Re: Why the music is music and the noise is noise? ("James W. Beauchamp" )

Subject: Re: Why the music is music and the noise is noise?
From:    "James W. Beauchamp"  <j-beauch(at)UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU>
Date:    Wed, 25 Apr 2001 13:55:13 -0500

Noise has been used in music on many occasions, again, depending on how you define noise. In acoustics we generally think of noise as a random signal which has a continuous rather than a discrete spectrum. The most famous early attempt to use noise in music was by the "Futurists" of Italy in the early 1900's. A quick search finds the web site . Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) developed a series of instruments called intonarumori (noise intoners), which were rectangular wooden boxes with funnel-shaped acoustical amplifers projecting from the front. Inside the intonarumori were various motors and mechanisms that produced clanks, hisses, buzzes, hums, and other noises. Russolo produced two compositions for his instruments in a London concert in 1914. The idea was that machines were valid sound sources for compositions, and not just for special effects. This spirit of not excluding sounds heretofore thought of as "non- musical" was carried on by composers like George Antheil and John Cage. Antheil produced "Ballet Mecanique" in 1924, which included airplane propellors. The use of various types of noises, particularly narrow band noises, are frequently used in electronic music. For example, James Tenney produced "Analog No. 1", a noise study, in 1961; it was inspired by his daily journey through heavy traffic between New Jersey and Manhatten. One can also argue that many percussion sounds are laden with noise, although theoretically they consist of discrete frequencies, however closely spaced. Breath noise in voice and musical instruments is very important and if removed by analysis/resynthesis, they are sorely missed. So noise plays an important role in conventional and unconventional music. Cahill's Theremin failed around 1905 largely because its tones were too pure. Hammond did much better with his organ in the 1930's perhaps because its harmonics were somewhat mistuned. Digital synthesizers have been accused of being too pure as compared to analog synthesizers. Noise can be useful for levitating the heaviness of pure sounds. Of course, noise is often thought of as "dirt" in recordings, much to be avoided. Lately we've been "cleaning up" old recordings. But too much cleaning could be detrimental. One type of noise not loved even by avant-garde composers is HISS. The signal-to-noise ratios for tape recorders in the 1950's was about 55 dB, and composers couldn't wait for noise reduction systems and digital recording which increased this to 90 dB or better, so that they could faithfully reproduce their compositions, even their compositions that included deliberate use of noise. Jim Beauchamp

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