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Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2001 15:44:58 -0500
Subject: Article 47-Japanese Noise Music


 Article 97    11/08/01          Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

 Full With Noise: Theory and Japanese Noise Music

 ~Paul Hegarty~

 1. Scratching the Surface

 "Full with Noise,..." is about noise music, specifically the version
 that has come to be called Japanese Noise -- itself composed of many
 different strands. The first half deals with the question of noise.
 What is it, whose is it, and how can we think about it. Also, how
 does noise inflect our thinking, rather than being an object; at what
 point does noise lose its noiseness and become meaning, music,
 signification? Or -- is there even a point where noise can subsist?
 Mostly, the text below takes the view that noise is a function of
 not-noise, itself a function of not being noise. Noise is no more
 original than music or meaning, and yet its position is to indicate
 the banished, overcome primordiality, ~and cannot lose this
 'meaning'~. Noise, then, is neither the outside of language nor
 music, nor is it simply categorisable, at some point or other, as
 belonging exclusively to the world of meaning, understanding, truth
 and knowledge. Instead, noise operates as a function of ~differance~.
 If this term is what indicates and is subsequently elided, in/as the
 play of inside and outside (of meaning, truth, language,
 culture....), then we can form another binary with identity on one
 side and ~differance~ on the other, but with this difference - that
 differance is both one term in the binary, and that which is the
 operation of the binary. This is what noise is/does/is not. For James
 Kahn, noise drifts across the binary empirical/abstract, such that
 "when noise itself is being communicated, [...] it no longer remains
 inextricably locked into empiricism but it transformed into an
 abstraction of another noise" [1].  In other words, noise is (taken
 to be) empirical, belonging to the world that is there in itself, a
 world of sounds without conscious sources. When such a view is
 mobilised, by the dadas, the futurists and so on, then noise becomes
 second order: a demonstration of the noise that subsists beyond.

 As Kahn rightly notes, there is no noise without the thought of
 noise, and ideas about sound can therefore "make an audible event
 called noise louder than it might already be" [2] - noises come from
 specific places and specific conceptualisations. At some level, the
 use of noise is a bid (however unwitting) to master it (at least in
 Western modernism), and reduce its quality as noise: "avant-garde
 noise, in other words, both marshals and mutes the noise of the
 other: power is attacked at the expense of the less powerful, and
 society itself is both attacked and reinforced" [3]. This of course
 includes the "actual" others of the Western male - woman and the
 foreign other particularly significant here. For the purposes of this
 essay, it is the use of the exotic other that might be at stake. Kahn
 observes that the early modernists" love of "the primitive" led them
 to (in)appropriate so-called primitive musics, and "thus, the
 grinding sound of power relations are heard here in the way noises
 ~contain~ the other, in both senses of the word" [4].

 Perhaps this is what is going on in trying to theorise Japanese noise
 music, even when rendering this a theoretical agent. Maybe crucial
 cultural elements are missing, leading to presumptions about what is
 being produced, based on underinformed hearing. This may be so. But
 what needs to be added is that if noise is to be noise, then an
 authentic reading (of true meaning) cannot be, cannot take place.
 More importantly, Japanese noise has its roots as much in free jazz,
 experimental rock music and contemporary classical music, as in
 traditional or classical Japanese musics. Part of the "noise" that
 unites highly disparate musics under the banner of noise music is
 precisely a disruption of Western music and its genres.

 Japanese Noise music has existed since the early 1970s, and since the
 late 1980s has been increasingly influential. This essay concentrates
 on the figure seen to epitomise Japanese noise: Merzbow, essentially
 the work of Masami Akita, and even then, only a tiny fraction of his
 output. The second half of the essay, including the conclusion, is an
 attempt to create a Merzbow/theory object -- failing.

 II. Scraped Subjectivity

 A recent exploratory political document states that "noise is sound
 which has a negative effect on people (unwanted sound)."[5] According
 to C.S. Kerse, noise is "sound which is undesired by the recipient",
 "a sound without musical quality or an unwanted or undesired sound"
 (_The Law Relating to Noise_, 8).  Noise, then is subjective, and
 this is what vexes the Law, which exists, according to Jacques
 Attali, as result of the transformation of noise into music, into a
 regulated system, which heralds all regulated systems, all that comes
 from the buried sacrifice at the origin of society.

 Attali: "Primordially the production of music has as its function the
 creation, legitimation and maintenance of order. Its primary function
 is not to be sought in aesthetics, which is a modern invention, but
 in the effectiveness of its participation in social regulation. Music
 - pleasure in the spectacle of murder, organizer of the simulacrum
 masked beneath festival and transgression - creates order"[7].

 Is noise subjective? Could we not instead say that noise has to do
 with the subject: that which occurs as/at the limit of the subject;
 that which signals an immanence outside of the subject/object divide,
 however reclothed in phenomenology? It would not then be enough to
 say "one person's noise is another's music" in some liberalist
 fantasy - rather we would have to acknowledge the constructedness of
 the "subjectivity of noise".

