Noise/Music looks at the phenomenon of noise in music, from experimental music of the early 20th century to the Japanese noise music and glitch electronica of today. It situates different musics in their cultural and historical context, and analyses them in terms of cultural aesthetics. Paul Hegarty argues that noise is a judgement about sound, that what was noise can become acceptable as music, and that in many ways the idea of noise is similar to the idea of the avant-garde.
While it provides an excellent historical overview, the book's main concern is in the noise music that has emerged since the mid 1970s, whether through industrial music, punk, free jazz, or the purer noise of someone like Merzbow. The book progresses seamlessly from discussions of John Cage, Erik Satie, and Pauline Oliveros through to bands like Throbbing Gristle and the Boredoms. Sharp and erudite, and underpinned throughout by the ideas of thinkers like Adorno and Deleuze, Noise/Music is the perfect primer for anyone interested in the louder side of experimental music.
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Paul Hegarty teaches Philosophy and Visual Culture at University College Cork, in Ireland. He is the author of Noise/Music (Continuum, 2007). He jointly runs the experimental record label dotdotdotmusic, and performs in the noise bands Safe and La Société des Amis du Crime.
Can silence be "noisy"? Why do punk banks downplay their musical abilities? What do 37 minutes of ceaseless feedback and squawking birds tell us about the human experience? Calling upon the work of noted cultural critics like Jean Baudrillard, George Bataille and Theodor Adorno, philosophy and visual culture professor Paul Hegarty delves into these questions while tracing the history of "noise" (defined at different times as "intrusive, unwanted," "lacking skill, not being appropriate" and "a threatening emptiness") from the beginnings of the 18th century concert hall music to avant-garde movements like musique concrete and free jazz to Japanese noise rocker Merzbow. Ironically, it is John Cage's notorious 4'33", in which an audience sits through four and a half minutes of "silence," that represents the beginning of noise music proper for Hegarty; the "music" made up entirely of incidental theater sounds (audience members coughing, the A/C's hum), represents perfectly the tension between the "desirable" sound (properly played musical notes) and undesirable "noise" that makes up all noise music, from Satie to punk. Hegarty does an admirable job unpacking diverse genres of music, and his descriptions of the most bizarre pieces can be great fun to read ("clatters and reverbed chickeny sounds...come in over low throbs"). Though his style tends toward the academic (the "dialectic of Enlightenment" and Heidegger appear frequently), Hegarty's wit and knowledge make this an engaging read.—Publishers Weekly
"In this rigorously researched deconstruction of noise, Paul Hegarty explains how the concept is entirely contingent upon social norms and how its inevitable emergence into music, which is simply organized noise, unfolded.
Hegarty begins by arguing for the concept of noise as a socially undesirable them to the musical elites us. He then leads us on a dense yet speedy tour of pivotal moments in the evolution of noise into a component of music, focusing on salient benchmarks the Italian Futurists, recording technology, Fluxus, John Cage, Merzbow and hip-hop. By the time Hegarty arrives at modern manifestations of noise, genre neophytes will consider themselves experts. But be warned: This is not a pop history. It's an academic survey with a distinct poststructuralist ?avor, an informative read, but not a particularly fun one, unless of course you read Derrida for giggles." Paste Magazine / July 2007 (Paste Magazine)
"An intertwined crash course in outsider music and cultural studies, Paul Hegarty's dense new survey, Noise/Music: A History,traces noise music's avant-garde and experimental roots—from Futurism,Fluxus, and musique concrète to 1970s progressive rock and punk—andexamines its more recent incarnations.
One noise-engaging genre is jazz, the subject of Hegarty's mostcompelling chapter, in which he investigates Adorno's infamousdismissal of the form in a 1936 essay...Hegarty also offers a freshanalysis of free jazz's abstractions, tying the subgenre's oscillationbetween form and content, its 'attack on tonality,' and its 'introduction of non-musical noises' to Bataille's concept of the 'formless.'
The book's selected discography..should satisfy both the curious and the "extreme" enthusiast...it's a reminder thatthere's 'no sound, no noise, no silence,' without our activeparticipation." -Bookforum Sept. 2007
Fear of music
"Noise and its relationship to music — and noise as music — is asuitably chaotic and mercurial subject with much hissing feedback.According to author Paul Hegarty in Noise/Music, A History (Continuum, 232 pages, $22.95), noise is "defined by what it is not" and "a resistance, but also defined by what society resists."
In his phenomenal study, he provides a history and a sense ofthat contradiction. Until now, most investigations into noise and musichave been chiefly concerned with chronicling early innovators like JohnCage or Karlheinz Stockhausen, but usually at the cost of the last 30years being framed as aftershocks of modernism and not developments intheir own right. Noise, in Hegarty's estimation, has evolved farbeyond, as a resource and into an aesthetic philosophy.
This could placate all denominations — from beardedimprovisers to black-clad nihilists — and feels more correct than anylinear conception of successive avant-gardes following one another.Exhaustive without being exhausting, Hegarty lucidly works his waythrough the last 100 years of music and untangles dogmas and ideologiesranging from Theodor Adorno's immensely flawed approach to jazz to thevalorization of ineptitude by punks and composers alike. Hegartyrefreshingly places his history around recent noise — as he says "noiseitself constantly dissipates ... noise music must also be thought of asconstantly failing — failing to stay noise or acceptable practice."This approach is open enough for sudden leaps and insight. For everyobsessive exegesis on Merzbow, there's his consideration of PublicEnemy as an industrial band or his original take on the minimalist jamsof garage and Kraut-rock bands: "the long tracks of proto-punk are adirect erasing of the meandering 'expressions' musicians were doingmore and more, live and on album. It is not enough just to reject thelong form (as the Ramones would do); it is far more effective to wreckthe purpose of it through the form itself." Any disruption, in otherwords, can be noise — such as Eric Satie's tranquil pianos works — whenconsidered as "a rebellion against the growing complexity of classicalmusic in the late 19th and early 20th century."
Noise, as music, is any moment when all structure and notionsof beauty are called into question. As a whole we need noise, and anyadventurous listener needs Hegarty's book. Wonderfully written, eventhe footnotes are a treasure trove (like this great working definitionof prog: "the narcissism of brilliance signifying itself") and morethan just another music theory book, it acts as a secret philosophicaltreatise on the calamities of the 20th century and the intensities ofnow."
"Noise/Music is a provocative historiography of noise's contribution/damage to music."(The Slow Review)
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