Mak­ing the right noises

BBC Music Magazine - - The Full Score - IL­LUS­TRA­TION: MARIA CORTE MAIDAGAN

Clas­si­cal mu­sic isn’t an es­cape from noise – it’s sim­ply noise, tran­scended

The mod­ern world may be full of noise pol­lu­tion but, as Tom Ser­vice sug­gests, many of these un­wanted sounds are es­sen­tial to mu­si­cal cre­ativ­ity

Noise. We all know what it is, don’t we? For as long as we’ve had mu­sic – that is, sounds that we con­sciously want to hear – we’ve had to put up with noise: those sounds we’d ideally like to turn o!. And what goes for cough­ing and mo­bile phones in con­cert halls at tran­scen­dent mo­ments of Schu­ber­tian bliss or Saari­aho-in­duced mys­ti­cism is true in the rest of our lives too. We want to si­lence the noise of the tra"c, the ar­gu­ment next door, the avi­a­tion boom and a snor­ing sleep-mate.

What might be a grin-and-bear-it an­noy­ance for most of us can be­come a phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ture for oth­ers: those a#icted with tin­ni­tus, or who live un­der an air­port flight-path. And mu­sic it­self can be­come a noisy prob­lem when it’s used as ag­gres­sively loud back­ground mu­sic. It’s no sur­prise that as the ur­ban world has be­come more sat­u­rated with noise, we have wanted silent zones, in quiet coaches and noise-can­celling head­phones and in the shape of Pipedown, the ‘cam­paign for free­dom from piped mu­sic’.

But what hap­pens when, in­stead of try­ing to es­cape all this noise, you go into the noisy mael­strom, and make mu­sic there? That’s what to­day’s noise artists like Merzbow or Vomir do, mu­si­cians who work with ex­treme lev­els of vol­ume and dis­tor­tion, us­ing sat­u­rated white-noise sounds like those that used to em­anate from your TV and ra­dio to cre­ate over­whelm­ing, im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences. They’re build­ing on a tra­di­tion of com­posers who made noise their own: from the Fu­tur­ists like Luigi Rus­solo, who made new in­stru­ments at the start of the 20th cen­tury to cre­ate a mean­ing­ful ca­coph­ony, to Edgard Varèse, who used sirens as part of his or­ches­tral hymns to moder­nity. Or there’s the Ger­man com­poser Hel­mut Lachen­mann, who has cre­ated an en­tire aes­thetic from the un­der-sounds and shadow-noises that bring any note on an acous­tic in­stru­ment into be­ing: the scrapes of a bow, the breaths and gasps of a wood­wind or brass player.

Yet these mu­si­cians and com­posers aren’t noisy ex­trem­ists of mu­si­cal cul­ture. Be­cause with­out its noises, clas­si­cal mu­sic as a cul­ture wouldn’t com­mu­ni­cate as pro­foundly. In sci­ence, ‘noise’ is ex­tra­ne­ous in­for­ma­tion that gets in the way of the trans­mis­sion of a pure, clean ‘sig­nal’. But if, say, you cre­ated a noise-free singing voice, you would end up with a syn­the­sized ho­muncu­lus. The sound would be elec­tron­i­cally clean and pure, but with­out the grain of the voice, with­out the over­tones and breaths that make up the halo of noises around any vo­cal sound, they wouldn’t be fully hu­man.

Which is why we need noise in our mu­si­cal cul­ture. Clas­si­cal mu­sic isn’t an es­cape from noise – it’s sim­ply noise, tran­scended. As Thomas Beecham knew all too well: the Bri­tish may not like mu­sic, ‘but they ab­so­lutely love the noise it makes’. So in­stead of can­celling it, let’s all make some noise!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.