 Technical books on acoustics often assert that noise is in some way
 biologically coded - 'we' perceive certain sounds as noise because
 the vibrations are too close to the frequencies, rhythms, wavelengths
 of bodily functions. Others are noise because they are too alien.
 This is not totally false, but what is really at stake here are
 discourses which presume that there is an absolute, shared biology,
 layered with personal freedoms of judgement, feeling and so on. Such
 a stratification is also not false, but that does not make it
 natural, nor the specific layering a given: it makes an apparent
 end-result (or beginning-result), where there could simply be process

 If we are to listen to noise as music, noise designed as music, noise
 perhaps designed to stay noise, but to be heard in the conditions
 music is listened to, then something must give. Two possible models:
 firstly, learn to live with it - adopt an Adorno pattern (didactic)
 over a Hegel pattern (post-Hegelian, (un)phenomological), unwittingly
 championed by John Cage, and argue that we can, as result of
 listening to noise, rather than hearing it involuntarily, relearn how
 to approach the world and its cultural 'world' (of course, world and
 'world' can be quickly reversed); second model - create a situation
 which exposes the 'noise-afflicted subject' to remain so - through an
 act of sovereignty (something in Bataille that seems to be mastery,
 but undoes itself) consign the subject and its supposedly subordinate
 vessel to chora-ness.

 How to be a body without organs without being a fusion-loving hippie:
 after the schizo, paranoid, hysteric bodies, comes the masochist
 body: retrained and subjected as the last choice of the subject, the
 masochist body is "further" than the schizo body, leaking its
 internal organs, becoming pathway, becoming solid, becoming-becoming.
 The masochist body has the option of losing itself as organism
 through restraint, enclosure, containment (whilst also becoming
 someone else's body without organs, becoming body of the other): "it
 has its sadist or whore sew it up; the eyes, anus, urethra, breasts
 and nose are sewn shut. It has itself strung up to stop the organs
 from working; flayed, as if the organs clung to the skin; sodomized,
 smothered, to make sure everything is sealed tight" [9].  As a result
 we have a version of 'the' body without organs: it "is what remains
 when everything is taken away. What you take away is, very
 specifically, is the [masochist] phantasy, the whole made up of
 significations and subjectifications" [10]. Except that not
 everything has been taken away - the ears remain open.[11] Is this so
 the masochist body can hear instructions? Is this because the body
 without organs is really about listening?[12] It is perhaps that the
 ears constitute 'an' organ that we cannot control, so to leave 'it'
 open is to close the possibility of control through closing - if the
 ears were closed, the masochist would again be in charge of the
 soundworld. The ears become wound.

 A suspicion remains that the unclosed ears maintain a link to the
 world of sense - whilst the ears themselves might constitute a wound,
 it is an enabling wound, one that (like the pain now disallowed as
 warning signal) allows the possibility of processing the world into
 meaning. To block the ears would also instigate a possibility of
 self-awareness as organism, although a sense of panic, if it
 occurred, would be the undoing of this. Even so, the end-result, once
 we consider the ears as hearing device, whether open, closed,
 blocked, unblocked, the body without organs but with ears is a
 naturalised one, one that returns us to a primordial condition (even
 if a primordiality that was not primordial, but becomes that which is
 returned to as if it were primordial).

 The body without organs whose ears are filled with noise, however, is
 more (or, more accurately, less) of a body without organs: the
 noise-filled ear is no longer capable of hearing the voice of reason,
 the warnings of danger, the patterning of sound we somehow have
 always come to believe constitute not-noise. The body without organs
 does not hear or listen to noise, but is (in) the hearing of noise
 that exceeds the body that first lost in the sound of its muffled
 breath, the movement of liquids and gases, the slight panic

 Deleuze and Guattari are right to note that the body without organs
 is about the failure to become: "There is no attaining the Body
 without Organs -- you cannot attain it, you never finish getting to
 it -- it's a limit."[14] The body without organs cannot become
 itself, or anything else, and the way in which this specifically
 cannot happen is through the multiple failure of hearing/ears: its
 mysterious amnesty in _A Thousand Plateaus_, its failure through
 noise to process sense, the failure to stop processing, the failure
 to return to the 'true' body, and the failure that is the return to
 the "true" body (in, for example heightened awareness of the body's
 function -- although even if this were possible, it would constitute
 a forcible intervention in the functioning of the body). The body
 without organs is the failure of completion, the failure of this
 failure (organ resistance). The failure is the process of becoming,
 and becoming-failed is the noise of the attempt to get to the body
 without organs - the supplemental 'place' where it cannot be, where
 only it 'is'.

 Another story of the ear related by Kroker is one in which "the ear
 finally comes into its own. But not the old ear attached to a living
 head".[15] The ear moves into (non)being as a post-masochistic organ
 without a body. But as we have seen, also an organ without a body
 without organs.

 Noise can be seen as structural: in the realm of law, of good
 citizenship, it is "undesired", or "excessive" sound.[16] In the
 realm of Law as that which operates rationality, noise is that which
 has always to be excluded -- the exclusion having always already been
 and (not) gone, in order that the Law exists. This seems to indicate
 noise as a category, like the sublime, of domesticated exclusion. But
 noise can be conceived of as process. For Russolo, "[the timbre of
 noise] is no longer an ~effect~ bound to the causes that produce it
 (motive energy, striking, friction through speed, bumping, and so on)
 owing to and inherent in the purpose of the machine or thing that
 makes the noise",[17] and if noise is process, is always a
 becoming-noise -- or, alternatively, (not) coming into (not) being as
 noise, this exclusion (what we take to be in the exclusion) is undone
 when noise 'is', as noise is the coming-undone of noise/organised
 sound. Most particularly when noise 'is' where it cannot be --

