Disorganised and Unwanted

I have a new double album out on the Tokinogake label. It’s based on field recordings made over the past 10 years, mainly around where I live in Nottingham but also in Derbyshire, North Yorkshire and Rutland. The tracks are split into two albums – day and night, when the recordings were made, and they’re in roughly chronological order. The recordings are processed in various ways:

  • Adding synthesized sound, triggered by volume levels/changes in the source audio
  • Inverting the loudness levels of the audio
  • Applying effects with parameters shaped by the audio volume level
  • Using Fourier re-synthesis to extract the dominant frequencies / noise bands (a bit like time-stretching without the stretching)

Most of these techniques I developed in Disquiet Junto projects. Two of the tracks on the album are versions of tracks submitted to the Junto: ‘Shrewsbury Road’ (project 0218 – Sound Passage) and ‘Shrewsbury Road Rain’ (project 0029 – Count Zero).

A member of the Tokinogake collective, nankotsuteacher, correctly identified that some of these are the same sounds/processes as heard in Processed Field Recordings (20×20 Project, 2020). In an article on the Tokinogake website, nankotsuteacher also analysed the album in terms of Bernie Krause’s categories of sound: geophony (natural sound), biophony (animal sound) and anthrophony (human sound).

A central theme of the albums is unplanned and intrusive sound – the kind of thing usually edited out of field recordings, like microphone handling noise, wind noise, traffic and human voices. Listening to the original recordings, some of these noises were more interesting than the intended sounds, and over time they began to form a nice collection. So instead of removing them from a set of compositions of clean sounds, I turned them into focal points for new compositions.

‘Unwanted sound’ is one of the main definitions of noise. Noise may also be understood as the opposite of music, which is sometimes defined as ‘organised sound’. Film theorist and composer Michel Chion was one of the first to articulate these two ideas about noise. My approach to noise in this album is informed by Marie Thompson’s research on this subject which “critically rethink[s] the correlation between noise, ‘unwantedness’ and ‘badness’.” Thompson’s Beyond Unwanted Sound is available as PhD thesis [PDF] and book.

Whether good or bad, generative or destructive, overwhelming or unheard, noise […] is always affective. Indeed, affect can be understood as the connecting thread that underlines noise’s informational, social and aesthetic manifestations. Noise’s affectivity is as central to encounters with noisy neighbours as it is to Yasunao Tone’s glitching and stuttering wounded CDs; to crackling telephone conversations as it is to the quiet improvisations of onkyô.

Thompson (2014) Beyond Unwanted Sound, p.239
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