Paul Hegarty: “Noise Music: A History”

Paul Hegarty is a philosophy lecturer at University College Cork, with an interest in what he wouldn't call the genre of noise (“music”). A book either giving a history of noise's development, or an exegesis of its socio-philosophical implications would have been interesting. Unfortunately, this is neither.

The opening chapter sets off at a fine intellectual gallop "for Kant ... for Russolo. for Cage... Attali too. As... Ardono" – this is from a single page! Elsewhere, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Bataille, Hegel et al. All appear… a little too like the first attempt at a doctorial thesis, then in later chapters citation either runs out completely or revolves around another of Hegarty's interests – Adorno on Jazz, but not the Jazz here, (and why Jazz?). Bataille on Sade. There are inclusions – too many: Improv, Punk, The Grateful Dead, Prog Rock! and self confessed notable exclusions – and others not Reich's pendulum music Lou Reed's “Metal Machine”, The Gamelan, Harry Partch. The whole New Zealand phenomenon.

How Hegarty gets away with this derives from two of his arguments, first that anything can potentially be called "noise", as in his long example of Yes's Tales of Topographic Oceans – well yes! –, but no mention then of Abba or Mantovarni. And secondly, that the avant-garde in music has often been described pejoratively in its beginnings as “noise”, or, as in the famous case of Sir Thomas Beecham, as shit – but this is beside the point. The point being "noise" applies to a particular phenomenon in music as an identifier and not a critique (Pop Art is not Pop Art because it is or was “popular”).

We know, and Hegarty certainly does, that such games can be played with definitions – this is Wittgenstein's famous “game”. To conflate the genre of noise, the “thing” with the same word applied as an attribute or subjective opinion of any music or sound is something of what I would call an ontological mistake of the first order. Or is it a strategy because it allows Hegarty to discuss any artist he wants to.

For instance, the space given to Cage and his silences – relevant by being irrelevant to the point of being a binary opposite – he might say? When after several chapters we get to actual Japnoise, and a further chapter on Merzbow, the irrelevance of much what went before becomes obvious. But here Hegarty fails to deliver what the patient reader might want – might expect, a detailed account – it’s all apologies. «This chapter will not so much deal with the specificity of noise music from Japan».

He then goes on to a consideration of McLuchan on globalization, to raise the question: «what kind of world is in or behind world music». «World music»? I'm confused? This is a very confused history, and one which fails to pick up on the development of noise from Japan back to the USA and Europe, where it has been taken up as a definite genre, having its own festivals, labels, retail outlets both on and off-line, and even now its own proto-industry of designed and manufactured devices marketed by such as noisefx.com.

Widespread broadcasting on US University campus's and across Europe as radio and webcasts, of dedicated websites to the promotion of noise labels such as PacRec, artists like Wiesse and The Rita.

As a history the book this is chronology flawed, as a serious study the attempt to buttress certain artists (irrelevant to the genre in many cases) by relationships to certain philosophers seems strained. The book lacks structure and appears more like a set of articles, some written in an academic style, others not.

A detailed chronology, discology would have been useful. Works are referred to where perhaps a copy of the score might have been illuminating, even some pictures would help what is aesthetically a remarkably dull book. An accompanying CD or at least pointers to MP3s on an associated site would also have helped. I think that there is a sufficient body of material, artists, events, labels, online and actual retail outlets, manufacturers, chronologies and general dissemination of what can be called noise to warrant a study which does not piggy back on to it philosophical critiques of Cage, Jazz, Prog Rock, Punk and Rap, amongst others. Unfortunately, that's what Hegarty appears to do.

Maybe we can justify such irrelevance in this communication (of a history of noise music) as being itself yet another example of “noise”, but the genre of noise music is nothing to do with the unwarranted junk found in communication, or if it is, how is it, and why is it?

[Book by Continuum > hagshadow@hotmail.com]

jliat / Vital Weekly

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