Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review in Harsh Media

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by Harold Schellinx

“… one day there will be no music,
just possibilities.”

(N. & C. – p. 164)

Noise & Capitalism

november 04, 2010.

You will agree that this is quite some pair. Intended – in this particular context – as the denotation of two categories supposedly in dialectical opposition (the and should of course rather be read as a versus), it is the title of a bundle of essays published somewhat over a year ago by the prolific audiolab division of Arteleku, a contemporary art center in Donostia-San Sebastián, the capital of the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country, Spain.

In full accordance with what appears to be the philosophy and position of the editors (Mattin, Anthony Iles) as well as with the tendency of most of the volume’s contributions, the almost 200 pages (designed in careful black & white that looks and breaths the style and solemnity of academia, but with a little arty touch, like a wink of an eye) are available as a free pdf download at the Arteleku’s website. Writing this blog-entry moreover should earn me a paper copy of the book. Interesting idea, to let reviewers have a physical copy only after their review has been published :-) … Arteleku offers an even more general possibility for exchange. Indeed, anyone engaged in some sort of artistic activity, is invited to send a sample of her/his work to Arteleku and get a hard copy of the book in return. The material sent will become part of Arteleku’s public library.


Noise & Capitalism is a collection of essays by a subtle mélange of leftwing/(neo-)marxist academics, writers & musicians. Each, with her or his own twist, makers of and/or otherwise passionate about noise music. And not satisfied with the fact that the society in which they live, work and create continues to be (even after so many years of worldwide subversive praxis) firmly designed along capitalist lines. Some what less, some what more, some like this and some like that; but all contributors do let us know that at least part of their ambition is to kick and middle-finger established values and practices. Artistically and socially.

But what is ‘noise’? And how does it relate to ‘capitalism’?

Wading through the bundle’s articles (that come with many a chain of long and twisted sentences, crammed with socio-philo-economical jargon and, for broader theoretical perspective, leaning on and borrowing from the usual suspects – Marx, Debord, DeLeuze…) did get me but little further in obtaining an idea more precise than the one that made me download the book in the first place: ‘noise’, as in the designation of a certain (non-)genre or (non-)style that over the past forty years or so has become a firmly rooted mode of expression within the global network of factions of practitioners and producers of improvised/experimental non-academic musical idioms, that may subtly differ from continent to continent, from state to state and from one metropolitan area to the other, but that are all part of a clearly-and-as-such recognizable (though maybe not easily definable) tao.

The word ‘noise’ occurs explicitly on 73 of the book’s pages, and you will find that almost all occurrences of the term are part of but 7 of the 12 papers. The others concentrate on ‘free improvisation’. And on issues of copyright, documentation and distribution of (sounding) results of these ‘free’ practices. The collection is a somewhat curious mix, of journalism, science/scientism, credo and manifesto, that makes for interesting but pretty tough reading.

Of course ‘noise’ is part of the vocabulary used in Anthony Iles’ Introduction, where noise encompasses that which locates itself self-reflexively at the limit of what can be accepted as music or as musical performance. Nina Power, in a short case-study annex review, suggests that, whereas men are the past of machines (Sartre), women will be the future of noise: [n]o longer will the machines dream through women, but will instead be built by them. They will be used not to mimic the impotent howl of aggression in a hostile world, but to reconfigure the very matrix of noise itself (italics are mine).

Csaba Toth, professor and chair of the History Department at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, where he co-teaches the seminar Electronic Culture/Experimental Music, contributes a paper with the promising title Noise Theory (in which each occurrence of the term is written with a capital N, as in Noise). Noise performance, in Csaba’s view, exercises a culturally coded and politically specific critique of late capitalism, and offers tools for undoing its seemingly incontestable hegemony. Though, given that Noise performance operates in the shadow of recontainment by the very commodity structures it intends to challenge, it remains unclear how exactly a such undoing will come about, Csaba gives us hope: resistance to such commodification continues to occur[:] Noise has become a transnational global cultural form capable of mobilizing diverse constituencies. Towards the end of his paper Csaba concludes that Noise is pre-linguistic and pre-subjective. The noise of heavy machinery and the powerful sonic onslaught of a Macintosh PowerBook are acts that actively foreground their materiality and disrupt meaning. Finally, taking a cue from Lacan via Robert Fink, he claims that digital Noise is not ‘the negation of desire, but a powerful and totalizing metastasis [of desire].’

In his Notes Towards ‘War at the Membrane’, Howard Slater, a London-based writer, researcher and trainee counselor, takes this one step further: Under the onslaught of noise the human essence dissolves into an (alienating) diffusion of potential becomings whereby identity can be revealed as a fabrication, as the foreclosing product of endocolonisation.

Maybe then there is no such (one) thing as ‘noise’? Ray Brassier, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut, opens his Genre is Obsolete observing that ‘noise’ has become the expedient moniker for a motley array of sonic practices – academic, artistic, counter-cultural – with little in common besides their perceived recalcitrance with respect to the conventions governing classical and popular musics[:] it has become a generic label for anything deemed to subvert established genre. [... T]he functioning of the term, then, equivocates between nominal anomaly and conceptual interference, [...] though ‘noise’ is neither more nor less inherently subversive than any other commodifiable musical genre[:] the categories invoked in order to decipher its political potency cannot be construed as inherently ‘critical’ while they remain fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience.

I found Ben Watson‘s contribution Noise as Permanent Revolution or, Why Culture is a Sow Which Devours its Own Farrow to be one of the better reads in the book. He observes that the sometime experience of ‘noise music’ as an ‘unflinching barrage’ [...] has more in common with Beethoven’s Große Fuge (1825) than it has with many of the more obvious and contemporary references. Ben also points out that a whole lot of the ‘noise’ indeed is little more than sonic wallpaper, a safe & trendy pose of ‘subversion’, devoid of merit or interest.
As already hinted at above, much of the writing in Noise & Capitalism is about free improvisation. Thus there is Bruce Russell (an improvised sound worker from New Zealand with a life-long engagement in critical theory), who writes Towards a Social Ontology of Improvised Sound Work. Using situationist theory as a uniquely powerful tool for the criticism of culture under the rule of the commodity, Bruce categorizes improvised sound work as one of the key areas of inter-generic hybridity in contemporary music.
There is also Edwin Prévost, percussionist and founding member of AMM (seminal to the development of free improvisation as a practice), whose earlier writings on the subject are extensively cited by some of the other contributing essayists, and who himself contributed an article entitled Free Improvisation in Music and Capitalism: Resisting Authority and the Cults of Scientism and Celebrity. Edwin points out that in some sense the musics under consideration exist precisely because of the socio-economic strictures of a capitalist culture (italics are mine). Moreover, as French musician and researcher Matthieu Saladin points out in his paper, Points of Resistance and Criticism in Free Improvisation: Remarks on a Musical Practice and Some Economic Transformations, the profound mutations carried out by capitalism from the second half of the 1970s (which allowed its redeployment in the following decade) seem to have mainly been brought about by employers’ organizations taking into consideration the demands [for more freedom and individual autonomy] that stemmed from artistic criticism[, refusing] control by hierarchy and the planning of tasks.
It therefore is no wonder, really, that one of the editors (Mattin) and one of the philosopher-contributors (Ray Brassier) – not in the book, but in a related context – arrive at the conclusion that in this day and age, indeed, the “free improviser provides a model of the ultimate capitalist”

To cut things short: the relation between non-academic experimental musics (in their guises of ‘noise’ and ‘free improvisation’ and whatever else one would like to call it) and the social structures of which they (willy-nilly) are inseparable parts, is a devious one. It is complicated and it’s tricky. The more so because these structures, along with the musics and the manifold motivations and interests of their creators, are of course far from static. They are caught in a flux, with everchanging positions and depths of entanglement. Undoing the knot as it existed at some given past moment in time without damaging the constituents would already be a daunting task, and I have yet to encounter an author able (and willing) to take on this task in a balanced and coherent manner. It will take quite some breath, to come up with a vision that would be approximately complete. For now most of the writings on the subject (also the academic ones) lack distance and overview. Together they add up to little more than a series of afterthoughts, as so many pieces of an image seen in a broken mirror glass.

