Noise#Benjamin O’Brien#along the eaves




1. How would you describe this « noise »?

When I think about noise, I immediately turn to Claude Shannon. Shannon, of course, was speaking about noise in terms of communication, where a sender has an idea or thought she wishes to share with a receiver and noise is anything that “perturbs” a signal “during the transmission” (Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” 1948, p. 19). Music, however, is not necessarily a communicative act, but definitely a creative one. So, relative to music, I describe noise as the modulation of form, where listeners are capable of hearing and identifying changes to a known sound’s form.

For example, in his Réveil des oiseaux (1953), Messiaen transcribes a wren’s song and uses his transcription to order the notes of a xylophone. Capable and willing listeners may hear and identify a change to their perception of a xylophone, as it now sounds birdlike. Similarly, they may now (and forever) hear a bird as being musical. Thus, this noise changes the patterns we associate with a particular sound. With these examples in mind, we can say that noise relates to both the transmission of an idea or thought and the context in which the transmission is made.

2. The noise is there a relevant concept in your sound or musical work? Why?

In my work along the eaves (2015), I am interested in how two sound images can occupy the same space in time. This idea is quite noisy. For example, I developed and used my own custom suite of computer programs to abstract the form of a baby crying and use it to reconfigure water sounds. So, in a sense, I am interested in composing a cognitively dissonant music, where, in this case, capable and willing listeners may perceive and identify a “water baby” or “crying water.”

3. Do you think the future of music is in noise?

I think Russolo’s Art of Noises (1913) was quite prophetic. “Yes,” I think noise will continue to be a theme in music as our definition of music continues to evolve. How we define noise in music is quite interesting. Over the last decade alone, we have seen composers and performers adopt and adapt ideas and materials relating to “Big Data,” online music sharing, and alternative / wireless controllers. What is interesting is the method in which the composer encodes her idea into a medium that is capable of carrying it: When we see it fail, we can say that somewhere in their process of encoding and our process of decoding, noise was introduced. This noise can be destructive, or as Bateson says, it can generate “new patterns” (Bateson, “A Cybernetic Explanation,” 1967, p. 32).


Benjamin O’Brien composes, researches, and performs acoustic and electro-acoustic music that focuses on issues of translation and machine listening.

12. mars 2015 par Mathevet Frédéric
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