NOISE – SATURATION – VOICE
Three texts – one tale that presents a specific stream of music history turned into a conceptual narrative; a second one dragging this narrative by force into the roughness of unsynthesised contemporaneity; the last one just as a fable of future.
Probably one of the most remarkable narratives that the history of avant-garde Western classical music from the last 60 years has offered us is the one relating to the notion of noise. In our computational era, “noise” has grown into a resignified concept and a relevant one for communication and information theory. But along the way, this tradition of music-making has been unmasking noise in many other ways. It has made music out of culturally outcast and outlawed sounds – infinite forms of anything once called noises – which many times have unveiled other forms of sensual beauty to the ear. It has developed languages and structural approaches of organising sounds that proved that misunderstood or neglected (noisy) languages are for the most part meaningful languages yet to be properly decoded and welcomed. It has also offered an even more radical conceptual operation, which is to resignify the unknown as a potentially meaningful but still ignored background (radiation); a sort of “silent noise”. In the end, this music proved that what we call listening doesn’t exist before there is an effective openness to any new reception.
True listening is the capacity to create a means of getting used to any apparently meaningless, cryptic, or even “ugly” – noisy– information, logic or poetics that is offered to the ear so that these become in any way accessible. For several generations of composers, noise has always been good news: it meant “new” and innovation; it meant “unexplored” and exploration. It meant potential. This broad understanding of the very concept of noise is perhaps one of the most beautiful dramatic bows that this culture of music-making has been able to offer over the last decades, and I always found it to have the potential to be metaphorically transposed into any field of knowledge.
This “creative noise” gave birth to a plethora of aesthetics, and helped to create a culture inside this music tradition which made the framework of aesthetical diversity it’s home. It has also combined with the accumulation of practices that were already carried over from the past or practices that willingly went back to older aesthetics, even if they had been distorted under the influence of each contemporary time period – something that happened in all other arts as well, I’d say. The truth is that there is no fiction in the idea of parallel universes. Nowadays, we witness a coexistence of aesthetics and conceptions – and you could also call them “systems of values” – that convoke any readings of pasts and presents and possible futures in a framework where biasing and interpreting are almost indistinguishable from one another, and where the notions of relativism or eclecticism have for some time been insufficient for describing what happens in reality.
In the world of art and culture, we’ve seen how conceptual frameworks have been consequently appearing to replace each other – (from modern to) post-modern to metamodern to altermodern, etc. – trying to explain or at least accompany the several steps along with this accumulation. We fill ourselves with more information, and we build concepts that help understand concepts that help build frames that help build frameworks. As we incubate the assumption that we are getting a wider picture through each additional piece of information or expansion of the frame, what I actually feel is that we are cultivating a certain collapsing relation with saturation. This saturation seems to operate as a big compressing plateau where times and systems of values are normalised onto one and the same level – although we know that they have cultural and historic dimensions inside them: a time-space hypergraph of aesthetic topoi. All of them coexist in our daily life, and each of us can relate to some of them while pretending to ignore the others.