 Noise also has to contain judgement: it is 'unwanted'. Can noise be
 wanted - clearly that would then define the noise in question as
 not-noise. If we are happy with tautology, we can stay there. Or -
 let us presume that noise is always unwanted as a function of wanting
 (desire, if you must) - it might even be "what you did not know you
 wanted" -- as suggested by Attali, when he writes that new music
 always emerges as noise in what is to become "the old order":
 "despite the death it contains, noise carries order within itself; it
 carries new information";[19] as of course suggested by that prime
 mover of de- and re- territorialisation, the 'capitalist machine'.
 The unwanted is not a function of some lack-oriented mysticism about
 desire, but the actuality of wanting, once removed from
 subject/object control. More simply, though, what if you actually do
 want to hear something that is noise - in the shape of unorganised,
 unpredictable, violent (sometimes in terms of volume) sound? Attali
 makes the case that 'music' is heading toward noise, in the form of
 unavoidable background music[20] and in its increased
 standardisation, where "it is trapped in identity and will dissolve
 into noise".[21] The judgement 'I want to listen to noise' is a
 deterritorialised one - it is occurring without the subject
 intervening. Nonetheless, it might be the sign of the dying Subject
 grasping for some form of Authentic Existence before disappearing
 (accompanying the world of "performance art" into a world of
 hyper-simulated sacrifice).[22]

 Music, according to Attali, is "the organization of noise".[23] Noise
 has an existence outside of our conscious control, which is partly
 natural, partly social environmental: "life is full of noise and
 [...] death alone is silent: work noise, noise of man, noise of
 beast".[24] Life, then, is rationalised, brought into line, and
 rigorously limited. A general economy of sacrifice, murder, waste is
 lost, in music, "originating in ritual murder of which it is the
 simulacrum".[25] Attali, however, cannot go so far as to see that
 noise cannot be natural -- that it is the equivalent of the Nature
 left behind at the signing of the social contract -- only coming into
 (not) being as retrospective, excluded and forbidden. He clearly
 states that noise is that which is to be excluded, but not that the
 endless and impossible exclusion is where noise 'is' -- crossing and
 not crossing the line that is (not) there, as with Foucault's
 transgression line. Why is death silent? At a literal level it is
 noisy -- organs becoming extinct, collapsing, expanding, rotting --
 an endless carnival even before the arrival of other creatures. Death
 is silent in the sense of the subject not being there to hear it. Is
 this what occurs in Cage's silences? Is the hearing subject absented,
 rather than, as Cage wished, brought forcibly into the presence of
 sounds usually unheard?[26] Silence, however, is structurally
 speaking, death - the death of the system of organised sound,
 priority of voice, meaning, music.[27] The death that is fully
 recognised by the system that excludes it. Silence, unlike noise,
 does structure, or let come into structure, systems of meaning. Noise
 is too much, is excess as the working of excess (not just the
 excessive product).

 Noise is excluded for being too natural, but also for being
 unnatural. Rupert Taylor, in a burst of retrospective utopianism,
 asserts that "at the same time man was learning to create pleasurable
 stimuli to his sense of hearing, in other words to create music, he
 was beginning to pollute his surroundings and blunt his hearing by
 making more and more loud and unpleasant crashes and bangs, grindings
 and rumbles" (_The Law Relating to Noise_, 16). Much, maybe all
 considerations in terms of noise as a social issue presume noise is
 that which is to be reduced (not wrongly, but...) -- so that we can
 return to what is best for us ("like water and air pollution, most
 noise is the result of the decision for technological progress at the
 expense of the human environment".[28, 29] The "human environment",
 endlessly stabilised, is not nature, however, and is not to contain
 silence. In fact, contain silence is precisely what it does, offering
 endless background noise (sometimes in the form of music) in order to
 actively silence, argues Attali.[30]

 III. Endless Oscillation of the Material

 Merzbow (aka Masami Akita) plays the double game of ambience Attali
 identifies: omnipresent sound, becoming noise; noise becoming
 background.  Merzbow music consists of the debris of music, of sound:
 pulses, feedback, hisses, whirs, blasts, distortions, pure tones,
 shrieks, machine noise -- all played extremely loud.[31]  But this
 music is noise "all the way down" -- there is no space for
 recognisably musical sounds to be overlaid with distortions (as in
 1980s music in the wake of punk), just combinations of noises, that
 do not settle into a mantric pulse, or continual explosion ("not
 music at all, but rather the intensive expenditure of sound and
 silence").[32] The listener struggles to find a way through, in or
 above the noise music but gives up at a certain point: rhythms are to
 be found, frequencies to be followed -- it is not just random, but -
 eventually "the listener" is pulverised into believing there is a
 link. Noise music becomes ambience not as you learn how to listen, or
 when you accept its refusal to settle, but when you are no longer in
 a position to accept or deny. Perhaps the "experienced listener" can
 manage whole albums, concerts -- Merzbow has the answer in the shape
 of the 50CD ~Merzbox~. The possibility of mastery, of "learning to
 hear anew" etc. -- ~held out as if possible~ -- endlessly broken (to
 keep the possibility open as indefinite promise) by alteration, by
 blurring of the strata of sound, is what feeds the continual excess
 of noise music. Noise music is the endless sacrifice of art music
 didacticism and of restricted economy "noise" (metal, hardcore of all

 It seems like a claim could be made for Merzbow to be ~the~
 avant-garde, perpetually renewing the art, moving the boundaries
 etc., but actually noise music inhabits the failure of the
 avant-garde to be, to come to be. Schwitters wanted his ~Merz~ to
 redefine our relation to the material, to value, to what art could
 be. This then is brought to the interior, and ~shores up the monument
 of art~. Merzbow does not want to live in a house full of crap, or
 outside it, neither does it want to live in a new crappy house: it
 wants to knock down the house it lives in, to live in it. Even this
 is too much, though: Merzbow actually wants to find a rundown house
 made up of broken stuff, and break it. Over and over.

