Fragments of Noise


Invited special guest to contribute to week 4 of the March discussion on the subject of “Noise: Disorientation, Contamination, and (Non)Communication” featured on the -empyre- listserv. The list is hosted by the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell University. The archive of monthly topics from 2002 to present day: here.

Other special guests during the month: David Xu Borgonjon, Weida Wang, Wenhua Shi, Xin Zhou, Eleonora Oreggia, Ryan Jordan, Julien Ottavi, Norie Neumark, Sarah Simpson, Caitlin Woolsey, Gianluca Pulsoni, Junting Huang.

These are my fragments from the online forum, for the complete discussion follow the link to archive given above.

Diacritic transpositions into numbers and other formatting issues have been left intentionally.


³Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, we¹d like to remind you that we don¹t
applaud in this here place where we¹re working. So, restrain your
applause. If you must applaud wait until the end of the set and it won¹t
even matter then. The reason is that we are interrupted by your noise. In
fact, don¹t even take any drinks, or no cash register ringing, etcetera.
I¹d like to introduce the musicians…²

– Charles Mingus, intro to ³Folk Forms, No. 1² on the album Charles Mingus
Presents Charles Mingus

What is remarkable about the above is that the audience is imaginary, this
is a studio recording where Mingus wanted his musicians to play like they
played live. The noise of the audience is silent. Noise imaginary. So even
when absent, ³noise is being asked to do a lot of work.² (David X.
Borgonjon, March 8 post to empyre)



The first sentence of “Bring the Noise” by Claire Bishop and Boris Groys
used to go as follows: ³As well as bring noted for their avant-garde
painting, the Futurists¹ performances were legendary for their intent to
provoke and scandalise the public.² Unfortunately, the typo has since been
fixed: ³As well as being noted for their avant-garde painting, the
Futurists¹ performances were legendary for their intent to provoke and
scandalise the public.²



There is a link to be made between failure and noise, and thereby the
aesthetics of both.

Pushing that further, perhaps noise is the quintessential hyphenating
agent, it impedes purity, resists totalization (Serre¹s Parasite comes to

Can it therefore be both a human notion which functions as an arbitrary
category (as pointed out by Murat Nemet-Nejat in his post from March 21)
and also one that covers ³the fluctuations of the universe that are beyond
our complete understanding² (Nicholas Knouf, March 22 post)? The latter
formulation easily collapses into the former since it relies on the limits
of our understanding to determine what lies beyond it.


Caitlin Woolsey brought up the noises of the body in her March 9 post.
That is where noise appeared first for me. As a non-musician using sound
as material, the body is a readymade instrument. One of its most
interesting characteristic is that it cannot be played, it cannot be
controlled. Well, at least some of its functions cannot. What I mean is
that the sounds it produces are not always predictable. No matter how
trained a voice might be, the voice is dependent on fallible organic
circuitry. Some of my recording projects have featured body sounds that
are less compliant, less trainable than the voice. I¹m thinking mainly
South Winds (Oral, 2001) and Crackers (Locust, 2000). The former echoes
with Norie Neumark¹s evocation of putrefaction in her March 20 post.


Joo Yun Lee¹s provocative presentation of Ikeda¹s work (March 19 post),
namely its ³rich absence of contents² is one that I cannot help wanting to
oppose. The plunge into the sensorium veers too easily into vacuous
entretainment. But I appreciate being challenged to think through and
question my own desire for content, strive for meaning. The recurring
signal to noise dichotomies several posts have identified do limit the
discussion, so this piqued my interest as offering a potential way out.


Tracking the appearance of the word Œnoise¹ in my Sonic Somatic:
Performances of the Unsound Body book (Errant Bodies Press, 2012) I
noticed that the majority stem from quotes.

Culled just a few of the more pithy ones:

³There is no silence. Your mind makes noise.² (Bruce Nauman)
³The word silence is still a noise² (Georges Bataille)
³The body ignores silence.² (Henri Chopin)


Jumping to silence and listening (brought up Murat in his comment on the
Serres quotes, by Norie, and Sarah Simpson). Given the impossibility of
the former and the subjectivity of the latter, where do the two meet? Only
in the realm of ethics and politics? (Perhaps that¹s enough and plenty).


Murat, what of the subjectivity implicit in the act of wanting to, as you
put it, liberate noise from the subjectivity that humans impose on it?