On the other hand, it of course is a bit of a cheap rhetorical & redactional trick on my side to run you through these 200 pages by means of a collage of ‘one-liners’: a parade of emperors stripped from their clothes. I did so, because (primo) I find the little emperors worthwhile to keep for my own reference and (secundo) because I think they will give you at least a hint of what Noise & Capitalism wants to be about. I doubt that other than the couple of viewers for which reading (and writing) these kind of papers is (part of) their job, few will ever find the courage to delve any deeper. And I will not urge you to. For it may learn you a bit about some things, I’m afraid though that it will learn you little (new) about the music. Except (and that, mind you, is no little achievement) that the music matters. In their persistent stubbornness, the unti(r)ed pursuers of experiments in the far outskirts of our cultural landscape continue to push borders. And they push these borders in public, however small the attention is that their efforts will get, because (citing Ben Watson’s paper) the burning intent and beating heart of every ‘genre’ is proselytising and avid, believing it can burst into universality and reach all ears. It is there, at (h)ear point, that ‘mainstream’ in hindsight continues to pick its lot of the raw diamonds that through the efforts of these pioneers came rising to the surface. And the ‘capitalist beast’ will step in, to cut and polish them, make them glitter, market them, and sell.

Personally, I find this process fascinating. More than this: it actually serves the music, not in the least because it entices those that have chosen to pioneer and work in the bare fields and trenches to move on and dig even deeper.

Which, finally, brings me to the upshot of all that went before.

Part of it is a CDR (and – soon to be – free download) by noish~ (moniker of Oscar Martin) that has appeared as the 15th release in the Free Software Series, promoting experimental works that were realized using n en c free software.
Being a digital file, the pdf version of Noise & Capitalism at heart is nothing but a mass of 0′s and a 1′s, which – with suitable tools – can be materialized in whatever form one chooses. Oscar Martin choose to let his free software read Noise & Capitalism‘s pdf as an audio file.
When doing so, at least in theory, anything could happen. Interpreted as sound, sequences of digits encoding the text might correspond to sequences of digits of some encoding of a hypothetical audio recording of the voice of Karl Marx himself.
In practice, though, I guess that chances that a certain decoding will make such a thing happen are as slim as the chance that a randomly generated sequence of letters and spaces turns out to be the same as the first chapter of Graham Greene’s The Human Factor.

What it does – in both cases – bring on, is a glorious heap of noise.


I like the idea of transcoding. It is a means to perform ‘cultural hacks’ which is easy to use and accessible, but at the same time remains highly abstract. And I like even better the conceptual twist of thus ‘hacking’ precisely this Arteleku book, and make it come out as (technological) noise. (The fact that whatever other pdf encoded document is very likely to transcode into a similar type of audio, is beside the point.)

The resulting sound piece – “noise&capitalim.txt >> /dev/dsp” – lasts somewhat over 26 minutes and – as far as I am concerned – stands out as a highly enjoyable and varied sonic metaphor for the text from which it is derived. (No, I do not think that the ‘s’ missing in ‘capitalim’ is intentional.) The piece is composed: like the ideas and words in the book, the raw noise that resulted from the raw data has been subjected to a transformational and editing process, that you find schematized in the picture above.
In his review of the piece on the furthernoise website, Derek Morton provides a detailed log of his personal listening journey. Here is my rendition of Derek’s impressions:

00:00-00:32 * Ear prickling stereophonic grit
00:33-01:30 * 3 to 4 timbres of static interspersed with feedback
01:30-02:25 * White noise floods the mix; track now raging loud
02:26-03:10 * Circuit bendy type bleeps and noise
03:11-05:40 * Noise swell followed by erupting random deeper bass tones; watch the speaker cones dance
05:40-08:33 * Random waved shaped tone blips doing ‘sample & hold’ dance
08:33-09:15 * Waves of granulized sound swing back and forth like pendulum
09:15-10:53 * Motor-like noise with distant subtle drone
09:15-12:22 * Soothing static wiggles into recognizable patterns with rising 60 Hz hum
12:23-15:50 * RF interface, loud rumbles and sine tones fighting for the spotlight; flavors of white noise mixed and panned around
15:51-19:06 * Thinning out, noise subsides to a skittering electronic voice which eventually evolves into rapid fire machine gun serenade
19:07-20:43 * Valley of BUFFER OVERRIDE
20:44-24:13 * Resonating metallic sound undulates amidst dense forest of harsh scraping static
24:13-26:11 * The slithering digital beast makes its way back to its cage.

[logged by: Derek Morton (]

The combination of the textual and the sonic version of Noise & Capitalism actual confirmed my conviction that here and now (in this badly capitalist world) we need not worry about the music’s future. I deeply believe in a ‘music’ doing very well also without us reflecting upon it, without us scheming and plotting to have it run a certain course rather than another. Though admittedly there may be limits to what we are able to imagine, the music – such is my profound conviction – will take care of itself, in whatever future context one may envision. All that it needs are dedicated individuals, and a society that allows them unrestricted freedom of speech and access to the means to express themselves in whatever way they seem fit.

As long as these basic conditions are met, the music will continue to thrive.
There will be ups, and there will be downs. Of course.
I never said it would be easy.

Is there any reason why it should?

Review in Tempos Novos (Gallego)

Friday, June 18th, 2010

by Alexandre Losada

Review of Noise & Capitalism in Volume!