 The reason Merzbow cannot be avant-garde (or is the avant-garde that
 cannot be: i.e., the avant-garde) is that the breaking is static:
 like Paul Virilio's *speed*, Merzbow's destruction of music attains a
 point of stillness, one composed of total movement (and like
 Nietzsche's "moment" of eternal return). The world of 'the now', this
 now, always now, comes together as interface, as the non-place of
 speed as non-movement.[34]  This in turn signals the possibility of
 "crash music",[35] emerging at a new stage of hearing (generally
 neglected with the presumption that the digital world is one of
 images alone), such that we can now take noise/"crash music" to be
 "so seductive because of its fascinating logic of an always promised
 imminent reversibility: pure ecstasy/pure catastrophe".[36] This
 imminent reversibility, occurs ~as solid~, as immanence.

 Merzbow eludes Adorno's critique of aleatory music (whilst wilfully
 staying within its purview): "today's artists would rather do away
 with unity altogether, producing open, unfinished works, or so they
 think. The problem is that in planning openness they necessarily
 impart another kind of unity unbeknown to themselves".[37] The
 apparent aleatorics of noise signal an endless closing, a ceasing
 filling, but always, at any one time, ceaseless. Noise music (which
 is admittedly not the same as Adorno's actual target -- the music of
 Cage or those who followed in the 1960s and 1970s, but bearing in
 mind his even stronger 'critique' of jazz, I think we might be able
 to infer a line of tech flight to noise music), seems to fall into
 Adorno's trap: in terms of the title which takes on an increased
 significance, as we search to impose some form of sense, even if we
 do not necessarily seek to do this. Not having any titles would be
 just as caught within the loop: the subject now the ineffable
 abstraction of sound, noise, music etc., or as with some abstract
 painting, the subject becomes the Subject, working itself through on
 the canvas. The title (in Merzbow's music) sets up a process wherein
 it cannot become the subject of the music: there is no metonymy,
 mimesis, metaphor to be had - and yet, the title makes it ~as if~
 such things were possible - as with the structure of the 'pieces'
 (Akita: "When I use words, say album titles, they are not chosen to
 convey any meanings. They are merely selected to mean nothing".[38]

 With this in mind, Merzbow's ~Antimonument~ (1991) can be seen as a
 mission statement -- both for and against Schwitters, Merzbow attacks
 the solidity of Hegelianised Western culture, through five tracks of
 seemingly arbitrary lengths, made up of arbitrarily selected sounds,
 moving along but not. In fact, ~Antimonument~ is quite 'readable' -
 centred on arrhythmic, treated percussion: the monument has yet to be
 left behind -- but this is still music with the music taken out -
 hardly any attack in the percussive sounds, distortion, and
 unpredictable 'interruptions' by hisses, static and so on
 constituting the material proper. Akita specifies that the reference
 to the ~Merzbau~ is one of decreasing relevance: "the name is only
 important to my early work, which I thought related to the concept of
 ~Merzbau~".[39, 40] ~Antimonument~ is Akita leaving the building. The
 building, the monument that is progressively deserted in
 ~Antimonument~, as the tracks grow sparser, is a double one: it is
 the leaving of a traditional Japanese music (that Merzbow never
 completes -- "Japanese sounds and instruments are used but their
 character is often purposely extinguished in the mix",[41]), and also
 the leaving of the Western monument. Why should he even be near this,
 except in a Western-centred model? Because philosophically,
 musically, politically and economically, Japan has not stayed outside
 the Western monument. This despite a certain exoticist attribution of
 lack of meaning, of, therefore, an atheoretical purity -- "Japanese
 artists use Noise simply as cathartic release without the
 philosophical underpinnings" [42] -- emptying the space to fill it,
 if not with Western meaning, then with Western emptiness. Masami
 Akita is interested in philosophy: in Eastern: "Japanese Noise
 relishes the ecstasy of sound itself and the concepts come from the
 sound. It is a tradition of eastern philosophy to base theory on real
 experience" [43], and in Western: in the form of explicit references
 to contemporary theory (Derrida, Foucault, and Bataille, whose use is
 contemporary), and implicit ones: "noise is the nomadic producer of
 difference" [44].

 In today's restricted (but generalised) music economy, we have had
 the ludicrous 'world music', and also the real world music Attali
 hints at: ambient pap. Alongside these particular versions, is
 another (anti)global music: Japanese noise music: a refusal through
 over-acceptance of Western genre, such that genre does not work:
 hence Japanese noise music's different take on violence and sound,
 away from heroic (tragic) mastery of or submission to "the horror,
 pain etc., of the world" (this despite the importance of bondage as a
 reference for Masami Akita). Against generic noise, but with the
 noise of genre.

 There is a sense of progression in Merzbow's oeuvre, as the materials
 alter, and the recording capacities of CD technology allow a greater
 range of frequencies to seep in. David Keenan argues that
 ~Noisembryo~ (1994) "is the quintessential Merzbow release"[45] due
 to its power, volume, and force - this, then is what had been aimed
 at all along, in the teleological version. Noise, however, does not
 necessarily have anything to do with these factors, and their having
 an apotheosis. The "sheer noise" of the mid 1990s releases could be
 described as a different sort of zenith in terms of the fact that
 there just is 'more'. Instead of a Hegelian progress, a Sadean,
 additive process. This 'more' has to be more than more; otherwise we
 are just in the realm of groups such as Whitehouse, whose purpose
 often seems to be to ~attain~ a position of mastery over noise.[46]
 This more than more is, perhaps inevitably, a less: Merzbow can never
 get to the zenith, because Merzbow's music is doomed to fall: it is
 always open to assimilation as music -- or, it is not assimilable,
 and therefore it claims transcendence. Or, in some notional
 noise/music dialectic, in being on the limit, it fails to resolve,
 and fails to fail - because it is noise music, it cannot belong,
 dwell. Instead it is dwelling, part of a plateau, rhizome etc., with
 'the listener', noise as becoming-noise, as well as becoming-music.

