[-empyre-] Why Noise?

David Borgonjon davidxuborgonjon at gmail.com
Thu Mar 8 02:59:34 AEDT 2018

*Hi all,*

​My name's David. Thanks for having me here - I'm a fish half in water
here, since my past lives have been in visual art and comparative
literature, but seeing as both artists and literary scholars are notorious
for taking interdisciplinarity as an excuse as opportunists who like
to walk all over the traditions, methods and concerns ​
​of others​, I suppose I am following in a venerable and embarrassing
tradition by ingratiating myself into this discussion about noise.

Bao Weihong's recent book Fiery Cinema, on early twentieth century Chinese
cinema, (sorry to mention books if I didn't have to, but it'll be useful)
describes three models for thinking media:

1. A linear model in which things are sent and then received as if they are
letters. She calls this "epistolary"

An intermediary model, in which things are transmitted through a medium
such as electromagnetic waves or telepathy where the medium itself has an
active role. She associates this with informatics.

A spherical model, in which there is no clear distinction between senders
and recipients, the message and the context. She calls this "environmental."

Her interest is in describing the cinematic in the third vein through the
use of affect theory. My question to the group is, how does noise fit into
this picture? For Bao, noise appears in the second, intermediary model, and
most visibly in the obsession of media theorists with the Signal to Noise
relationship. I'm not really well-versed enough to judge this judgment.

To return to Junting's excellent opening questions: "How does noise
register a response to norms, protocols, and authorities? How does noise
reveal the epistemic bias of social and political power? How could noise
become an effective strategy for conversation and/or resistance?"

​It seems to me that noise is being asked to do a lot of work. At the
moment that noise becomes an effective strategy for conversation, doesn't
it cease to be noise? For example, when we are able to talk about an
international genre known as noise (with its subgenres, Japanoise and
whatever we might describe Yan Jun's work as), doesn't that recognizably
function quite simply as signal? Isn't this *precisely, *in information
theory, that "registering responses" does?
In other words, I think we should be separate our ideas of what noise
"sounds like" or "looks like" from what it does. I believe that the
questions, which are structured around registration, revelation, and
conversation, impel us to read noise in precisely the ways that wipe out
noise's distinctiveness and, down the line, utility.

Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe noise is only interesting insofar as it
is interpretable, where the difference here between noise and signal would
be ease of interpretation. Yet it seems to me that it will be difficult
to vindicate a "reading" or epistemological approach to noise. Rather, we
should turn to experimental scholarly work that refuses representational
modes of thought: theories of embodiment, affect, and voicing come to mind.
(Tim, thank you for your contribution on NetNoise.)

I haven't had a chance to hold and read Hsia Yu's book. That said, the
conceit seems brittle to me. The layering of transparent pages produces a
mass of lines that blurs into a kind of text-image - this kind of binding
begs to be read as evidence of the materiality of language. At the same
time, the glitchy translation invites analogies between material
transparencies and linguistic incommensurabilities. These readings rely
on a few clichéd and easily perceptible (not noisy at all) analogies that
don't get to the distinctiveness of, for example, Natural Language
Processing (what is a corpus? how big is big data? what is the relation
between natural and mathematical languages? what is the role of recursion
within generative linguistics?). Perhaps there are other readings, that
would come through in looking at it in person, though I can't help but feel
like a project about noise that cannot communicate digitally (in
corruptible formats) is an uninteresting project.

If we think computationally, noise is interesting insofar as it suggests a
certain limit of thought. In Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice, scientists
receive a signal from space that seems to have some order in it, and spend
the book trying to decipher it. Yet it ends ambiguously; was there actually
a message, or are they all just going manic with pattern recognition? I
don't think any poet is really willing to take us there; Kenneth
Goldsmith's work is still so entirely legible within a Cagean framework
that I honestly feel like it might as well be a museum label.

Here are some provocations to keep us going: If n
oise doesn't mean anything, ever; and if n
oise demands noise reduction; if the aestheticization of noise as
experience is itself the most boring kind of noise reduction; and if newer
noise reduction techniques must be drawn from a full range of technological
and artistic domains; then:

1) What kinds of signals are we looking for - and what are our motivations
for this looking process?

2) Do developments in information processing demand that we reassess Bao's
tripartite division of definitions of media?

3) Does the increasing visibility of contemporary art and its integration
into systems of symbolic capital demand that we reassess our commitment to
noise as art?

David X. Borgonjon
*许 大 小*
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