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Review of Noise & Capitalism in Volume!
by Aitor Izaguirre (French)

Noise & Capitalism, Mattin & Anthony Iles (Eds.) Arteleku Audiolab (Kritika series), Donostia, 2009

Editado por Arteleku Audiolabi , Noise & Capitalismii no es un libro académico, se trata más bien de un libro editado al modo de comisariado artístico, donde se convoca a un grupo de personas a participar. Mattin ( es un artista vasco que trabaja con la improvisación y el ruido tratando de analizar las implicaciones sociales y económicas de la música. Anthony Iles es escritor y editor londinense en proyectos como la revista Mute ( La lista de colaboradores y los temas tratados en el libro vienen de vínculos y relaciones creadas en contextos de práctica de la música experimental, y no de un centro académico. Una buena forma de acercarse al libro es entendiéndolo como una improvisación colectiva donde, bajo las nociones generales del título, cada cual va aproximándose desde su individualidad a un espacio común. No hay una tesis principal en el libro, hay una cadena de preguntas, respuestas, sugerencias. Hay disonancias, posiciones contradictorias pero también lugares comunes. Empieza con una portada experimental donde se transcribe el proceso por el cual se ha ideado la portada misma y las relaciones que se han trazado para ello. Los estilos (discursivos) son muy distintos entre sí; hay músicos, filósofos, artistas y críticos hablando. El tema sobre el que orbitan es la música experimental y las relaciones de ésta con el capitalismo. ¿Qué tipo de relaciones son estas? Son relaciones de sometimiento a la vez que de resistencia, entendido el ruido como un aspecto implícito al capitalismo y su despliegue de poder, o como la distorsión de su orden que se cuela por las fisuras desde abajo, desde las resistencias.

Introduce el libro Iles. Tomando el caso The Foundry (Hackney) repasa cómo el capitalismo en mutación permanente se sirve hoy especialmente de los artistas (de su creatividad y su rol social) para reforzarse en beneficio propio. El caso de la gentrificación mediante el artista es paradigmático. A partir de esta reflexión va presentando algunas ideas relevantes de los textos.

Mattin abre y cierra el libro con dos ensayos. En el primero explora el potencial de la improvisación a través de la idea de “fragilidad” tomada de Radu Malfatti. Al improvisar el músico se expone a situaciones de fragilidad que según Mattin son las realmente interesantes, las que hacen ampliar el campo. En el último aborda otra cuestión crucial para entender la situación de los “creativos” hoy: la propiedad intelectual. Plantea, como inherentes al noise y a la improvisación libre, una relación problemática hacia la idea de autoría, tratando de defender el anti-copyright y su papel en el contexto de economía informacional como una consecuencia natural de estas prácticas de resistencia (más allá de los sonidos hacia la producción-distribución).

En los 90 se pensó el “género” noise como algo fascinante. Pero esa categoría es muy vaga. Csaba Toth trata de defender que el noise como género se define por “toda una matriz socio-cultural”. Si la sociedad del espectáculo es, siguiendo a J. Attali, la sociedad del silencio, entonces el noise actuaría como disonancia y fuerza crítica. Los cambios en el capitalismo habrían traído la “rehabilitación visible y audible” de la ciudad, imposición neo-fascista del silencio como único código. El noise por tanto entraría en este contexto como forma cultural de resistencia.

Edwin Prévost (AMM), ve en la música improvisada una alternativa a las relaciones sociales mercantilistas. Al margen de la conciencia política de los músicos, al improvisar hay implícitamente un modelo de resistencia, alternativo al de mercado. Aborda la conciencia política de los músicos después de haber hecho unas consideraciones sobre sus relaciones básicas con el mercado. Al tener que auto-inventarse constantemente y ser intrínsecamente dialógica, la identidad del grupo tiene que aflorar por encima de las individualidades autoritarias cada vez que se toca. Aunque ve antecedentes claros en el grupo de New York en torno a J. Cage y la escuela de Darmstadt, la improvisación libre llega a otro campo más anti-autoritario donde la “producción de sonidos” se entiende cultivada de forma fuertemente personal en un contexto social sin mediar (por partituras, etc.) que choca contra ideas como “celebridad”.

En el discurso de Ray Brassier se aprecia una dedicación filosófica. Su acercamiento es interesante ya que extiende el ruido más allá de su aspecto acústico. A través de dos grupos de música ruidista propone que el ruido, por definición, es una “interferencia conceptual”. Traspasa los límites claros de la categoría y es por naturaleza anti-genérico. En el noise colapsan los límites y se abre el nuevo campo de la anomalía. El género está muerto precisamente por eso, por la irrupción del ruido dentro del campo musical (artístico y deberíamos de entender también, social). De aquí la contradicción inherente a los intentos del mercado por crear una parcela general “noise”.

Una idea de gran interés que encuentro en el texto de Bruce Russell es la relación entre práctica artística y toma de conciencia colectiva de la realidad social o de alguno de sus aspectos. Un texto extenso y lleno de ideas interesantes, que toma de la tradición marxista más heterodoxa (Gramsci, Lukacs, Lefevre…) ideas como la de “ontología social” y se sirve del aparato teórico situacionista para trasladar algunas ideas clave al terreno de lo que define como “trabajo sonoro improvisado”. Tras entrar a analizar las claves teóricas de esa tradición que desemboca en la Internationale Situationniste, ve en la práctica de la improvisación no idiomática un lugar de sentido contemporáneo para ideas como la de situación construida, o détournement. De ahí pasa a aspectos de esta “praxis crítica” como son el rechazo al “culto del compositor”, de las reglas musicales, de “los modos jerárquicos de composición, lectura de partituras y conducción”. Al final del trabajo la idea de “tiempo” y “unidad de la experiencia” aparecen centrales para el análisis crítico del valor de la improvisación.

Nina Power, intenta aproximarse a la cuestión del ruido a través del género. Analiza la relación entre máquina, ruido, trabajo y mujer. Las mujeres habrían guardado una relación especial con la máquina y, por tanto, concluye (en lo que a mi parecer es una falacia) con el ruido. ¿Qué pasa cuando la mujer crea sus propias máquinas? se pregunta. Para ello toma como ejemplo el trabajo de Jessica Rylan música que construye sus propios instrumentos sonoros y produce con ellos un ruido que sería alternativo al tradicionalmente hegemónico masculino. El ruido de Rylan es un ruido personal. Al hilo de esto predice un nuevo imaginario ruidista femenino.

Ben Watson (quien sugirió el título del libro) es conocido por su trabajo sobre F. Zappa y por el extenso trabajo sobre la obra de D. Bailey. En este libro nos hace un repaso a las relaciones de la música con el mercado. Para ello se desplaza desde el músico al papel del crítico musical que trabaja para el sistema a través de medios como la revista The Wire. Aquí se plantean problemas como el del “nicho”, por el que se pretende buscar a una práctica tan incómoda como es el ruido (y la improvisación que los incluye), su casilla apropiada que la categorice y funcione así en el sistema de mercado. Matthiew Hyland continúa con Bailey para llegar a los músicos-artistas contemporáneos. Así entra en la cuestión de cómo se relacionan como músico con el mercado.

Matthieu Saladin es músico y filósofo y ahonda en conceptos centrales desatendidos para el análisis de la relación improvisación-capitalismo. Primero entra en los aspectos de resistencia intrínsecos a la improvisación. Después, de la mano de investigaciones sociológicas va a considerar “el nuevo espíritu del capitalismo”, y cómo éste ha mutado para seguir reproduciéndose, empleando una serie de elementos asimilados de la crítica social de movimientos obreros y de algunos elementos críticos centrales de las vanguardias, especialmente presentes en la improvisación no idiomática (creatividad, adaptación constante a nuevas situaciones…). Las nuevas formas de gestionar el trabajo en las empresas, reproducen estos modelos, trasladados al orden económico, en su precariedad y fragilidad. Saladin se refiere a cómo han cambiado también las audiencias desde los 60-70 a hoy en conciertos de música improvisada. Hoy la conciencia política está casi ausente. Sin embargo, la dimensión política de esta música mantiene su aspecto crítico que aflora en su estética. Su ausencia de identidad apunta a una diversidad innata como un espacio vacío que la permite existir. No preexiste sino que tiene su razón de ser en la pura práctica. Refiriéndose a J. Ranciere advierte que es el “disenso” el que viene a ocupar el espacio vacío en esa práctica, no porque no se llegue a consensos en ella sino porque éste no se persigue necesariamente como en otras músicas. El ruido aflora en el impredecible encuentro de esas diferencias contribuyendo al cuestionamiento de las divisiones estéticas.