 ~Noisembryo~ opens with a blast of noise that endlessly mutates
 across the album, interrupted by (the noise of?) silence three times.
 Always differentiated, this is noise that does not settle, where even
 the volume -- or mass of sound -- cannot be perceived as consistent
 as the pitches of the specific strata are continually shifting,
 whilst not at any one time covering the whole range. This album is
 noise as the immanence beyond, beneath, above the noise/music divide:
 noise as the emptying immanence.

 It might seem that some form of communing, however perverse, might be
 possible. If so, it is that community which is not realisable, the
 one 'present' in Bataillean sacrifice -- Thacker notes that in Music
 for Bondage Performance (1991) we see "the body of music filled with
 excess and volume, presented as the tension-filled inability of
 excess to fulfil itself",[47] and this "body of music "is" the body
 of listener, the music as material, the hearing as solid, and the
 un-communion of these, all at once. Thacker further claims that noise
 is the accursed share of the sound worlds, and therefore itself in
 the position of that which is to be sacrificed.[48]

 But it is Bataille's conception of immanence that is of interest
 here, as its dividing off of animal from human stands in parallel to
 that of noise and music, with the former term the always (to be)
 excluded that can return, but which 'we' cannot be. Bataille suggests
 that the animal is like "water in water",[49] which seems to be what
 is happening if immersed in noise, if liable to suggest some kind of
 sacrificial wholeness, a form of rescue.[50] Japanese noise will not
 get us there, any more than sacrifice. Immanence is not only what is
 beyond (performative negativities like object, nature, the other) but
 what is (not) beyond: that which is the beyond of the beyond, only
 insofar as there is no such place to be.

 Bataille: "I am able to say that the animal world is that of
 immanence and immediacy, for that world, which is closed to us, is so
 to the extent that we cannot discern in it an ability to transcend
 itself. [...] It is only within the limits of the human that the
 transcendence of things in relation to consciousness (or of
 consciousness in relation to things) is manifested."[51]

 There is no place for the object or the subject's transcendence,
 coming to be, getting beyond that coming to be in knowing about it,
 or being known, when immanence is the field. The 'consciously'
 constructed sound of ~Noisembryo~ moves into the smooth space of
 immanence as it eludes the knowable world of other noise (of noise
 'in the world'), which is held at a distance. This set of sounds
 brings the distance near, and this just as much when blasts of
 'different coloured' noises slide across each other, a third of the
 way into "Part Two" as when 'the' noise falls away into a distorted
 drone halfway into "Part Three". Noise as event, as excess of
 eventness, because unlike late serialism, it does not leave gaps
 peppered with inane atonalities. It is gap, non-tonality.

 For Deleuze and Guattari, the non-place of the body without organs is
 (in) immanence, and is itself (as immanence) the non-place of
 desire.[52] However, they do not see any totally free music being the
 way, as "a material that is too rich remains too
 'territorialized'"[53] -- too diffuse, too noisy. Such emphasis on
 getting outside music has held us back/in, as "people often have too
 much of a tendency to reterritorialize on the child, the mad,
 noise".[54] We are back once more with Deleuze and Guattari's still
 open ears: open but not too open (not open enough?). These are ears
 that can learn, that can discern patterns, and the undoing of
 patterns, not ears that might be held forcibly open.[55]

 What happens when you hit something like ultimate noise (it cannot be
 described as pure)? Where is there to go? In order for it to always
 (fail to) be ultimate, it must go nowhere, but go it must,
 dromological. Before the sovereignty of ~Merzbox~ (which is largely
 older materials in any case), comes ~Pulse Demon~ (1995). The title
 obliges an attribution of purpose: we know what Merzbow is up to,
 maybe he is becoming increasingly Hegelian, and attempting to map all
 noise, with this being his exploration of 'the pulse'.  I suspect
 there are no more or less pulse actions in this album than any other
 mid 1990s Merzbow albums.[56] What is indicated is the arbitrariness
 of signification, an arbitrariness which serves to highlight another
 difference between Merzbow and Western 'avant-garde' music:
 randomness, as Deleuze suspects, is not really very interesting, but
 arbitrariness - chance as destiny, read as if there were variation
 (or indeed as if there were not) - carries noise as process, as that
 which intervenes 'between' noise and organised sound. ~Pulse Demon~
 is undeniably 'organised sound' - it has differentiated tracks,
 titles for these, and seemingly significant times: we might get the
 impression that if all this noise has been split into 6.42
 ("Woodpecker no.1"), or 24.53 ("Worms Plastic Earthbound"), that the
 duration might be significant. But many (possibly all) Merzbow
 'pieces' of this period are cut, not ended. Their ~beginning~ is
 often cut, so there will never be a sense of attack -- we are
 immediately in the realm of distortion, hiss, pulse, squawks etc., --
 of the effects of actions, not the direct products -- noise all the
 way down. The organisational frame of the album undoes the
 possibility of this being 'pure noise' or even an exploration of
 duration (very few Merzbow albums consist only of one track). Instead
 we are in the curious position of listening as if it were noise (i.e.
 because framed as if it were music). Any settling into listening to
 this 'stuff' as if it really were either noise or music is very much
 the 'consolation' Nietzsche hints at in _The Birth of Tragedy_ as
 being our way of minimising the otherness of sounds presented in a
 musical frame.[57] Such a 'consolation' is not an individual failing,
 but a systemic success of failure to fail.

