31 January 2010

A not-so-brief introduction

While this Semester 2 project follows on from some of the ideas generated in Semester 1, it is also prompted by a call for submissions to the University of Salford instigated Bigger than Words, Wider than Pictures: Noise, Affect, Politics conference. This will be taking place in July. Providing some background/context, its organising committee (Dr Michael Goddard, Dr Benjamin Halligan and Professor David Sanjek) state:

"Noise Annoys. Is it not a banal fact of modern, urban existence that one person’s preferred sonic environment is another’s irritating, unwelcome noise – whether in the high-rise apartment, on public transport or the street, or almost anywhere else? The contingent soundscape of jack-hammers and pneumatic drills, mobile phone chatter, car sirens and alarms, sound leakage from nightclubs and bars and – moving into the suburbs – lawn-mowers and amateur renovation projects, neighbouring kids and dogs, represents a near-constant aural assault.

As a pollutant, noise can legally attain noxious levels; it is both potentially biologically harmful and psychologically detrimental. But what exactly is noise and what conditions these relative thresholds in which sound crosses over into noise? Or are these more organised and polite sonic phenomena merely varieties of noise that have been tamed and civilised, and yet still contain kernels of the chaotic, anomalous disturbance of primordial noise? As a radical free agent, how is noise channelled, neutralised or enhanced in emergent cityscapes? As a consumable, how is noise – or lack of noise – commodified?

Such questions are particularly applicable to contemporary forms of music which, based as they are on a variety of noise-making technical machines, necessarily exist in the interface between chaotic, unpredictable noise and the organised and blended sounds of music and speech. Does modern noise seek to lead us to new, post-secular inscapes (as with psychedelia and shoegazer), or defy the lulling noisescapes of processed background muzak with punitive blasts of disorientating, disorderly noise? And why the cult of noise – in term of both volume and dissonance – in which low cultural practices (metal, moshing) meet those of the avant-garde (atonalism, transcendentalism)?

This conference seeks to address the contemporary phenomenon of noise in all its dimensions: cultural, political, territorial, philosophical, physiological, subversive and military, and as anomalous to sound, speech, musicality and information."

[More information is available via this link.]

The arrival of the above was timed just as I was beginning to get ideas for this Negotiated Project and, after previous work looking at both the phenomenon of visual noise and also visual referents for music, I considered how I could progress while also investigating a more recent fascination with book design. The resulting concept surrounding noise within libraries is an obvious reference to the idea of these environments as silent places [perhaps with the surly librarian offering a "sshhh!" to anyone that doesn't observe this].

Anyway, the idea has already been toyed with for at least a month and it threatened to distract me completely when I was supposed to be finishing the previous project(s). It's also something that has been discussed at length with others. Not least my colleagues Amy, Dave and Nicky who are perhaps already bored of listening and would perhaps prefer a little more of that supposedly cliched silence.

Meantime I was over at the Ecole de Internationale de Design in Toulon last week so I made some rudimentary recordings and also took a few photos in its small library. Additionally, I've also been looking at cymatics, soundwaves and onomatopoeia as possible strands within this. And then there are the books and all the other visual material that I've been busily collecting which I'll start posting here over the next few days.

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