HYPER NOISE AESTHETICS
Annoyance and Its Allowances in the Age of the Digital Surveillance State
Noise nourishes a new era.
Michele Serres, The Parasite
Now I would like to look more specifically at the possibility of further developments in noise art aesthetics concerning where becoming-imperceptible and becoming-perceptible nimbly interact. As sketched out in my book Immersion Into Noise, the evolution of visual noise art develops from certain pre-historic cave areas and baroque grottoes, to certain levels of mannerist and counter-mannerist complexity, to noisy spatial renderings in various exuberant architectural styles, then into cubism, futurism, dada, fluxus and other 20th century avant-garde movements, into the screech of techno-logical noise art, and into the softness of software noise art aesthetics.
As noted earlier in my “After After Words,” what is important in the art of noise aesthetics is its intentional and elongated invisibility1 and enigma. That is why this subject is so hard to write about. The very topic is a very difficult one to pin down and make intelligible for good reason. The art of noise is an art of disbelief in habitual codes of practice and understanding. You must take the art of noise on its own terms or risk doing violence to the art.
Noise art is not a set of homogeneous practices, but a complex field converging around perceived weaknesses in the art system. Such a noisy hyper-cognitive stance happens when the particularity of electronic connectivity is seen as part of an accrual total system by virtue of its being connected to everything else—while remaining dissonant. Noise aesthetics is a complex and ambiguous political gazing, and its theory of an art of resistance and investigation would be increasingly valuable to an analytical social movement based on skepticism. This is so as it counters the effects of our age of simplification: effects which have resulted from the glut of consumer-oriented entertainment messages and political propaganda which the monstrous mass media feed us daily in the interests of corporate profit.
The noise art aesthetic of the monster sacré (read Minóy) is that of dissonant immersion into a maelstrom of glossolaliaic unintelligibility, chaos and exaltation. The art of noise style is a way of seeing/hearing that reverses the order of figure/ground2 to ground/figure. It collapses being into non-being (ontological implosion). It creates ambivalent aleatory3 processes that are true to our inner essential world: dynamic pools of expansion and disintegration.
The art of noise is that screech amid the collapse and extension of aesthetics connected to immanence and transcendence (where art is in the process of becoming-imperceptible-perceptible), facing the merging of figure into environment and environment into figure. We can find moments of this screech of collapse-extension in contemporary complexity theory and in some areas of information technology, nano-technology, cognitive science, and biotechnology. These moments of collapse-extension accompany the contemporary development where the static image has become dynamically engaged with the human imagination and personal choices of the viewer—in some cases, literally engaging the participation of the viewer (who becomes what I have elsewhere renamed as the viewpant) 4 to the point of physical interactivity. In other cases they are engaged conceptually (or post-conceptually) by looking long and hard at the art. I believe that the forms of this aesthetic post-conceptual participation can be a decisive element in offering generative possibilities of development that will continue to be interesting and supportive of the gazing-commons.
The unwanted becoming-perceptible trend is likewise evident if we consider another aspect: the spread through social media technologies of content that uses visualization and data monitoring—for example, systems that survey and process in real-time preferences and movements of viewpants via mobile networks. So process-based data monitoring design and algorithmic architecture have now passed through the experimental phase and begun to have anti-commons practical uses. What we have witnessed for art through this development, coupled with relational art aesthetics, is on the one hand a spilling over towards entertainment, and on the other a growing integration with fast data monitoring surveillance.
In defense of the individual-based commons, my theory of the aesthetics of an art of noise encourages data monitoring deferral, where the search is rewarding in itself. Seen as too difficult by some, for me the paucity of clean art at a fast glance conceals the riches of associational gazing with respect to the combinatory dynamics of leisurely layered creations (read/hear Minóy).
In that regard, consider the large quantities of subtle kinds of noise that have proliferated since electricity, especially so since the onset of the information revolution at the end of the 1970s. With it came a low impact noise emitted by every kind of electrical appliance, contributing to the white-noise dense texture of our acoustic environment.5 Such a post-industrial white noise environment is ambiguously omnipresent and mostly subliminal.
My suggestion for art noise aesthetics is, I believe, fully able to render sensible the white noise sequencing when it uses subliminal latent excess in its presentational mode. Because such an excess overload of representation offers us a measure of freedom of choice in how we unpack it (or not). The greater amount of stimulation-information needed,6 the greater the uncertainty that the “message” (proposition) offers. That is why my preference has been for semi-abstract, palimpsest-like work, like Minóy’s, that contains subliminal latent excess. It has greater freedom of choice, and greater uncertainty, due to an excess of information via the ground/ figure catastrophic collapse.
My concern here is with the ethical and liberating use of representation (and anti-representation) within the broader image environment. In attempting to represent the monster sacré aesthetic as non-representable (because the hugeness of post-industrial white noise is ubiquitous and subtlely present), art should obliterate the proper object of re-representation. This stress on the alterity and ineffability of noise that eludes our fuzzy grasp is what hyper-noise art is about.