 IV. Is Nothing not Enough?

 Once again, and still: what if we do not want the consolation
 (consolation of noise being music really; of noise being natural; of
 noise being an escape, a line of flight that might go somewhere; of
 noise being a ruse of power)? Noise can perhaps never escape (it
 might be the 'as if' escape were possible), as it comes in with
 voice, language and meaning.[58] Derrida asks of philosophy (here, as
 often, standing for sense, rationality, discourse, (search for)
 truth, etc.) whether it can exceed itself: "can one violently
 penetrate philosophy's field of listening without its immediately --
 even pretending in advance, by hearing what is said of it, by
 decoding the statement -- making the penetration resonate within
 itself [...]?" ("Tympan", xii). Derrida's answer is, as always, that
 the outside of philosophy (or of organised sound as philosophy) is to
 be found at work in/on/as the inside of philosophy - with the inside
 being the outside of the outside, and the process that (never fully)
 establishes the divide. Zarathustra's hammer instead is the condition
 of its other, and the othering between Same and Other (xii-xiii),
 such that we should be interested in the limit itself, and not what
 is beyond it, the marginality of the margin itself, and so on.
 Japanese noise might be such a negotiation of the limit, but one that
 only works as such because it declares itself outside, is the
 declaration, the announcing of outside. The 'real' noise in noise
 music is this (not) crossing of the line that is (not) there: noise
 is not the other of the other that equals the same, but the other of
 the other as non-line, as what cannot be the same and cannot inhabit
 otherness. Where Derrida is outflanked by Merzbow is that Derrida
 says you cannot get outside, you cannot consciously undo philosophy
 with a hammer, therefore you should not do it -- instead you should
 not attack directly (xv); should take an interest in "timbre, style,
 and signature [as they] are the same obliterating division of the
 proper" (xix). Why ~not~ do it? Why not do it, knowing it cannot be
 done, that your noise is fatally compromised, part of failure?[59]
 Merzbow is the getting outside that is not the completion of a new
 "inside", but an endless outside, fated to be inside only to fail to
 ~ever be~ because of this arbitrary and perverse relation to the
 inside (of organised sound). Where Derrida says "no", Merzbow is an
 immanent "yes".


 [1] James Kahn, _Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts_
 (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1999), p. 25.

 [2] Ibid., p. 20.

 [3] Ibid., p. 48.

 [4] Ibid., p. 45.

 [5] _European Commission Report: Position Paper on European Union
 Noise Indicators_ (Luxembourg: European Communities, 2000), p. 71.

 [6] C.S. Kerse, _The Law Relating to Noise_ (London: Oyez, 1975), p.
 8. Rupert Taylor also describes noise as "unwanted sound" (_Noise_
 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 22).

 [7] Jacques Attali, _Noise: The Political Economy of Music_
 (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 30. Originally
 written in 1977, this text remains vital in assessments of freedom,
 control, subversion, radicality, recuperation etc. in terms of
 human-produced sound. The argument here that "Japanese noise" is that
 which specifically exceeds his argument should in no way be taken as
 criticism of Attali. One criticism that could be made of Attali is
 that he presumes that music has a single origin/reason/purpose. Music
 could be said to be always already plural. Such would be the argument
 of Philip V. Bohlman's "Ontologies of Music", in Nicholas Cook and
 Mark Everist (eds.), _Rethinking Music_ (Oxford and New York: Oxford
 University Press, 1999), 17-34 -- even if this article provides
 nothing in the way of ontology, as understood since phenomenology.

 [8] Arthur Kroker: "Hearing has always been alchemical, a violent
 zone where sound waves mutate into a sedimentary layer of cultural
 meanings, where historical referents secrete into contemporary states
 of subjectivity, and where there is no stability, only an aural logic
 of imminent reversibility" (_Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music,
 Electric Flesh_ (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993). The alchemy is
 one the body, the ears, the sound, noise, codings, listening
 practices etc. and cannot be definitively described or known, except
 as a statement about how a particular society, at a particular time,
 seeks to encode, to end transformations.

 [9] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis:
 University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 150.

 [10] Ibid., p. 151 (translation modified).

 [11] The body of organs, of identity (not forgetting that organs
 without a body might be more dangerous still) has privileged the eye,
 and in contemporary culture, makes this privileging a site of
 control: "the eye is a masochistic orifice in the age of panoptic
 power, capable of endless discipline and of being seduced beyond
 bodily subjectivity into a floating free fall within the society of
 the spectacle", leaving the ear repressed, except in terms of
 receiving "spectacular" sound (muzak, MTV) (Kroker, Spasm, 49). The
 body without organs, though, would not free us from this, but drive
 us further in, playing masochism beyond jouissance. "Freeing" the ear
 would not liberate us, either. Rather, the ear has to become
 masochistic, in the Deleuzian sense (see "Coldness and Cruelty" in
 _Masochism_ (New York: Zone, 1994), 9-138) instead of being forced to
 submit. It must then renounce both control and contract. There is, of
 course, another story of the eye -- Bataille's, followed up by
 Foucault, in which the upturned eye, removed, trans(un)figured, is
 the site of the loss of meaning. Eugene Thacker assimilates this
 story with noise music: "the visuality of Bataille transgressing
 itself is analogous to the music of noise" ("Bataille/Body/ Noise:
 Notes Toward a Techno-Erotics", (63), in Brett Woodward (ed.),
 _Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise_ (Melbourne, Cologne: Extreme,
 1999), 57-65). The comparison is perhaps too easy as the ear does not
 have the status of the eye, nor is music of noise in itself capable
 of the reversibility of the eye, which seeks to be both medium and
 control of media.

