Multipicities: Noise, Sound and Silence

Abstract

Although contrasted with silence, sound has been defined from noise. Historically, attempts to study sound have frequently involved a focus on particular meaningful sounds, at the expense of noise. During the twentieth century, however, the sonic arts emerged as a site of research and the experiments of artists working in this area demonstrate the complicated relationships that exist between sound, silence and noise. John Cages realisation that there is - at least when anyone is present - no absolute silence, is particularly significant. It led him to an interest in the possibilities, the vast reservoir of sound, presented by noise. While his most well known work 433 is now widely accepted as intended to direct audiences to listen to the noise around them as music, it is nonetheless based on both his belief that there is always sound and the use of silence. Therefore, in its use of silence, noise and sound Cages work demonstrates the complicated relationships that exist between each and the necessity of reconsidering those relationships. Employing an analysis of particular examples of Cages work along with that of Fluxus artist Yasunao Tone and the Wandelweiser group of composers, in this essay I show that the relationships that exist between silence, sound and noise are not reducible to the binary oppositions so often employed and that each, rather, is intimately entangled with the others in multiple ways. I do so by exploring the work of these artists in relation to philosophies of multiplicity such as those of Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Serres. Noise, sound and silence, I will argue, are all polysemic and exist as contingent, mutually constitutive multiplicities.

Published in Unlaute: Noise / Gerausch in Kultur, Medien und Wissenschaften seit 1900 - more information available at [transcript]

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