noise music

Birds Wheeling Flick Audibility by James belflower

For me, lines of bird flight are always audible. Birds wheeling flick the quick wisps of the conductor's baton tip into the blue, they curve shimmering notes up over the top staff line, or they bend like a light arc flickering through a lens pointed into the sun. But even more than resonating with other phenomenon, bird murmurs draw me into that moment of alien self-organization where I am confronted with confluences completely outside myself. Jane Bennett calls minor experiences like this enchanting and argues that they can remind us how wonder reorients our perception toward less habituated modes of experience. What I enjoy in enchantment is that although I associate the organized kinesis of the bird's swooping with musical expressiveness, the fact that birds understand what constitutes music differently than we do means that this expression is not reducible to a culturally legible melody or form. In short, bird murmurs remind me that there is always a pressure on the cultural conditioning my hearing and vision emerge through. I find this pleasure enchanting. 

Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

Okkyung Lee and the Insistent Forms of Affect by James belflower

Okkyung Lee's newest album Ghil

Music that resists my capacity to divide, to classify its parts. Music that grabs my ears by the shoulders and shakes them, blurring all its auditory patterns into novel seams. Music that recognizes that repetition, as Gertrude Stein believed, does not exist. What we hear instead, since music can never repeat the same emphasis, is insistence.

EMPAC Performance Hall

Last night at EMPAC in Troy, New York, I had this experience of insistence listening to the noise artist and cellist Okkyung Lee. After listening intently, I thought of Eugenie Brinkema's description of affect in her book The Forms of the Affects where she extrapolates a formalist reading of affect from the tear clinging to the face of Psycho's murdered heroine in the infamous shower scene. She argues that the resistance of the tear to frameworks of representation formalizes the l'informe historically attributed to affect. The tear, in all its "tearness," writes Brinkema, insists that it is "pure exteriority of the sign of emotionality" (22). Tearness, as insistent non-representation also applies to Okkyung's performance, particularly the way in which Lee's style resists uncomplicated emotional connection and the impulse to divide her textured noises into westernized notes, phrases, or rhythms. This is not to say that it is an emotionless music, but that it is an affective music rich with sonic particularities that provoke a precise dissident intensity that insists on a life of its own. The resin smoke cloud floating in the spotlight above her frenetic glissandi was a vivid example.

I started to consider it this way. To attend carefully to Lee's performance, to practice "reduced listening," by way of Michel Chion's Audio-Vision, is to recognize that Lee's achievement deforms emotional interpretation as opposed to inviting it and thereby affirming categorical feeling. Lee's music also refolds a listener's semantic ears by sustaining its difference from perceptual frameworks. It refuses to honor the implicit contract my perception brings to it. Think of trying to locate that lid in the Tupperware drawer that will fit the jar you are holding. Lee's music thus provokes questions: Why do I want to link frenetic string work with anger?; Why am I compelled to refer Lee's thick textures to a sound I've heard before that evoked an emotion? The powerful moment she incites shows what is in the event of listening, rather than reducing the listening experience to what I habitually remove from it to "properly" hear. Alfred North Whitehead's perspective on a proper relationship to nature relates to the listening act in this affective moment. In this quote from Isabelle Stengers's A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts, I replace nature with music to approach the listening act Lee's music constructs. "The problem is not to polemicize but to accept the risk, to try the adventure, to explore what the rejection of a bifurcation of [music] obliges us to think" (40). To put it simply, I enjoyed the insistent "noiseness."


Brinkema, Eugenie. The Forms of the Affects. Durham: Duke UP, 2014.

Stengers, Isabelle. A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011.

A God In Drone by James belflower

When I think of the Old Testament the first thing that comes to mind is not rich, textured, drone music. However, AMULETS, the tape + electronics moniker of Austin based audio/visual artist Randall Taylor, crystallizes them beautifully. On his album The Old Testament, AMULETS repurposes Old Testament books on tape. So, if you spent much of your childhood punching play on various bible versions recorded on poor quality TDK or Maxell cassettes, then the stretched, looped, and collaged stories will melt into biblical soundscapes that not only bring to mind those moments but pleasantly subvert them. What I love about Old Testament is that there remains a god lurking in these warm sonic clouds, but it is not the angry, vengeful god the Old Testament leads us to expect. Instead, AMULETS finds a human heat in the ambient tape scrub, a viscous and sensuous cumulus of biblical proportions. Check it out and enjoy!


Find other AMULETS offerings here.




Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics - Part 1 by James belflower

At the Disembodied Poetics Conference: Writing/Thinking/Being at Naropa University, in October, 2014 David James Miller, Maryam Parhizkar, and myself discussed the influence of music on our critical and creative writing practices in a panel titled "Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics." The conversation afterward was very rewarding and there were many questions about the various textual and musical sources referenced. To say thanks, and to keep that conversation going, we've posted a brief summary of our talks and a list of resources from our papers. This is the first of three parts. We hope you enjoy!

To Know Noise Is to Know Another: Luc Ferrari's Sound Newspaper Far West News

James Belflower

The Italian-born French composer Luc Ferrari was pivotal in the musique concrète scene emerging in Postwar France, which was characterized by the use of found sound, tape manipulations, and extended instrumentation. From one of his first found sound experiments in Danse Organiques (1971-73), which recorded two women making love, to his extended aural travelogue of he and his wife’s tour through the Southwest in the late 1990s, Far West News (1998-99), Ferrari provocatively pulled intimate noise into an historical period where abstract methods of music composition dominated the European and American scenes. In Far West News, Ferrari employs found sound, minimalist editing, and a variety of innovative compositional techniques to create a Sound Newspaper, a haunting "ambiguous realism" composed from recordings of his sightseeing tours, conversations, and ambient audio during their trip. Contrary to the alienation noise typically provokes, Far West News suggests that an encounter with noise is instead a form of communication rich with intimacy. Ferrari's meticulous, sensitive, and hands-on approach to collecting and composing with found sound demonstrates that when we consider noise as deeply relational it allows us to practice non-referential and comparitivist approaches to reality through our senses. Ultimately, noisy encounters encourage us to understand how resonances of all varieties inflect materiality by engendering sonic affinities between human and non-human players in what Ferrari called the "dialectics of the everyday."