 [12] Derrida seems to "prefigure" this in writing that "to forget it
 [the role of the ear, and of listening] - and in so doing to take
 shelter in the most familial of dwellings - is to cry out for end of
 organs, of others" "Tympan", (_Margins of Philosophy_ (Brighton:
 Harvester Press, 1982), ix-xxix), xvii. This occurs because the ear
 allows hearing of one's own self and voice, leading to the
 non-conception (as unproblematised) of self-presence or "absolute
 properness" (ibid.). Derrida, however, in turn, has not questioned
 whether an ear can be less than open or closed, and could in fact be
 filled. See also Hegel, making essentially the same point: "hearing
 [...], like sight, is one of the theoretical and not practical
 senses, and it is still more ideal than sight", as it gets the
 subject to "the first and more ideal breath of the soul"
 (_Aesthetics_, Vol. 2 (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), 890).

 [13] C.S. Kerse, citing Samuel Rosen, notes that "at an unexpected or
 unwanted noise, the pupils dilate, the skin pales, mucous membranes
 dry; there are intestinal spasms and the adrenals explode secretions.
 The biological organism, in a word, is disturbed" (_The Law Relating
 to Noise_, 7)

 [14] Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., p. 150.

 [15] Kroker, op. cit., p. 47.

 [16] Kerse, op. cit., p. 3.

 [17] Luigi Russolo, _The Art of Noises_ (New York: Pendragon, 1986),
 p. 87.

 [18] Noise is not ~differance~ - it is an emptier of links,
 relations, processes, not that which holds them mysteriously
 together. It is Bataille's "NOTHING", not the nothing that is the
 opposite of something, or the reason why there might be something
 instead of nothing. It is the thing which stops there having been a
 reason for something over nothing.

 [19] Attali, op. cit., p. 33.

 [20] Op. cit., pp. 111-12.

 [21] Op. cit., p. 45.

 [22] The dying subject is not one reaching out for the answer, but
 reaching into its disappearance in noise. For Nietzsche, "the
 Dionysiac, with its primal pleasure experienced in pain, is the
 common womb of music and the tragic myth" (_The Birth of Tragedy out
 of the Spirit of Music_ (London: Penguin, 1993), 115). In looking at
 tragedy, he writes, we seek to go beyond its pain, and, similarly
 "with reference to artistically applied dissonance [...] we want to
 hear and long to go beyond hearing" (ibid.). Rather than take this as
 the suggestion we might learn from what is difficult, painful, etc.,
 we could take this as stating the case for not going beyond noise:
 the act of listening to noise is one of supplementarity: the beyond
 of noise (initially music)is the precondition for listening to noise,
 so as to get to "the beyond of noise" (which now is that there is
 only noise, and that the beyond of noise is what can never have been
 attained). In listening to noise, though, the loss is played over
 again always for the first time, as opposed to being the excluded
 loss of foundation (the "birth of sense"...).

 [23] Attali, op. cit., p. 4.

 [24] Op. cit., p. 3.

 [25] Op. cit., p. 4.

 [26] Michael Nyman notes that Cage discovers the impossibility of
 silence on a visit to Harvard's anechoic chamber, where he still
 hears his own body (_Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond_, 2nd
 edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 25-6. Cage's
 famous 4'33" "is a demonstration of the non-existence of silence"
 p. 26.

 [27] This has led many others, as well as Attali, to assert that
 noise is life, or nearer to life's "real processes". Russolo states
 that "noise [...] has the power of immediately recalling life itself"
 (The Art of Noises, 27). This, coming as it does from the "pioneer"
 of noise in/as music, could be taken not as a simple naturalism, but
 as a parallel with "bare" or "mere" life (Benjamin, Agamben). Noise
 for Russolo also signals the life that had already moved on from
 nature, that is the excluding of nature - i.e. the city. Masami Akita
 (Merzbow) concurs: "noise is one of the most primitive music forms in
 the modern city" (in Woodward (ed.), _Merzbook_, 11). Is this to
 naturalise noise? Only before we think about music: for noise to be
 some sort of fundamental music demonstrates Akita's awareness that
 the noise of the city comes as a result of organisation, of power
 systems, of restricted economies of signification.

 [28] Kearse, op. cit., p. 1.

 [29] Adorno claims aeroplane noise ruins walks in the forest
 (_Aesthetic Theory_ (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 311) --
 noise is wrong because not part of true nature, but what Adorno is
 also claiming ("despite himself") is that noise is also ruinous of
 nature as acculturated Nature - as it is an uncontrolled incursion
 into a humanised sphere, immanence in the subject/object field. Hegel
 argues that to overcome this "problem", music must moderate "the
 natural": "the notes [are] not to be a purely natural shriek of
 feeling but the developed and artistic expression of it" (Aesthetics,
 vol II, 910) - so music is neither too natural nor unnatural (it is
 to express what is now left behind as natural).

 [30] Attali, op. cit., p. 20 and passim.

 [31] Amplification - the technological means for producing noise as
 volume of sound, as well as feedback systems (if not the only means)
 is an essential part of the development of noise music, which at the
 risk of being slightly determinist, arises (in the Japan of the early
 1970s) out of the combination of improvised music in the form of free
 jazz, and the improvised rock of a similar period, which relies for
 its effect, on the power of amplification, the distortions of
 feedback. James Kahn, dealing with experiments with noise and sound,
 signals the importance of technological developments in the
 alterations in ways of thinking sound, noise, music (see _Noise Water
 Meat_, 2-13 and passim).