El texto de Howard Slater es el más confundente, retóricamente mucho más hermético, en ocasiones como conteniendo ruidos, sugiere sin embargo una serie de ideas de gran interés para el análisis del nuevo capitalismo y sus relaciones con la música (y con todo el orden sensible de lo social). El tiempo-espacio de producción se ha extendido fuera de la fábrica tomando la vida humana entera. Ninguna actividad queda fuera del orden productivo, incluso nuestras propiedades-afectivas. Así, nuestros sentidos (membranas) serían, no sólo puntos estimulados por los mensajes de los medios sino “puntos cruciales para el constante mantenimiento de nosotros mismos como ‘puntos de circulación’”. El capitalismo automatizaría así nuestros sentidos y afectos como primer golpe para seguir reproduciéndose. Es el campo de batalla para la “guerra en la membrana”. Aquí es importante el papel de agente antagonista que otorga a las prácticas estéticas de vanguardia cuya más importante labor, sería la desautomatización de los sentidos otorgándoles una tarea crítica en la “construcción de nuestra subjetividad” autónomamente. Así la improvisación y el noise jugarían un papel crucial contra la forma de alienación más radical, la de la percepción, produciendo un nuevo nivel de “percepción de la percepción”.

Se trata en definitiva de un libro rico en preguntas abiertas y sugerentes para quienes quieren introducirse o ahondar en las relaciones entre música, política y economía difícilmente resumible en un espacio tan corto como este. Creo que es fácil ver algunos precedentes a este proyecto en los libros de C. Cardewiii, y especialmente en el trabajo de J. Attali sobre la economía política de la músicaiv. Sin embargo el enfoque de Noise & Capitalism difiere de aquellos. Hay más puntos de vista y encontrarle un centro es una tarea imposible. Lejos de teorizaciones ajenas a la actualidad y enquistadas en problemas alejados en el tiempo, nos sitúa en el momento preciso en el que estamos y en la clase de problemas derivados de una sociedad dominada por el orden económico actual. La cercanía de los contribuidores con las prácticas más contemporáneas evita que nos alejemos de una serie de problemas urgentes y actuales. Es una pena, sin embargo, que nadie se haya atrevido a tratar de forma explícita y sistemática los aspectos básicos de la relación entre el capitalismo y el ruido como fenómeno acústico.

A. Izagirre

iArteleku es un centro público de arte en Donostia (, Audiolab es el laboratorio de sonido del centro, desarrolla actividades teóricas y prácticas en torno al sonido, el arte sonoro, etc. (

iiEl libro está disponible para libre descarga en La versión en formato físico no se vende sino que se distribuye bajo el modo de intercambio con el centro editor. Dos ediciones más en Español y Euskera se editaran a principios del 2010. Más información

iii CARDEW Cornelius (1974), Stockhausen serves Imperialism, London, Latimer New Dimensions

iv ATTALI Jacques (1977), Bruits: essai sur l’économie politique de la musique, Paris, PUF

Review on Mute Magazine By Paul Helliwell

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Rumours of War

From Dubstep to Free Improv to Noise, people turn to music to express something about the world that words alone can’t. How well, then, do two recent books – Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare and the group work Noise & Capitalism – serve their listener-readers? A review by Paul Helliwell

In case of sonic attack on your district follow these rules…

- ‘Sonic Attack’, Hawkwind/ Michael Moorcock, sometime in the 1970s.i

‘The twenty-first century started with a bang’ says Steve Goodman (nearly) at the start of his 2010, MIT published Sonic Warfare. Taking us to the darkside of sound, Goodman focuses in on vibration, on a politics of frequency rather than volume, in particular the ‘bad vibes’ from the infrasonic bass frequencies of dub sound systems to those that engender fear and dread from military special weapons.ii He replaces the linear speed – a conjoined marker with the war and noise of the Italian Futurists at the start of the 20th century – with the angular velocity of afrofuturist music’s rhythmic vortices at the start of the 21st.century. Sonic Warfare moves an optimistic reading of Deleuze, based on flows, to one based on the vortex, ‘the model for the generation of rhythm out of noise [...] (that) blocks flow while accelerating it [...] the abstract model of the war machine.’ The vortex changes noise into rhythm, futurism into afrofuturism, and enables a hijack of the academic discourse on noise from within. But for Deleuze and Guattari a war machine tends to be revolutionary, or artistic, much more so than military.’iii Why then does Goodman read it so literally?iv

War – What Is it Good For?

Music is joy. But there are times when it necessarily gives us a taste for death …music has a thirst for destruction

- Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980v

For an activity that so many people pin their hopes on, the philosophical position of music seldom rises above it being a distraction, and claims for its radical potential seem to be made more out of habit rather than real belief. As a weapon of war Goodman may believe he has found an example of sound working directly that cannot be ignored. If Deleuze’s philosophy is one of connection then Goodman uses it to draft the usual noise/war/speed suspects Arthur Kroker, Paul Virilio, Manuel DeLanda, Friedrich Kittler and many others into his own war There is the omnipresent ecology of fear of the war against terror but also a militarisation of theory here; war – what is it good for? Kittler in tracing the roots of almost all media technologies to war would say that it is the father of all things, like the Italian futurists he must admit its value in shocking passeists, the ‘has beens’.vii As does Goodman, whose Sonic Warfare is both Deleuzian nomadic war machine and literal state war machine (this is a contradiction in Deleuzian terms but not an insurmountable one – the state may absorb the nomad war machine by capture).viii This gives the book a somewhat queasy affective tone – one too dark for music, but too flippant and celebratory for sonic warfare.

For Goodman these proliferating ‘Black Atlantean’ musics (dubstep, crunk, grime, baile funk, reggaeton, kwaito, hyphy) are a better fit to Deleuze and Guattari’s theories than the modern composition, literary, artistic, and B-Movie examples that litter their work, and more interesting than the Improv, guitars, and above all noise music that hog academic debate. In academia, music has been thought of in a number of ways, first it was understood (musicologically) in terms of the score, with black, popular and dance music discussed only as directly sociological documents largely in terms of lyrics, and only later did it come to be understood as sound. Goodman is still fighting this war against the lyric, and he acknowledges his formation in that Deleuzoguattarian swarm incubator the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) at Warwick University. Curiously, Goodman and the CCRU’s reliance on music’s (or noise, or rhythm’s) formal properties is little used by Deleuze and Guattari who are much more interested in its content ‘a child dies… a woman is born… a bird flies off’.ix Badiou dryly observes that Deleuzian concepts are often transported to another field only ‘to say that they function well’.x How has Goodman used Deleuze?


