The Art of Noises Explosions of Sound


Funny thing about me. I don’t really like music. It’s hard to explain. I don’t go to concerts, I don’t actively listen to music. Imagine that music was just information, or data, like 1s and 0s, and you were a computer.

The computer doesn’t "like" music. It "reads" it. It "reads" it if you input "music" into it. I’m kind of like that. Music is just data, information, it’s a flow of bits.

It’s more of a visual experience for me than a sonic or acoustic one. I don’t "listen" to music, I "read" it. Every now and then, I access a piece of "music", similar to how someone might buy the daily newspaper every once in a while just to "scan" the headlines. I don’t really care for it, yet, strangely enough, I have been composing music and doing sound design for 20+ years.

Here is a protest song by Bulat Okudzhava. Try to "read" it. Try to "see" it. Don’t let yourself be moved by it. Ignore all sensations, emotions. Try to have a purely rational, cerebral experience of it, as though it were just ambient sound, because it is ambient sound.

All music is ambient sound, it’s just an extra channel. One cannot listen to music in a vacuum. There is always an acoustic environment/ecology, an acoustic space, in which you hear it. The phenomenon you are experience is nothing more than variations in air pressure.

Paper Soldier to me is not a song. It’s an aesthetic object, a musical object, an act of composition, recorded on tape. It is more of a mathematical object than anything real. Like I said, it is made up of variations in air pressure, waveforms which I find of relatively low complexity.

What people call "songs" and "music" is a carefully crafted illusion. There is no such thing in reality. It doesn’t exist, and I don’t care much for nonexistent things. So I don’t listen to it. I do leave the radio on while I sleep, because it distracts me and helps me sleep.

The radio is a noisy channel for me, has low complexity, it’s much easier to bear than silence. Silence is deafening, I can’t stand it. It makes me feel as though I were in a nuclear submarine many leagues under the sea at the height of the Cold War. My head feels compressed, the air pressure is extreme, my skull wants to implode. I don’t hear sounds, I receive signals. Digital silence is much more informative than an environment with low amplitude waveforms, whose tedium I abhor.

I have supersonic hearing. What you call silence, to me is an abundance of soundwaves. I hear the refrigerator loud and clear, the fan in the other room, the cars outside, the wind outside, I hear your breathe when you talk, I see your heart pounding, I hear the cat yawn in the other room. I hear things in the sky, too, that others do not hear. I call it a rare form of clairaudience.

It’s not fun, though. I’d love to listen to music someday. But I see waveforms and mathematical relationships, fractions mostly, numbers, ratios. You’d be surprised how little complexity there actually is in most of what you hear.

People don’t realize that tones have particular "colors", the notes, that is, the actual frequencies. 440 Hertz has a unique "color" to it, unlike some other frequency, except multiples of itself. You could call it a "texture". And most people’s timbral discrimination is horrible at best. People don’t know what timbres are. They are waveshapes.

So press the Play button and ignore what’s playing, or block your ears, leave the room. Try Listening-Without-Listening for once. You might enjoy it. I know I don’t. It’s like hearing yet being deaf at the same time. The radio, by the way, is a telecommunications technology. What you are actually hearing is a signal, yet you hear music. I don’t hear music. I hear a radio. I hear – or see – people or machines engaging in musical programming.

I have heard music before. It’s a profoundly individual experience to me, something you do when you are alone, it is a solitary activity. I don’t understand why people like to listen to music in groups. It doesn’t make sense to me. And people only seem capable of being critical of music they don’t "like", i.e. music they don’t have a "taste" for. Their preferences greatly limit what musical experiences they are exposed to, limit the number of channels, as a powerful filter. The music they love, they cannot tell you why they love it, or what they love about it. They just do. And they are evangelists for their own limited "taste" for music, as though the beauty they found in a piece of music was universal, an objective property of the music itself. Rarely have I seen someone being critical of music they loved. That is strange to me.