I appreciate Murat¹s formulation that “silence is the Œunreachable’ zero
point of noise, Œpart’ of noise.² My only question is whether noise in
this instance is interchangeable with sound? Or, is noise here (and
perhaps frequently elsewhere) a way to get to an expanded field of the


From Fred Moten¹s Black and Blur, pp.63-64: ³While Adorno requires
recognition of the distinction between phonic substance or sound and
musical material, Gould demands reduction of the tactile experience as
well so that he might conceptualize what he can¹t imagine, imagine what he
cannot hear. It is, however, by way of ecstatic singing and humming,
irruptively involuntary movements of/and conduction, the supposedly
degraded and degrading accompaniments of the pianistic utterance, that
Gould achieves a certain content or essential music whose outward
manifestation is the irreducible sound of the piano and his irrepressible
phono-choreographic accompaniment. That ensemble of
accompaniment‹composition¹s disruptively constitutive innermost extremity,
the native fugue-state of being-composed‹is essential to that content; it
is its condition of possibility. It is the embarrassment not simply of
music¹s irreducible materiality but of the origin and end of music¹s
fantastic transcendence of that materiality in that materiality that is
the source of what we might call Gould¹s performance anxiety, which is
allayed and relayed in his performance of and through his love affair with
the mediating force of forced microphonic rendition and stereophonic
audition. This is all to say that Gould¹s recordings bear the trace, and
Girard¹s film insists upon, the centrality of visual, tactile, and aural
experience‹a performativity that improvises through the opposition of
media and the immediate‹to the abstract truth in music. By way of fantasy,
the recordings and the film document this unconcealment. Such
animateriality always verges on scandal, whether it takes the form of
discomposing song or abducted listening.²

Moten¹s animateriality seems the kind of (noisy) agent that lurks as
reminder/remainder to be a generative way to (back- but also fore-)ground
noise. An animateriality that ensures that the feedback loop of
referentiality always derails, even if just by a byte.

In the postface (titled “Emit”) of recently published selection of Erin
Moure¹s poetry (Wesleyan, 2017), Planetary Noise, Moure mentions the word
Œtexterior¹‹I can¹t think of a better pairing than Œanimateriality¹ with
Œtexterior.¹ Here¹s more context for Moure¹s neologism (I presume its
hers) (p. 165-6): “In poetry, texturalities, textualities, textscapes,
texteriors generate and are generated, thrall and intercalate. Anger and
despair are not alien to poetry either, for poetry is not Œmeaning’ but is
this Œworking,’ this formae vitae in which the individual poet¹s mind and
hands are plural with other poets and all are called to ‘work at the
limits of signification.’ Not entropic but amplificatory.”


Fred Moten, during the Q & A which follows his March 21 lecture ³The Gift
of Corruption² ( – around the one hour mark)
writes on the blackboard: sinn + sin = nonsense.



Nice to see this flurry of activity. Difficult to know where to start,
what thread to pick up. It¹s tempting to refer to this plethora as noise,
but, aside from being too facile, there¹s a lingering fear that this would
be read as dismissive rather than laudatory‹the latter is intended.
Despite the fact that we have been articulating thoughtful and rigorous
reversals and layerings of the term Œnoise¹ here, the negative attribute
is abated, but not eradicated. Its hold is strong. Perhaps it¹s simply a
corollary of its common usage‹the ease with which it can appear in untold
contexts. And perhaps that surface-level currency speaks to the richness
and slipperiness of the term. In other words, it¹s both spectacular and
spectral (i.e. fore- and back- ground, as mentioned in part 2).


Henri Chopin describes burning a bag in which he had placed all of his
poems as his first poetic act. I¹m interested in the double negative at
play in that statement; the poetics of an act versus the poems on the
page; enacting an erasure; the wordless gesture overpowering the wordful


Caitlin: ³And how do we talk about noise and sound work like “Vibrespace”
that seems to both elude and invite the impulse to describe or analyze or
locate? I grapple with this problem as someone who is trying to write
about sound works. Is there any way to describe them that doesn’t mediate,
compromise, mislead? That is, to generate a whole lot of
language/description around the locus of the noise that resists being
fixed?² Is this problematic particular to sound works, or all art works?
Either way, any such activity, from ekphrasis to interpretation to
translation will do all of these (Œmediate, compromise, mislead¹), if not
more. By definition and by necessity. It seems to me that the opening
(reversing the funneling that the act of description implies) lies in
finding writing strategies that downplay the authorial voice, the
historification impulse, the canonization drive, the declarative thrust.
Expanding rather than reducing. Unfixing the notion that writing is fixed.
By extension, one could posit that noise is ubiquitous, part and parcel of
event, acts, gestures, objects, subjects, etc. It¹s the etcetera. It¹s the
etcetera that resists and exceeds the Œit is¹ of this sentence.


If noise as hyphenating agent is to be a productive notion it must be able
to fold in on itself, an infinite konvolut. Perhaps akin to the ³sidelong
glance² Wittgenstein mentions in sect. 274 of his Philosophical
: ³Of course, saying that the word ³red² ³refers to² rather
than ³signifies² something private does not help us in the least to grasp
its function; but it is the more psychologically apt expression for a
particular experience in doing philosophy. It is as if, when I uttered the
word, I cast a sidelong glance at my own colour impression [in other
translation, it reads: a sidelong glance at the private sensation], as it
were, in order to say to myself: I know all right what I mean by the

The ability to retreat into a private language. To invoke it
surreptitiously. Noise hyphen I, noise hyphen you, noise hyphen ad