One key CCRU debt would be to Erik Davis’s more than a decade old essay ‘Roots and Wires’, a reworking of John Miller Chernoff’s writing on African polyrhythm. This reading is the still present fossil-seed of the rhythmanalysis Goodman conducts. Erik Davis took Chernoff’s work on African polyrhythm and used it to provide a theory of the then current UK music jungle/ drum and bass in terms of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition.xi When listened to, danced to, polyrhythm immanently appears as a steady metering beat (repetition), with a beat playing off it between these beats (difference). When composing or reading (viewed transcendentally) it appears as the interplay of a number of rhythms running in different time-signatures or perhaps at different metres (speeds). Rhythm here is an active relation of different regions, a productive tension. Crucially, what you take to be the metering beat can change – but no one dancing is going to thank you if you actually do this to them while DJ’ing. Repetition and metre are key in our collective mobilisations on the dance floor, in military drill, in the orchestra, in synchronising emotion, in synchronising labour – repetition and obvious, pulsed metre are the popular, the low, machine-produced prole-feed, and art music becomes itself by appearing to eschew them.xii Art reacts against the machines and views repetition as fatal and inhuman, we react with the machines, viewing the repetition they offer as cyclical and generous.

What Goodman is looking for here is perhaps not a theory of an already obsolescent musical style, but a means of connecting polyrhythm with Deleuze and Guattari. Surely, though, they should have commented on it themselves? He stumbles over his key problem in moving from the modern composition examples used by Deleuze and Guattari to other musics.xiii For Goodman the musical sources they draw on rule out a collective mobilisation. One example they use is Oliver Messiaen whom Goodman disparages for saying jazz and military marching are not rhythmic (but metered) and accuses him of being part of the ‘European musicological elite (with Adorno – Ouch!), but a few lines later he must also acknowledge that Deleuze and Guattari say exactly the same thing. Goodman goes no further than to bemoan their snobbery, and then apply them as if nothing were the matter.

But perhaps Goodman is on more orthodox ground than he realises. In Messiaen’s music, elaborate strategies are adopted to produce a non-pulsed time – the Aion; for Deleuze and Guattari this is an elusive, fluctuating time out of joint in which new events may happen as opposed to the pulsed Chronos of steady metering historical time. In Deleuzoguattarian terms the time of the virtual is the Aion, its smooth space is of the nomadic war machine. But Deleuze has ignored the fact that metre is still relied upon by the musicians to produce an experience for the audience of non-pulsed time (how else could the musicians act together?).xiv The distance between Deleuze’s non-pulsed time and polyrhythm Goodman thinks unbridgeable, so he passes on quickly, but they may not be as far apart as he believes.xv


We have already seen the substitution of the vortices of a (black) afrofuturism for a linear speed of a (white) futurism, retaining the tropes of noise and war and a refusal of the original musical examples of Deleuze and Guattari. But Goodman also attempts a rhythmanalytic opening up of Deleuze and Guattari themselves, of their own influences/ connections (not Spinoza but Lefebvre, Bachelard, Bergson). Of the three inventors of rhythmanalysis acknowledged by Goodman, it at first looks as if Henri Lefebvre’s 1980 work will be marginalised in favour of an unpublished1931 manuscript by Pinheiros Dos Santos, but of the three Lefebvre is ultimately the most discussed. Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis arrived late in the Anglophone countries due to a 20 year gestation and a 28 year delay in translation. There is a further hangover – even Stuart Elden, in his translator’s introduction, cannot see Deleuze and Guatttari as adopters of Lefebvre’s technique, as if the writing on repetition and difference did not exist in both. To rephrase Lefebvre, is not a part of Deleuze and Guattari’s project a criticism of reification in the name of becoming, is it not taken up in what is most concrete; rhythm?xvi

This would be Goodman’s strongest argument – a way to overcome the view that (other than the refrain) Deleuze uses musical examples only as a metaphorical explanation of his arguments. Brian Massumi (the translator of A Thousand Plateaus) licenses us to make analogies from these when he enjoins us to treat that book as a record, as something that can be dipped into rather than read as a whole. In contrast Ian Buchanan and others argue we must build a properly Deleuzian theory of music – high or low – using Deleuze’s own tools.xvii

Life During Wartime

For me the smooth ride of Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun (a sonic f(r)iction where musical example and Deleuzian text are in a state of mutual excitation) has not been achieved – the full torque Deleuzo-speak and the balancing statements required of academic writing don’t hold each other in constructive tension like the elements of a good polyrhythm ought to.

The book claims to be in a state of oscillation between ‘dense theorization’ and ‘exemplary episodes’ but none of these are from the author’s own experience as dubstep producer, record label manager and DJ, Kode9. He never intrudes upon his own text and there are no equivalents of the ornery Improv musicians who stifled Ben Watson’s monograph, Derek Bailey, in their emphasis on praxis. He takes us to a pirate radio station but don’t go expecting to meet the massive – it is as if the rapture has already happened. There’s no sweat, no sex, no dancing, no bodies, no violence, no records and little MC chatter. We are offered the rhythmic nexus but not the cash nexus. There is no testimony from the victims of sonic warfare either; most examples are internet rumour, urban (warfare) myths, Men Who Stare at Goats.xviii War here is remote, bloodless, simulated; war as we are increasingly offered it while our armies wage it at the peripheries – another training simulation of the Military Entertainment Complex.xix

Why this repression of example? When Melissa Bradshaw reviews Sonic Warfare in terms of Goodman’s recently released Hyperdub 5 compilation, he advises against it saying he is more interested in the inconsistencies and divergences between the book and the label.xx It’s not just the women who are missing from the book, she notes, it is humanity as a whole. She sees its being anti-anthropocentric as a good thing.xxi Having recently watched the UK reggae soundsystem film Babylon I cannot agree. Shorn of the people who improvise the combination of records and lyrics there is no understanding of the political economy of the soundsystem and why it has gone global. There is no understanding of these increasingly local scenes without recourse to the local and particular. Goodman has committed the cardinal Deleuzian sin of talking about communication rather than engaging in dialogue.

The book that Goodman meant to write, the one full of global Ghettotech, is announced in the forward and then banished to the footnotes, exiled by an editor as something that can only travel across the black Atlantic steerage. When, nearly at the end of the Sonic Warfare, Goodman enjoins us to (listen) [...] for new weapons’ he also shies away from making ‘grand claims regarding the spontaneous politicality of the so-called emergent creativity of the multitude’ – this is the discussion he can no longer have with us because we are no longer there and neither is he.

The everyday is simultaneously the site of, the theatre for, and what is at stake in, a conflict between the great indestructible (cyclic) rhythms and the processes imposed by the socio-economic organisation of production, consumption, circulation and habitat… a bitter… dark struggle round time.

- Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier.xxii

Noise in this World

Noise and Capitalism has the 11 authors’ experience built in (rather than designed out) – and after Sonic Warfare we might expect gains from this. Six of the authors I’ve met, two play free Improv, two play other kinds of music, Anthony Iles is a dubstep fan, Nina Power likes noise, Matthew Hyland reviewed the same copy of Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation that I did (and still has it), but then I’ve also met Steve Goodman (at the Noise Theory Noise conferences at Middlesex). Can these two books be brought into a productive tension?xxiii

First off the title, Noise and Capitalism, suggested by Ben Watson, (nearly) does what it says on the tin. The connection between noise and capitalism is the books problematic, it is a provocation designed to annoy the Wire, but the strengths of the essays on Improv pull the book in that direction. Are there problems in this doubling of improvisation and noise, last attempted in Jacques Attali’s Noise? – nothing happens without noise (says Attali) but little happens without improvisation (that is why the ‘work to rule’ is so effective). Both partake in the avant-garde fusion of art and life, one that, as Howard Slater argues, has become central to capitalism. Nonetheless before it can be compared to anything else, Noise and Capitalism must be brought into some kind of productive tension with itself. xxiv

If the free liberated without a doubt and in the poetic way in the 1960s, today it is only liberal.

- Free Improv’er Noël Akchoté

For Mathieu Saladin the Improv scene is composed of both Boltanski and Chiapello’s ‘social critics’, who are concerned with equality and denounce both exploitation and individualism, and ‘artist critics’ who resist the oppression of standardisation and commodification. If these currents were furthest apart in Dada and Italian Futurism, arguably the precursors of Improvisation and Noise, then May 1968 was the moment when these two were closest together. If the subsequent years have been marked by a recuperation of ‘artist criticism’ to the point where it has become ‘the new spirit of capitalism’, then ‘social criticism’ has also had its share of defeats.

Against this Saladin seeks, again, the improvisatory moment and Rancière’s degree zero gesture of ‘dissensus’ – that each work of art, or each such moment is a politico-aesthetic re-ordering of (not just) what can be said but (crucially) who can say it. The actually existing scene’s defects await new improvisers and a new audience to come. This separation of scene and practice, genre and concept that Mathieu makes is ahistorical, (and improviser Radu Malfatti is clear that without time/history we cannot assess stagnation or progression), but in holding them apart he at least makes the practice visible again.

But if the Improv was free, so now are the recordings. Mattin’s investigation of copyright and Myspace with Walter Benjamin’s Author as Producer in one hand and his Critique of Violence in the other leads him to a call for improvisation ‘changing the conditions in which the music is produced’ in such a way as to refuse the law (and violence) that guarantees copyright. In his interview with Radu Malfatti and a recent Mute article, Mattin reveals this would require the annihilation of Free Improv,

We are forced to question the material and social conditions that constitute the improvised moment – structures that usually validate improvisation as an established genre.

These genre conventions he now views as normalising strategies to be overcome, with Brechtian alienation technique, Improv to Impro. In many ways this is a working through of many of the critiques contained in this book.xxv Even the cover – notes of a dialogue between Her Noise exhibitor Emma Hedditch and Mattin as to what the cover should be – is made to do work, extending the dialogic of Free Improv outwards to make the process and critical thinking involved in the graphic design for the book visible.xxvi

Similarly, Matthew Hyland investigates Derek Bailey’s formation as a jobbing musician in the provincial dancehalls before the need to sound like the records put him out of work.xxvii Matthew notes that for musicians, once we were waged labourers and now we’re our own mini-brand with a career development loan, and this is the change in capitalism as a whole and for all of us (at least in the West). It is far from ‘idealism’, as Andrew McGettigan’s review in Radical Philosophy maintains, to question the centrality of the recording at the moment that capitalism dissolves it as a commodity, nor at the moment when it was being installed.xxviii

Howard Slater’s is perhaps the article that approaches Sonic Warfare most closely; hisWar of the Membrane’ is about affect, but he is willing to venture into a discussion of capitalism and politicality in a way that Goodman is not. McGettigan bemoans this saying It must make life more exciting to think that one’s listening habits are per se engaged in a war over instincts and perception’, but music is more than our individual listening habit, a fact obscured by its omnipresence. To dismiss music’s collective political (or psychoanalytical) effects as ‘a fantasy’ is a denial of what music is capable of. If it is a fantasy, it is a planet wide one. The problem here is in how Slater ends music, in a comfortable therapeutic silence no longer fear-filled ‘one day there will be no music, just possibilities’, but this is a return to the Aion.xxix

McGettigan recommends reading the essays by Prévost, Watson, Brassier and Saladin, and dismisses the rest. Prévost calls on us to resist scientism, authority and celebrity and to dive straight into the potent mix of self-assertion and collectivity that is Free Improv, one, he tells us, capitalism cannot acknowledge. Prévost is still fighting Stockhausen’s scientism, Cardew’s Maoism and Derek Bailey’s celebrity – faced with Messaien’s Aion he would twitch aside the curtain to reveal those musicians enslaved by the score. For Prévost, improvisation is an opportunity to do rather than be done to’, a self-invention, something quintessentially human, about choice, and he has no time for its renunciation in Cage, Cardew or David Tudor’s preparation of an Aion-like mental state. But is there not something automatic and machinic in that moment of improvisation anyway, a randomness even of the notes that the tam-tam (Prévost’s instrument) produces when struck? Prévost looks to the work necessary to reincorporate this sound once made both musically (in the dialogue with other improvisers) and socially (in its relationship with the audience).

Ben Watson’s defence of the band Ascension against revisionist critical approval is in some ways a rerun of his Noise Violence Truth pamphlet – a defence of Noise. As a critic Watson has Adorno’s way with an aphorism (when not enjoined to Beckettian reticence by his negative dialectics), and yet when he soars with enthusiasm over the radical universal power of music he remains curiously unpunished by

Brassier’s investigation of accumulating genre conventions in Noise doesn’t really do it for me (form is sedimented content – genre conventions change and grow, there is Noise within genres over time as well as between them). McGettigan thinks the editor should have teased out the difference in the concept of experience between Brassier and Watson – but I think it’s minor. For Brassier, Noise is over, fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience’, when the commodification of experience is ‘a concrete neurophysiological reality’ that cannot be defeated by criticism. But Brassier is good on what genre frustrates, even when it is hard to believe his musical examples can actually overcome it.

Anthony Iles, it seems to me, has done sterling work in his introduction pulling together the common problematics from these essays. Resisting the siren song of totalising theory, Iles pulls the argument down to street level, to the gentrification of Hoxton. If Improv is a muddy ditch where things can grow then so was Shoreditch (or at least the Foundry). Ultimately the proper engagement with these problematics is to be found in Mattin’s new work, but the decision by Kritika to make it freely available or available for trade both as a download and a physical copy is exemplary and performative.

Sadly Nina Power and Csaba Toth’s articles are little more than well referenced reviews, but interesting nonetheless. Csaba dutifully references Attali, Barthes, Lacan (and the less-usual Guy Debord) in constructing his ‘Noise Theory’. He follows Barthes (via Jeremy Gilbert), finding the radical potential of Noise in jouissance which, like the improvisatory moment, is a moment that overcomes everything – it is a black hole, an aesthetic sovereignty in reduced circumstances, a fetish of the moment. Does Noise music really have that effect on people listening to it five times a week? There is no ‘going fragile’ here – no admission that music or noise or even theorising them can fail. As with Sonic Warfare, the maximalist claims for the direct effect of sound derive from the philosophical weakness of generalised claims of music.