The term hyper-noise is my theory of noise art as constructed via connected-competing vectors and figure/grounds. 7 This concept owes something to Quentin Meillassoux’s idea of hyper-Chaos that was sketched out in his book After Finitude: a form of absolutization where nothing is impossible or unthinkable.8 It must be grasped that hyper-Chaos is not just disorder, but that it also may produce order and stability, even little static worlds, as well as the complete destruction of what is.
Hyper-noise art refuses easy consumption and encourages love, because a love for noise art will make perturbing events in your life more tolerable. It will make you able to see and hear more and make you more adaptable to disturbance, rather than being torn up about them. It will help you to avoid psychic ossification by loving latent expanse. Hyper-noise art can thus be referred to the aesthetics of the sublime, which, in the 18th century, was connected with the grandness of natural phenomena.
Generative hyper-noise art is perhaps the most evident example of this hyper-noise sublime opportunity, as post-conceptual generative art serves to produce unpredictable results, both when it is based on arithmetic instructions contained in code, or in other ritual rules. So hyper-noise software art means primarily some form of generative or semi-generative art, in which the artist establishes the operational tenets/choices that are calculated to act autonomously or semi-autonomously.
The above-mentioned white-hyper-noise dense texture of our acoustic environment, with its uniformity and lack of variance, suggests to me a possibility of connecting ourselves psychically to the great chain of being (that which proceeds us and of which we are a part) through contemporary art. However, this requires an active imagination that is aided by the visualization properties offered up in the art of noise.
This potential of noise art aesthetics is embedded in the recognition of our sheer potentiality: all the selves we have within to develop or burn out. All the worlds we might create or destroy. Hyper-noise art shows us that we are more diverse than we had imagined, and more tolerant. It points out that what we have in common is a dangerous propensity for overrating our powers of comprehension.
But noise art aesthetics is hostile to generalizations. It is recalcitrant by design. It affirms with jubilation our state of varied mutability. That is my general standard of excellence for it.
Noise art aesthetics tears our phallogocentricism apart to confront the diversity in us, and in each other. This lesson is a necessity and the recognition of this necessity is part of the peculiar pleasure that noise art affords us—a pleasure clearly of rapturous abandonment where the intended effect is an inner liberation by means of de-simulation. Noise art aesthetics opens up in us a sense of possibility that we understand and feel at one and the same time to be both dangerous and indispensable. It points us towards the perilous turbulences and chancy exhilarations that pass through us: overcast, heartbroken, eloquent passages that pull us apart even as they discharge pent-up repressed forms of accepted common wisdom. So, my initiative for a hyper-noise art aesthetic is not a swoon to an intricate inner violence. Rather, it has the look and sound more of analogue: like that of the delicately puckered anus that we each own but do not face to a cosmogony of expanding orifice that keeps reminding us that we were left behind.
So noise aesthetics is a return to the shifting ground on which music and art rests. The art of noise gives us a sense of discovery that marked music and art’s beginning. It is an alternative, phantasmagorical way to express the agitation between form and the ground. It dislodges art and music from their customary formal frameworks and makes them thrillingly intense again. The art of noise is beautiful negativity.
But understanding noise aesthetics may be too limited a goal here, as the art of noise attempts to expresses the unsayable. Or perhaps all it says is: WAKE THE FUCK UP (sounding a wake-up call). But that is far from nothing. So perhaps this idea of an art of noise is a psychotic outburst that disrupts smooth image operations with an explosion of buried visual hysteria that promises a highly diverse world.
Its incomprehensibility by design connects the commons to our unconscious mind and inner feelings through what I think to be a type of chaos magic.9 Through a variety of techniques often reminiscent of Western ceremonial magic or indigenous shamanism, many practitioners of chaos magic believe they can change both their subjective experience and objective reality. Although there are a few techniques unique to chaos magic (such as some forms of sigil magic10), chaos magic is often highly individualistic and borrows liberally from other belief systems. In this way, some chaos magicians consider their practice to be a meta-belief.
Chaoist noise art creates the visualization bridge between form and intuition, as its uncertain images have more information in them than a clear certain image (or sound) has, where the information quickly becomes redundant. Thus noise art gives rise to new thought. It promotes the emergence of new forms of an old story: art.
As mentioned above, what is important in the art of noise is its intentional enigma. It needs to be obscure to the degree that its codes cannot be discerned. This phantasmagorical obscurity and mystery is desirable in a world that has become increasingly data-mined, mapped, quantified, specialized, and identified in a straightforward matter-offact way. This will for enigma is the basis for discovering and entering into an immersion into the art of noise. 11
Such aesthetic enigma is alluring when intelligible mining-type data processing is perceived as hollow, trite, and insensitive. Its goal is to disrupt instrumental logic and contradict, counteract, and cancel out false reason and hollow feeling.