A change of principles and practices throughout a lifetime is also to be expected. At a time when we believe in the importance of having access to virtually any knowledge or activity happening, it’s also more difficult to get a properly detailed and accurate image of each particle of the reality, and even more unbearable to think about the lack of focus at the same time. Ignoring one otherness can be viewed to be virtually and potentially ignoring all othernesses. To be reductionist in one matter means to potentially reduce all matter(s). We seem to oscillate between the simplistic and the specific, between the “get an idea of it” or the “get lost in it”. No matter how comprehensive this grid of multiplicities becomes, I can’t help wondering if this grid is, however, the new form of the known, of the identified. Along the path of acknowledging multiplicity, our accumulation seems to have put in crisis the very notion of the unknown and the very aim to seek out any form of the unknown. I intuit that there is an organic process of crisis of how we understand knowledge at the core of this, which for now might be paradoxically oscillating between being ultimately dissected as a cultural construct – local, moral, aesthetical – and trying to be reborn as the whole of the all-containing grid of – intellectual, cultural, material – practices. What I want to know, and what I’d be excited about, is not only how can we disrupt certain configurations of the given grid – which would be that urgent problem on re-arraying outcast but relevant, potentially meaningful noises – but what is the hidden dark axis of knowledge that we could potentially discover in the outer dimensions of this (already hyper-) grid. Our grandparents from the second and third vanguardist waves of the 20th century made a miraculous contribution in terms of how to explore both visible and dark noises, and this crystallised in the huge aesthetic variety we have today. I wouldn’t discard the possibility that they had a clearer image of what was “the unexplored” since aesthetical diversity as we have known it over the last decades was not yet fully established – they were generating it. Long after the era of noise, and sitting now in the era of saturation, the gesture of integration of unknown or unacknowledged noises is the unquestionably and yet classical gesture of modernity, no matter how many suffixes we add to it. One image keeps coming to my mind, which might be a rhetoric artefact or perhaps just a beautiful way to bring some sense of closure. On one hidden axis beyond the axes of the never-ending multiplicity of things that can be done, the blind angle of a creative breach might no longer be the mysterious research on the unacknowledged noise but the disorienting breach through the rumbling saturation. My personal narrative of the vanguards in Western music during the 20th century is that it was necessary to search for the genuine among a huge ocean of noise by facing the free fall of either inner exploration or outer experimentation. Nowadays, it feels like a wall of saturation is sitting before any abyss.
In some future, information might mostly be stored as packages of electromagnetic waves. These waves are to be codified within computational bodies but are re-generated in circuits made out of decode/code stations. Each wave is emitted inside these circuits during different time scales ‒ seconds, hours, years, decades ‒ before being coded/decoded again, in a sort of dynamic form of a backup system. In a way, the information is no longer conceived to be fundamentally stored within bodies of any kind (computers). Instead, its actual state is considered to be in the form of energy that needs to flow at least in a closed framework. Eventually, packages of these waves are sent into space as well, so that they may exist in the most open system of the universe itself. Codes have been designed so that they can describe everything: historical events, scientific knowledge, art archives, anything at all, and also, personal or individual identities. There is an alphabet for successfully constructing a complex waveform that comprehensively covers any characteristic or detail to be included. Individuals get their characteristics and biographic events codified, so in a way, they get electromagnetic self-portrait-waves made. These are eventually used as an identification rubric, a signature for every social process as well. In the beginning, when these methods were conceived, the term used to refer to the resulting electromagnetic footprint was “sound” (some individual’s “sound”), but later it was considered that a more appropriate option was to call it “Voice” with a mandatory capital “V” to differentiate it from the common word for the physical voice.
People would carry their “Voice” with them everywhere, as a form of identification and to fulfil social and contractual processes. They would also take the waveform and map the frequencies down to the scale of the hearing spectrum’s range, and then transform them into soundwaves so that they could effectively hear their own “Voice”. With enough training and knowledge of the original codes, one could even generally identify if there were specific amounts of sound in a particular register or behaving in some manner, so that thinking tendencies, physical and health developments, and biographical events could be presupposed from those sound shapes. Big demonstrations of sound would be made in sound art events, where all assistants would play together with their “Voices”. The “Voice” of an individual would be played as a remembrance, as homage or as a celebration. For some, the “Voice” would even be understood as a technologically manufactured “soul” – although rather a ghost – that you could emit into space as long as you had the means to do so. So it would wander around the universe as free as its laws allow. In this future, some say that because the Earth has become a place with such little space, that by sending their “Voice” outside the planet, their space would become part of the entire universe. The worst that can then happen is that the wave gets partially absorbed, refracted or polarised by some celestial phenomenon. But what a wonderful way to dissolve into the whole, in contrast to the feeling of invisibility they experience down on Earth, which has become worse than the very physicality of death.
*1989 in Barcelona
Fabià Santcovsky studied composition in Barcelona, Stuttgart and Berlin under Gabriel Brncic, Mauricio Sotelo, Marco Stroppa and Daniel Ott. He writes music theatre, orchestra and chamber music pieces. Notable works include the operas Transstimme, commissioned by the Münchener Biennale, and Las Chanchas, commissioned by the Teatro Argentino de La Plata, and works commissioned by Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (OBC) and SWR Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart. He was awarded 2nd Prize at the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award in 2015 and the Wardwell Scholarship of the AvHumboldt-Stiftung.More about Fabià Santcovsky