Nina Power offers us machines dreaming of the deft hands of women workers, women building synthesizers, wartime women rebuilding Waterloo Bridge – taking as her cue a comment of Mattin’s that factory workers were among the earliest players of Noise. Countering her appreciation of musician and synthesizer maker, Jessica Rylan (surely just a peg for the article?), McGettigan lists radiophonic women but omits the mother of them all Daphne Oram. ‘The sirens of unpleasantness continue to seduce the male noise imaginary’, says Nina, hearing these as merely imitative rather than annunciatory, you’ve been in the house too long she says and shoos us out into the fresh air.

Soundclash – The Philosophy of Improvisation Or…

McGettigan’s review is also a double review and, if not that helpful for Noise and Capitalism, it did help me with the review for Sonic Warfare. It starts by reviewing Gary Peter’s The Philosophy of Improvisation, one improvised a half page at a time.xxxi McGettigan seems resistant to philosophical improvisation – what about Alain’s Propos? -but what really gets his goat is the failure to cite musical examples (and the idea that a philosophy of improvisation has little to offer improvisers).xxxii I have a similar problem with Sonic Warfare, the obverse of my usual problem that too much faith is placed in musical example; musical examples date fast (Goodman’s problem), and if I don’t like the music I’m less likely to be convinced by the argument. Even if I do, it may not be for the reasons given. The mutual excitation of text and music – the sonic f(r)iction – crashes on take-off.

McGettigan argues that, because Gary Peter’s book gives no concrete examples, no philosophy of the practice of improvisation can be generated, and a model of abstract aesthetic production is imported in its place. He then turns to Noise and Capitalism as a native informant to find accounts of practice that would enable him to generate such a philosophy, but finds people already busy theorising (and sometimes importing). McGettigan’s disappointment is palpable, and he focuses it on the lack of consistency between these accounts. This is right but not, as he seems to think, because more consistency would produce a truer argument but because it is this lack of consistency that interests – other reviewers also found the lack of agreement frustrating – but I find it heartening.xxxiii

The conflation of the genres Noise and Improv by the book’s compilers and McGettigan is productive, but just because they can sound the same doesn’t mean they are. The conflation of their concepts, objects and eventual aims, hides more than it reveals. Similarly the conflation of the genres of Noise and Industrial hides their differences (the demolished factories, the changes in work).

Musicologist Susan McClary once complained that to understand music we are told we must renounce our emotional reactions to it, refusing to do this she picked Attali over Adorno, and for the same reasons Ronald Bogue picked Deleuze. McClary also made her choice to route round what she took to be Adorno’s high culture bias – just as Goodman picked Erik Davis.xxxiv The repetition of these gestures surely says something.

These two books do not allow us instantaneous access to the truth of all noise but to theoretical and practical conjunctures – problems of the relations between philosophy and practice. McGettigan may complain that the referencing is scholastic ‘if Adorno says it, it must be true’ to the point of denial of experience, but the same is true of Sonic Warfare. A whole cultural studies industry exists solely to publish ‘neat ideas’ shorn of their philosophical ‘procedures’ for use by undergraduates wanting to write about what excites them. Beyond this, the whole thrust of the work of Derrida, Deleuze and Rancière is to question what it is these procedures do – philosophy is not some neutral activity. It is not enough to reclaim praxis as a mere term or to police the borders of philosophy with a bigger dog. The problem of theorising why music matters so much to so many people, and of not having to renounce emotion to do it, remains philosophy’s problem, not music’s. Music continues to move the crowd.

Paul Helliwell <phelliwell2000 AT> does not improvise but does record and would like to direct people to his blog on the myspace page of his ‘brother ass’ horsemouth:


Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear, MIT, 2009

Mattin & Anthony Iles eds., Noise & Capitalism, Arteleku Audiolab (Kritika series), 2009


ii See for an attempt to set up a politics of noise/ politics of silence ‘quarrel of carnival with lent’ against which Goodman posits a sonic ecology.

iii Gilles Deleuze, Pourparlers, Editions de Minuit 1990, pp.50-1.

iv For a succinct discussion of the concept of the ‘war machine’ see:

v Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Athlone Press, London 1992, p.299.

vi And a whole series of books proclaims that it is, not just John Rajchman, The Deleuze Connections, MIT 2000.

vii The best criticism of this was probably made on 15 July 1917 by mutinous Italian squadies of the Cantanzaro Brigade who machine-gunned the inn where proto-futurist poet Gabriele D’Annunzio was believed to be staying. John Woodhouse, Gabriele D’Annunzio, OUP, p.306.

viii Deleuze and Guattari, Op. cit., plateau 12, 1227: ‘Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine’, p.351- 423 and elsewhere.

ix Ian Buchanan, ‘Introduction’, in eds., Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, Deleuze and Music, Edinburgh University Press, 2004, p.15.

x In Jean Godefroy Bidima, ‘Music and the Socio-Historical Real: Rhythm, Series and Critique in Deleuze and O.Revault d’Allonnes’, in Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, Op. cit., p.192-3.

xi Erik Davis, Roots and Wires, But are jungle records (composed on computers, out of loops, programmed on a grid to a fixed tempo) really polyrhythmic in the sense of African drumming? Perhaps when danced to, perhaps when listened to, perhaps when mixed together, but not of themselves.

xii See William H. McNeill, Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History, Harvard University Press, 1995.

xiii Jeremy Gilbert notes ‘when writing about music they almost invariably write about composers Jeremy Gilbert, ‘Becoming Music: The Rhizomatic Moment of Improvisation’, in Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, Op. cit., p.121, and ‘from the vantage of the artist rather than the audience’ Ronald Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting and the Arts, Routledge, 2003, p.3. But is this true? – surely what Deleuze focuses on is the experience of music (its affect) rather than its production.

xiv In the ‘does-what -it says-on-the tin’ Quartet for the End of Time, a 17 beat musical phrase is repeated against a 29 beat chord pattern, the shifting relationship between the two refuses to settle down and as these are both prime numbers the earliest that the piece can begin to repeat itself is 17 times 29 beats later. At last music you can play at a rave and not be busted by the cops under the Criminal Justice Act. Ronald Bogue, ibid., p.14 onwards. Quartet for the End of Time is another technology produced by war having been written by Messiaen in a German prisoner of war camp.

xv In Deleuzian terms, pulsed, polyrhythm cannot produce the Aion, it produces a striated space rather than the smooth space of the nomad war machine. Lefebvre however notes another kind of time. People may be distressing themselves unnecessarily about repetition.

xvi Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis, translated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore, Continuum 2004, p.7.