What also interests me profoundly with art of noise aesthetics is the extent to which it urges the mind towards transformations. Here art is the infinite space of hyper-chaos imagination. A hyper-chaos art noise includes principles of networked connections and electronic links that give multiple choices of passages to follow and continually new branching possibilities. Instead of stressing the reflective limits imposed by the category of art, the art of noise aesthetic may attempt to specify the resistance embodied within it. So noise art’s counter to the spectacle’s misery consists in not forgetting or denying spectacle, but in an interruption of it with a phantasmagorical semi-remembering of pre-spectacular suffering through which human grief is at one and the same time relived and relieved. Suffering and joy, like figure and ground, are here tied together, neither one without the other. Thus noise art aesthetics suggest and produce stress in us—one might even say an urgent anxiety of disintegration. So dedication to its merits, if there are any, might well be described as vaguely heroic, because noise art aesthetics suggests the revelation of a plentiful nihilistic life force. Thus noise art aesthetics can be as creative as it is destructive. Or they imply an endless struggle between the two. In that sense it is a cul-de-sac of ill communication (vacuole)12—the communication of enigma it-self.
Indeed, phantasmagorical falsifications of the self (again, read/hear Minóy) are highlighted by noise art’s non-representation ability—its refusal to participate in the world of the clear and precise, with its massive data banks, clone-like lifestyle models and ideological conceptual camps. When we have become too complicated to clarify and order, but too accepting of the administrations of our existence, noise art aesthetics offers a certain path of socially acceptable withdrawal. I mean here a boomeranging figure/ground withdrawal that provides the means for secretly re-identifying ourselves.
So noise art experience has something that words risk diminishing. Nevertheless, I obviously have felt that I must take that risk because if we are to continue to live among electronic vibrations that mine us, it may be helpful to talk back against them. But yes, noise art aesthetics is the transmitter of unspeakable secrets. That is why art noise matters. It wants more from us. Moreover, it teaches us to want more from art. It teaches us to look deeper, to hear more, and to trust the inner noise.
1 This parallels the fact that in many data facilities, servers are loaded with applications and left to run indefinitely, even after nearly all users have vanished or new versions of the same programs are running elsewhere. At a certain point, no one is responsible anymore, because no one, absolutely no one, wants to go in that room and unplug a server.
2 The characteristic organization of perception into a figure that “stands out” against an undifferentiated background, e.g., a printed word against a background page. What is figural at any one moment depends on patterns of sensory stimulation and on the momentary interests of the perceiver.
3 Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice.
4 See Joseph Nechvatal, Immersive Ideals/Critical Distances (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009), 56. One of the wider implications for art in viractual space is the proclivity to solicit the theoretical viewer/participant (what I call the “viewpant”) to respond to the work in both a contemplative and physical way, or at least in an implied tension between these two poles when one side outweighs the other. It is important to remember that the viewpant is involved often with a series of different levels of immersion in a dynamic emergent continuum.
5 For more on this see R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1994).
6 The New York Stock Exchange produces up to 2,000 gigabytes of data per day that must be stored for years.
7 Joseph Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press/MPublishing, 2011), 31.
8 Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 64.
9 Some common sources of inspiration for chaos magic include such diverse areas as science fiction, scientific theories, ceremonial magic, shamanism, Eastern philosophy, and individual experimentation.
10 The sigil concept was mostly popularized by the artist Austin Osman Spare, who published a method by which the words of a statement of intent are reduced into an abstract design; the sigil is then charged with the will of the creator. Spare’s technique, now known as sigilization, has become a core element of chaos magic. For more on Austin Osman Spare, see my essay “On Austin Osman Spare,” in Joseph Nechvatal, Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993–2006) (New York City: Edgewise Press. 2009), 40–52.
11 As an example, see/hear Marina Rosenfeld’s Cephissus landscape (2002), an immersive noise work that undermines the central notion of “surround-sound” technology by locating viewers in an environment with no fixed center and numerous temporary sonic sweet spots where short bursts of mingled electronic and acoustic sounds intersect and decay in expanding concentric circles that suggest oscillate landscapes.
12 This is a reference to Gilles Deleuze’s (1925-1995) notion of the vacuole. This concept of noncommunication comes from Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992): 3–7. Deleuze’s notion of control is connected to information-communication technology—a concept he pulled out of the work of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997). A vacuole is like a sac in a cell’s membrane, completely bound up inside the cell but also separate from it. Vacuoles play a significant role in autophagy, maintaining an imbalance between biogenesis (production) and degradation (or turnover) of many substances and cell structures. They also aid in the destruction of invading bacteria or of misfolded proteins that have begun to build up within the cell. The vacuole is a major part of the plant and animal cell. See also Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise, 14.
Obsolete Capitalism - CALL FOR PAPERS: LA DELEUZIANA N. 10. RHYTHM, CHAOS AND NONPULSED MAN. TOWARDS A CHAOSMOTIC PHILOSOPHY.
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