The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Thinking about last night, it's the noise in music that's the music. If 
you're playing makamat, you've got history on your side, you've got 
sequences, grace-notes, referencings, dynamics, everything that makes the 
music; what you don't have is automation. Or think of Casals' cello bow 
sounds, sax/flute breathing in; it's everywhere. It's the body among other 
things. The noise isn't noise per se; it's shaped, it's what creates the 
fractal, chaotic, and accumulative aspects of improvisation (forget the 
reference here, bit blurry at the moment). All of these things are 
connected, interwoven with culture, with cultures, and the interweaving is 
what made me quit for example 'playing the blues' early on; there's a kind 
of inertia in me that believes it's impossible to go there, wherever there 
might be, in a kind of fullness I'd find necessary to even make the 
initial steps. It's the noise on the line that was interpreted as the 
speaking of the dead; it's the noise on the line I try to clear out, in 
order to hear the cosmic noise of aurora, lightning, magnetosphere, 
particles, and so forth. That noise is quieter like the background 
microwave radiation, that RCA engineers first thought was noise on the 
line as well. Your noise is my information; Henri Michaux couldn't hear 
most of the music he heard in A Barbarian in Asia. All of this is an 
endless pit; the point is, that it isn't a pit but literally a 
playing-field. Think of ragas and their complexity in time and space and 
musical history, even the history of musical instruments. In this sense, 
the subtlety of the digital lies, among other things, in its paring-away 
at culture (think electric fretted guitars and guitar synthesizers, and 
non-western scales), things disappearing before their appearance, new 
things appearing before their disappearance, a kind of hi-jacking of 
culture occurring on a world-wide scale. At this point it's not even 
necessarily a kind of colonialist or post-colonialist leverage; it just 
is, and appears natural as any landscape filled with technological 

I'm blurry, writing this all wrong, but there's a kernel of truth to it, 
something obdurate in the memory of disappearance.

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