[-empyre-] Why Noise?

David Borgonjon davidxuborgonjon at gmail.com
Tue Mar 13 04:53:48 AEDT 2018

Hi Junting, Caitlin,

Thank you for your responses.

I think I was rather leery of noise when I wrote my response. However,
thinking a little bit more about it I am leery of my leeriness.

On International Women's Days a number of feminist platforms were shut down
in Chinese online space. Nvquan zhi sheng, voices of feminism, is the most
prominent. Because the forms of technological control that the Chinese
censorate currently employs are entirely based on the signal/noise
paradigm, the production of noise for machines that is legible as signal to
humans is extremely important. The most obvious example is using
screenshots rather than encoded text to send articles. It seems to me that
this is something of an arms race, in which methods of analytic decoding
(surveillance) race against slightly more synthetic (in particularly
biological machine ways) means of encoding (images, right now, though I
imagine we will be moving to other forms later.... Martian is an example,

As the censorate moves to more subjectivation-based models of control
(Sesame credit system, for example) where the impulse to regulate is
devolved even further to the local level, from the state to the corporation
to the individual body.... I become more glum about the prospects for the
free flow of communication and the particular idea of liberation that it
entails. Whether this flow of knowledge, this postal system as Siegert
might have it, is in itself problematic as an ideal of emancipation, is
another topic, I suppose. In other words, while it is clear that the loss
of freedom of speech is no good thing, perhaps freedom of speech in its
possession was also not so great. I am not sure - I am not completely
convinced by the Kantian-Arendtian-Habermasian account of the importance of
the public sphere.


On Sat, Mar 10, 2018 at 6:19 PM Junting Huang <jh2358 at cornell.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thank you, Caitlin, for this reference. I am not very familiar with
> Sybille Kramer’s work, but it sounds very interesting and relevant. Do you
> recommend any specific titles for us to look at? I would be interested in
> reading more to think about the intermediary and environmental difference
> (which may add to Murray Schafer’s "acoustic ecology” and Steven Feld’s
> “acoustemology”).
> I was about to respond to David’s post, which has so many great points to
> unpack. I am not sure I would be able to answer any of them, but I would
> agree that Kenneth Goldsmith’s work is legible, or perhaps too legible. To
> my limited knowledge, the premise of conceptual writing is that if you get
> the concept and how it unfolds in the actual text, you don’t even need to
> read the text at all. In other words, if I understood you correctly, if the
> meanings are already interpretable or even inscribed in its concept, does
> it then produce any noise? And noise in what sense? I don’t know.
> Hsia’s practice may share similarities with Kenneth Goldsmith, but I do
> think that it does allow us to ask other questions including Natural
> Language Processing. One example: in her book, she detailed which machine
> translation she used--Sherlock 3, Apple's inbuilt translation channel
> supported by SYSTRAN, an old rule-based model that predated Google’s neural
> machine translation and earlier statistics-based translation. Elsewhere, I
> wrote about how this difference in machine translation materialized
> language politics and Rita Raley has also written extensively on this.
> However, the point here is that, instead of an unsophisticated celebration
> of absolute nonsense as noise by representing it, my reading is that Pink
> Noise indexes the use of language (it’s found texts from the web) and thus
> presenting a fragment of social relations as noise, which situates itself
> in a larger context.
> Junting
> > On Mar 8, 2018, at 3:55 PM, Caitlin Woolsey <caitlin.woolsey at yale.edu>
> wrote:
> >
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > 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.
> >
> >
> > caitlin
> >
> >
> > 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
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
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