“Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear the future of music,” commented John Cage during one of his notable, yet unconventional “Silence” lectures.
Indeed, sound is infinite and inescapable. Even in an anechoic chamber, an engineered sound-proof structure, it is possible, at least according to Cage’s accounts, to hear one’s own blood in circulation and nervous system in operation.
Living beings listen to their surroundings as a survival instinct, yet humans, being able to make conscious thought processes, turn listening into a whole other experience. It is difficult to explain the spiritual phenomena that comes from the physical act of music-making, but in general, music is created on the basis of pleasure borderlining the need to express oneself.
People were encouraged to partake in the 15th annual International Noise Awareness Day this past Wednesday, which was acknowledged in various forms. The official website provides information on safe hearing practices and proper noise intake. Overexposure to noise above 85 decibels (dBA) can become problematic to a listeners hearing in due time. Hearing loss by exposure to noise is gradual and the effects may take years to actually show, but once the damage has been done is totally irreversible.
Whereas there is good and bad music based on a listener’s prejudice and taste, the same applies to noise. Music to one person’s ears could be absolute noise to another, interpreted as a disruption or a nuisance. How may have shows in musical party history have been shut down due to noise complaints? An immeasurable number.
The ability to acknowledge sound and to interpret it based on personal encounters is what makes it more specific, turning sound into music or noise. Allen Roizman, the body and brains of his Brooklyn music project, Say No! To Architecture, believes that “Your music is just as easily somebody else’s noise, and the reverse is equally true.” What becomes music, sound, or noise is solely based on the listener. During the live music performance, all audience members experience something completely different based on individual perceptions.
Yet the effort is there, from the performer and the audience. This is exhibited at George Mason University’s first Annual Noise-a-Thon led by the art department’s Professor Thomas Stanley, specifically for Noise Awareness Day. Over 10 musical projects performed an eclectic mix of sound and celebration in reaction to Noise Awareness.
Many of the projects were meditative and conceptual. One noise artist tweaked around on a tabletop of effect pedals, capturing static channels and pools of fuzz. A single high frequency vibrated continuously throughout the room, softly swimming against the intense industrial glitches that rose from his circuitry. Another artist, Justin Marc Lloyd, performed as Sensible Nectar, created improvised noise with two massive pedal boards. Sunshine Arcade, comprised only of Jacob Knibb, was one of the loudest acts of the night. Knibb, himself aware of Noise Awareness Day, mentioned that his set was an Anti-Noise Awareness movement. Noticing that he wasn’t even wearing earplugs, even though Stanley cautioned performers and listeners to do so, I asked him if he was afraid of losing his hearing, to which he replied, “By the time that happens, I’ll already be old and sold out.”
Matt Nolan, a computer game design professor at Mason, flicked on an amp and sat down behind a drum set with his crimson electronic guitar. He formed a bar chord on the neck and sat poised and ready to perform. But instead of making any physical movement or sound, he just sat in his self-created silence, inviting the audience to listen to ambient noises projected throughout the room in building and from themselves. The elevator chimed a major third. A man coughed and a number of people nervously laughed from the long drawn out duration of their awkward perception of the silence. Yet a few people smiled, understanding after 4 minutes and 33 seconds, that Nolan undertook one of John Cage’s most famous pieces.
A few jam bands, djembes, didgeridooes, Irish bagpipes, and sitars later, intermixed with sonic noise landscapes and DJ sets, led to the closeout of the successful Mason noise marathon. Stanley already has plans for future music events on and off campus, and the whole night streamed live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/noise-a-thon-gmu.
– Marian McLaughlin