[-empyre-] Why Noise?

Caitlin Woolsey caitlin.woolsey at yale.edu
Fri Mar 9 07:55:09 AEDT 2018

Thanks to Junting and others for the dialogue that's unfolded thus
far, and for folding those of us who are new into this discussion.

I can by no means respond with any degree of erudition to your thorny
and generative provocations, David, but reading through your
reflections I had a few thoughts.

Bao's formulation of the spherical model of media as environmental
brings to mind John Durham Peters' recent (well, now 3 years old - The
Marvelous Clouds) exploration of media as environmental,
atmospheric--a formulation in which media are not only about the
world, but are the world. From this vantage point, media are not just
technology, apparatus, or the systems that sustain them, but rather
the whole system underwriting human experience in the world. The
structure of the world, and how we navigate and perceive it, is
understood as recording and transmitting media. I wonder if this kind
of approach, which seems related if not commensurate between Bao (whom
I admittedly have not read) and Peters suggests some ways forward.

You very rightly, to my mind, suggest we separate out the appearance
or presentation of noise from what it does. I wonder if to do so would
allow noise (in all its different modes?) to operate more in this
third environmental vein. Which is to say, the relation of signal and
noise would not longer be the defining question.

Finally, I am coming at these issues from the lens of my current
research, in which I have been thinking about the German media
theorist Sybille Kramer's proposition that the noises of the body
[Korpergerausche] -- which are usually either noise that we can not
directly trace or "translate," or else are taboo indicators,
signifying at a register that may tell us something about the body and
its physical needs but is not seen as meaningful or linked to
subjectivity or communication per se -- can be amplified by technical
means (microphones,, etc.) and heightened to such a degree that the
extent of the physicality of these body noises wrestles with the
"content" of these noises and overcomes it..

Thinking about the connections between the environmental/systems
aspects of the noise of the body and of the world more broadly... and
just tossing some assorted thoughts out into the ether.


On Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 10:59 AM, David Borgonjon
<davidxuborgonjon at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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"
> 2.
> 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.
> 3.
> 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
> davidborgonjon.com
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

More information about the empyre mailing list