a higher level of recognition from crossover with mainstream genres and events, such as fashion shows or dance performances with music by noise artists, and a comparitively large number of noise live performances are held in Tokyo.

Also, in more recent years, the onkyo style of noise/free improv is becoming more prevalent in Japan. Centered around the Off Site club in Tokyo, and including artists such as Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, Toshimaru Nakamura, Shigeru Kan-no and Taku Sugimoto, it is a form of electro-acoustic improv that focuses on quiet, pure tones, static and space. As with most genre descriptors, there is a backlash against the term, feeling that it solidifies the style into a fixed form (obviously the death knell for any free improv), but for now, it serves as a simple way to convey the general style of modern Japanese improvisational music.

Albums and non-noise influences

Lou Reed's double-LP album Metal Machine Music released in 1975 is an early, well-known example of noise music. A lesser known, but perhaps more prophetic release regarding the future of Noise music, is Boyd Rice's 1978 LP, Pagan Muzak. Reed's Velvet Underground cohort John Cale's electronic drone music with artists such as Tony Conrad and LaMonte Young in the mid-60s can also be cited as having been influential. (see the CD release of Inside the Dream Syndicate Volume 1: Day of Niagra).

Mixing of forms

In recent years European musicians associated with jazz, electronica and black metal have been active in the Noise music arena. In Canada the Nihilist Spasm Band has been performing acoustic-based noise music for decades. In the early 1990s, the noise operas of Lisa Crystal Carver and Costes in Suckdog placed a new emphasis on drama and histrionics in noise music. This led, in part, to Chicago's free glam movement adding an emphasis on cultural and social dissonance to the concept of noise music. The aptly named noise rock fuses rock to noise, usually with recognisable "rock" instrumentation, but with greater use of distortion and electronic effects, varying degrees of atonalism, improvisation and white noise. One of the best-known bands of this genre is Boredoms. This style is more like a "traditional" band compared to abstract or electronic noise and sometimes bears a similarity to grindcore. The name noisecore is also used to refer to noise-influenced hardcore techno or rock.

Fans of the genre sometimes distinguish between "harsh noise", the more well-known super-dense and abrasive sounds of Merzbow, Masonna and similar artists, and other loose sub-genres like "rhythmic noise", "power electronics", "free noise" and so on. Confusingly, some industrial techno sub-genres have very similar names, i.e. power noise. Power noise is comparatively conventionally musical, and is not to be confused with power electronics, the synthesizer based subgenre of abstract and experimental noise performed by Whitehouse.

Other artists mix Noise with subtle ambient shades to create ambient noise music.

One possible influence of noise music has been to change the way of thinking about what is "musical" or "unmusical" noise, and recently many different genres, such as techno and hip-hop, include some kinds of sounds that could be viewed as "noise".

Sound sample

See also

External links

Electronic art music
Musique concrète - Noise
Other electronic music genres
Ambient | Breakbeat | Drum and bass | Electronica | Electronic art music | Hard dance | Hardcore | House | Techno | Trance | Industrial | Synthpop

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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