 [32] Thacker, op. cit., p. 63.

 [33] Noise music is also the sacrifice of the "music business", the
 rendering of it as general, rather than restricted economy, through
 its disruptive methods of releasing recordings on many labels, in
 limited and peculiar editions, direct sales. Woodward notes "the
 creation and production of such items intentionally subverts late
 capitalism's notions of the marketplace, the performer/audience
 relationship and entertainment commodity production and distribution"
 ("A Machinic Scream" (33), in _Merzbook_, 33-6). Before we get
 carried away with some postmodernistic praise for the artisanal
 symbiosis between musician and listener, it is worth noting that
 concerts are infrequent, and a literal distance maintained, a
 distance allowed by the very processes of subverting "late
 capitalism". This is a deterritorialisation that stays one -- i.e.
 carries no autonomous radicality.

 [34] See Virilio, The Lost Dimension (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991).

 [35] Kroker, op. cit., p. 54.

 [36] Ibid.

 [37] Adorno, op. cit., p. 204.

 [38] Akita in _Merzbook_, p. 40.

 [39] Akita cf. Edwin Pouncy, "Consumed by Noise", _The Wire_, vol.
 198 (2000), p. 29.

 [40] Op. cit., pp. 26-32. This interview and overview is a solid
 introduction to Merzbow, whilst being caught up with the "musicality
 of the noise". Pouncey stresses the learning experience, with
 statements such as "when the listener has attuned his or her hearing
 perspective" (26), "the fact is that to understand, enjoy and
 eventually reach noise nirvana through Masami Akita's work, you have
 to listen to a hell of a lot of it" (27). These sentiments are echoed
 by David Keenan's top ten Merzbow albums (_The Wire_, vol 198, 32-3).

 [41] Akita, in Woodward, op. cit., p. 11.

 [42] Woodward, op. cit., pp. 14, 12-15.

 [43] Akita, in _Merzbook_, op. cit., p. 23.

 [44] Op. cit., p. 9 and elsewhere, as the contributors love repeating

 [45] _The Wire_, Vol. 198, p. 33.

 [46] See for example Never Forget Death (1992), which warns that
 "Torture Chamber" (a track of mounting "white noise") should not be
 played excessively loud -- i.e. because it is inherently loud.

 [47] "Bataille/Body/ Noise: Notes Toward a Techno-Erotics", op. cit.,
 p. 58.

 [48] Op. cit., p. 59.

 [49] _Theory of Religion_, (New York: Zone, 1989), p. 23.

 [50] Op. cit.

 [51] Op. cit., pp. 23-24.

 [52] Deleuze and Guattari, op. cit., p. 154.

 [53] Op. cit., p. 344.

 [54] Ibid.

 [55] To be fair to Deleuze and Guattari, Japanese noise was far from
 a breakthrough in 1980, although nearly all of today's "recognised
 practitioners" were active then. Their unfortunate espousal of the
 "influential" Varese is just one example of why caution should be
 taken with imagining Deleuze and Guattari as signposts for the
 future. In one sense this lack of awareness of the contemporary is
 itself contemporary -- not in terms of some sort of "dumbing down",
 but just in terms of the retro-future we seem to inhabit in terms of
 future music (for example in ~The Matrix~, whose future remains

 [56] If this seems a very specific dating, it nonetheless applies to
 perhaps 20 albums. Merzbow's output is immense: in addition to the 50
 contained in ~Merzbox~, there are another 150+ recordings.

 [57] Nietzsche suggests that if music can rediscover its links to the
 emptiness that is "true reality, through an appreciation of every
 "phenomenon", then we will experience some kind of catharsis (see 94,
 in particular). In the light of the later preface, however, where
 "perhaps as laughers you will consign all metaphysical consolations
 to the devil -- and metaphysics in front of the rest!" (12), much of
 the main text suggests a proto-Bataillean recognition of a fearful,
 sacrificial, dangerous general economy of "ugly" sound, brought
 inevitably into a restricted economy where we "get something from
 it". See for example 83-4, where "consolation" with regard to the
 ineffability of things is one of "three levels of illusion" (84), not
 the hidden truth, or goal. The inevitability of the restricted
 economy can be seen in the inevitable influence of Apollo
 (rationality, wisdom, accumulation of knowledge): "the Apolline lifts
 man out of his orgiastic self-destruction, and deceives him about the
 universality of the Dionysiac event, deluding him into the idea that
 he can see only a single image of the world" (102).

 [58] This despite the ineffability claimed for noise (and claimed
 throughout history for "that which goes beyond language" - music, the
 image, the world, gods, etc). Woodward's version of this: "It's
 almost the inability to definitively describe Merzbow's music with
 the limitations of the written word that is the testament to its
 thrill and power, intricacy and convolution" ("The Nomadic Producer
 of Difference", in _Merzbook_, 9).

 [59] We can compare Derrida's deconstructing binaries with those
 Attali establishes through noise and music, as in the following:
 "Music responds to the terror of noise, recreating differences
 between sounds and repressing the tragic dimension of dissonance -
 just as sacrifice responds to the terror of violence. Music has been,
 from its origin, a simulacrum of the monopolization of the power to
 kill, a simulacrum of ritual murder" (_Noise_, 28). Noise and music
 blur when sacrifice is at issue, when music is excessive and
 essentially ritual, such that "music functions like sacrifice;
 listening to noise is a little like being killed" (ibid.).

 Paul Hegarty teaches at Trinity College, Dublin.  He also Dj's
 Japanese Noise Music.

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