Greg HaingeNoise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise

Bloomsbury Academic, 2013

by Dave O'Brien on October 19, 2013

Greg Hainge

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What is noise? In his new book Noise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), Greg Hainge, Reader in French at University of Queensland, Australia, explores this question. The book is written within the tradition of critical theory and is at once playful and punning, as well as suffused with challenging and perceptive analysis. The core position of the book is that we need to move beyond the dichotomous understanding of noise that sees it as either something to be removed or rejected, an unnecessary distraction from a core signal, or something that should be celebrated, but in celebration co-opted into being something that isn’t noise. For Hainge we need a new understanding of noise, an understanding that seeks to celebrate noise through a range of engagements with cultural and theoretical phenomena. Noise is not just about sound, but figures in all forms of communication. The book takes on the accepted readings of work in music, such as John Cage’s 4’33″, literature, such as Sartre’s Nausea, as well as photography and film. These new approaches, mediated by the concern with noise, will be of interest to a range of readers from across the humanities, as well as for specialists in film and music theory and aesthetics. The project of founding on ontology of noise is also a contribution to the growing field of noise studies, which is the kind of interdisciplinary academic area that is emerging within the noisy world of the contemporary academy.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

daveobrien November 25, 2013 at 3:25 am

Greg asked me to add his fascinating response to the comments:

Seth, yes, ironic and kind of hilarious. The funniest thing is that Dave has edited out a lot of the really bad feedback squeals. It seems his computer knew what we were talking about and wanted to join in. Dave said he’d never had that kind of problem before… The technical problems reminded me of a Kittler podcast I listened to from the Tate modern which, again, had about the worst sound recording quality I’d ever heard for such a thing. Given the subject matter, it seemed ironic to say the least.
Nick, sorry it’s taken me so long to answer your question, I didn’t see this until recently. How would noise manifest itself in literary texts?….. I guess that for me the interesting question is not to think about how that might happen literally, ie looking at texts in which there are “noises” that play a part in the diegesis, but rather to think about what it is that happens in literature that is specific to literature. That for me would be where its noise lies. What is it that happens with language in the particular configuration that we call literary language that means that it is different to other kinds of language. It would happen in all instances of that which we would call literature, of course, but what I like to try and do is to think of those texts that would have a very high coefficient of whatever kind of noise you’re thinking about, and to start from a consideration of those to understand at the most extreme level how that noise operates and what it does so that you can then back engineer that into a consideration of all kinds of literature (although of course part of my point is that every individual expression has its own individual kind of noise and so you can’t do this in too programmatic a way, imagining that there would only be one kind of “literary” noise that would be the same across all literary texts). I guess if I had to think of an example of what I would consider a very “noisy” literary text, I’d have to go with Joyce, something like Finnegan’s wake, in which there are so many aspects that work in such a way that the specific nature of the relation that you enter into in that text is highlighted; it seems to me that a work like that is always highlighting something about its own coming into the world, and that it does that in an insistent manner, the “narrative” being such that it is hard to be distracted by that so that you enter into a kind of immersive state with the narrative alone such that the actual processes that bring the narrative about essentially cease to be called to attention – leading then to a strange situation where you are both immersed in the narrative yet somehow separated from the actual operations of literature.
And Metal Machine Music, Tim….. well, firstly of course, RIP Lou. How beautiful that you were thinking of him here just a week before his passing. I actually wrote about MMM in a very different way a long time back. You’ll find a link to a version of it here in a paper called “A Whisper or a Scream” I’d probably say something very different about it today. I’d say, indeed, that it is very noisy, not only because of the “common sense” noisiness of it, ie it’s just feedback, but that it also, as you point out Tim, talks to us about so many different aspects of the music industry, of how music comes to be within a commercial, technological context. So it’s noisy not only in that most literal sense, but also because of the ways in which, like Merzbow, it is just about sound and technology and how those things come together to make this thing we call music, without any transcendent sense of necessary perfection that comes from a perfect melody that seems often to limit music to certain kinds of tonal forms, but it’s also noisy because of the ways in which it really foregrounds so many things about the ways in which music is presented, packaged, sold, marketed, etc. The iconography on the cover, the way the vinyl lps end in a locked groove, so much about it seems to want to make us stop and think about the ways that music comes to be, how it comes to be in our possession through fetishistic relations and capitalistic machinations, and then how that is converted into sound through a specific kind of technological configuration… Fascinating stuff…. Like so much fascinating stuff though, it’s not for everyone; some people prefer to be able to sublimate everything and not to be disturbed by the noise. Personally though it’s one of my faves.
Thanks all for joining the conversation here.

seth November 10, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Oh wow this sounds interesting but the recording quality is very distracting. How ironic.

dmfant November 9, 2013 at 7:03 am
Nick Bentley October 22, 2013 at 6:16 am

Really enjoyed this podcast, especially the discussion of the use of noise in David Lynch’s film technique. Greg Hainge mentioned the idea of noise in literature/literary studies (as well as music, cinema and photography), and I would like to ask if he might expand on that idea. How might this noise manifest itself in literary texts; and has he any specific examples?

Tim Szeliga October 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm

How about Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music? Seems he owed his record company one more album, so he cranked everything to eleven and presented a double album of feedback and pure noise. Some of my friends claimed they could discern a musical intent — we used it as a “recessional,” (along with a Yoko Ono album) when closing time came around and we had to encourage patrons to leave.

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