xvii Translator’s forward; pleasures of philosophy, Brian Massumi, p.xiii, in A Thousand Plateaus, Op. cit., We might start from scratch and apply Deleuze’s 6 key concepts to music itself, applying them according to low music’s own immanent terms, or we might think about music in terms of Deleuze’s work on cinema, or we might think about music in Deleuze’s terms of royal and minority science (or minority languages), or we might (in an UN-Deleuzian fashion) attempt to dialectically wrangle music out of him with the aid of another philosopher. Arguments made by (in order) Ian Buchanan, ‘Introduction’ , Greg Hinge, Is Pop Music?, Drew Hemment, ‘Affect and Individuation in Popular Electronic Music’, Eugene Holland, ‘Studies in Applied Nomadology’, Nick Nesbitt, ‘Deleuze, Adorno and Musical Multiplicity’, Jean Godefroy Bidima calls for both of these last two in , Music and the Socio-Historical Real: Rhythm, Series and Critique in Deleuze and O.Revault d’Allonnes. Bidim points out that Deleuze is, by his own philosophy, required to make those connections beyond himself but did not and compares Deleuze unfavourably with his college friend Revault d’Allonnnes who made studies of rebetiko and other minority musics. This should keep Matthew Hyland happy as he plays a variety of rebetiko with his band Philosophie Queen. All in eds. Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swidoba, Op. cit..

xviii Interestingly Steve Goodman’s Blog does all this much better,

xix and

xx 10th January 2010.

xxi It follows a tendency begun in Deleuze and continued in More Brilliant than the Sun, where Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, a study of real transatlantic patterns of affiliation and connection in Black Culture, is sunk beneath the waves to become a Black Atlantis rendered myth.

xxii Henri Lefebvre and Catherine Régulier, ‘The Rhythmanalytical Project’ in Rhythmanalysis, translated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore, continuum 2004, p.73.

xxiiiThis would not be the first double review of the book see for an attempt to set up a politics of noise/ politics of silence quarrel of carnival with lent against which Goodman posits a sonic ecology.

xxiv Improv is prefigured in Dadaist and Surrealist automatism. There was little to separate futurist and Dadaist performance as practice but a great deal separating them as ideology (War or anti-War) See Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance, Dutton, New York 1971 and Richard Huelsenbeck Memoirs of a Dada Drummer, University of California Press, Berkeley 1991.

xxv See his recent article and Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, Routledge, New York, 1992. While keen to avoid involving us in the unpaid labour that is relational aesthetics (so happy together) isn’t this production of a problematised situation (sociability as blockage) potentially similar to the work of Santiago Sierra.

xxvi and

xxvii It was there Bailey acquired the muscle memory to ‘bodge’ songs he had not learnt previously nor had access to the sheet music for, which together with his studies of atonal musics were the underpinning of his ability to improvise.

xxviii Andrew McGettigan, Begin the Beguine, in Radical Philosophy, Issue 160, March/April 2010, p.46-49.

xxix And curiously similar to the self-communication of Attali’s idea of ‘composition’.

xxx Like Nick Nesbitt in Deleuze and Music he wants to convince us that Adorno would have dug John Coltrane but I don’t see any evidence for that. Noise Violence Truth text available online at

xxxi In McGettigan’s account this is a pseudo-(Derridean) philosophy because it has not taken account of Derrida’s hostility to using ‘origin’ to determine the ‘proper’ (I may be misunderstanding something here).


xxxiii has the reviews plus some of the work traded for copies of the book.

xxxiv Ronald Bogue, ‘Rhizomusicosmology’, Substance 66, University of Wisconsin, 1991, p65-101.

Review by Blake Hargreaves

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Sept Ames (Montreal)

Nirvana in Negative
Noise & Capitalism and the aesthetics of academia

In 2007 I was invited to the 40th anniversary party of CTV, Canada’s dominant media organization, by mistake. Sitting there with my date, drinking quietly in a corner while MPs and anchorpersons from across the country mingled and unembarrassedly commented on us (“You guys look so stylish! You must be from Montreal”), I suddenly spotted a well-dressed but bleary and lost-looking old feller. No sooner had I realized that eye contact might be a mistake, then he’d locked his sights on us and orbit became entry. He eventually introduced himself as the President of CTV Newsmedia, to which I was tempted to reply “yeah, and I’m Donald Duck” but I kept it in check and exchanged pleasantries until he was quickly bored of us.

When I learned this was in fact Bob Hurst, president of CTV Newsmedia, I did what enterprising young folks are supposed to do and tried to get a meeting with him so I could ask for a job. It was a disaster; he was much sharper then, and between eating a sandwich and checking email, in his office of ten thousand television sets, he withdrew my life history from me. The peak of the discussion came when I got to describing my undergraduate thesis, which I very generously described as a study of “the aesthetic differences between works of composition and works of improvisation”. He pretty much froze. Now I had gone and done it. “Really?…. what did you come up with?” The incoherent babbling episode that followed, with references to Jackson Pollock, the Rolling Stones, and “spirit” went longer than I’d care to remember before he finally showed mercy and cut me off by telling me in a cool low voice that if I hoped to be a journalist I had better learn how to explain something.

The thesis was really just a recording of my composition process and the research accompanying it, and it was that process that was a study in the differences between improvisation and composition. I never sent it to get bound, as it is meant to be, because when I finished the essay I decided the purpose of this essay was probably to show me what would become one of the fundamental questions with which I would fill my earth-bound days, so why not spend a lifetime on it instead.

In Noise and Capitalism, a new book of essays published by Arteleku, improvisation acts as a stand-in for the scene called noise or noise music in many of the pieces, and several tease out thoughts on the nature of spontaneity in a material and capital culture, and its political ramifications for those who engage in such activity, for their audience, and society at large.

The main promoter of the book, and contributor of its first and last essay, is enthusiastic, no-irony performer and all around good person Mattin, a performance artist who I much admire. He’s the pitchman for this assembly of musings on noise and capitalism from a dozen or so chatter-borgs who have produced enough prog-talk to thoroughly stone anyone. It comes in the form of an academic journal, with an overload of footnotes, references to theorists of varying popularity, and large words and larger concepts are hoisted around like so many steel storage containers at port, threatening to crush the reader in their brutish lack of clarity and coherence. (more…)


Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Radical Philosophy review of Noise &Capitalism book by Andrew McGettigan.

As a supplement to the abstract theories of Peters, 
Noise & Capitalism devotes six of its eleven contribu
tions to concrete discussion of ‘free improvisation’ in
 music. It treats both the complex relation to jazz and 
its reaction to the dominant forms of musical space
 and experience. Peters is opposed to the valorization
 of jazz as an interstitial political practice dreaming
 of communion and empathy. However, by explicitly
 positioning free improvisation as a deliberate attempt
 to create an environment ‘free from the tradition of
 bandmasters, composers and notation as well as the
 emerging spectacular culture through which popular 
music was beginning to circulate’, this collection is
 better able to assess the stakes, successes and failures 
of that attempt and its continuation into the present
 Eddie Prévost summarizes well the position he
 has developed in other publications. He presents free 
improvisation as an alternative cultural form (marked
 by working relations between the musicians, which
‘counter the ethos’ characterizing capitalism). Two
key features of ‘normal music’ are emphasised, against
 which improvisation is distinguished: the score as the 
notation determining performance; composition and 
rehearsal as the point at which the technical problems
 of musical production are resolved in advance of
 performance. Improvisation eschews both, with the
 corollary that the hierarchical relations of produc
tion are displaced – performance is then a dialogical
 process of discovery for all participants. No longer
 hidebound to the creative genius of the composer,
‘we have to decide on the meaning of the practice’.
 In this way, its politics can be seen in its opposition 
to authority and celebrity: the marketing of named
 composers is resisted. (more…)