NOTE: An earlier version of this text is available: http://www.thewatchfulear.com/?p=3642
A version of this text was
published in Spanish in URSONATE
#0 Madrid, April 2010.
NOISE VS CONCEPTUAL ART
1. If conceptual art is clean, noise is dirty. If conceptual art is subjective, noise is asubjective. Of course, it is the artist who produces his or her conceptual artwork. By contrast, noise is everywhere.
2. Anybody can make noise. One does not need to be an artist, or go to art school, or understand the specifics trends of art-making such as conceptual art, institutional critique or relational aesthetics. The everyday qualities of noise have been with us for a long time.
3. Semantic jailers may complain about my different usages of the noun noise in this text. If there is a term that one needs not to be puritanical about, it might well be noise. I would rather play with its different meanings, than perpetuate noise as a musical genre.
4. 'Capital does not like noise' – Miguel Ángel
Fernández Ordóñez, Governor of the Bank of Spain.
Countability, separability, measurability are intrinsic qualities of capital. For a commodity to achieve its value and therefore become a commodity, it needs to be counted as one. Rumour is elusive and unstable, impossible to count, it can be defined as noise. Noise exceeds the logic of calculability.
5. If we take on Theodor Adorno’s claim that there is a strong connection between the forces of production and art, we can see how conceptual art and the dematerialisation of the art object coincides with the end of gold as the standard equivalent form of value. Lack of control, pollution and intelligibility: all attributes of noise, connect today to a level of abstraction that capitalism has reached with its credit booms, toxic assets and high-frequency trading. Inevitably, fictitious capital brought us into a state of crisis. Capital reconfigures itself in order to give us the appearance that we are done with the crisis – nevertheless producing more crisis. Noise never hides itself, it is permanent crisis pushing constantly all its elements to their extremes.
6. To perceive 'noise in-One' (François Laruelle)1, without applying capitalist logic, understanding its elements in their specificity without making formal hierarchies over whether one sound is more valuable than another, knowing that we are always going to miss something, makes demands upon us to be as perceptive as possible.
7. Common denominators, totally predictable improvisations, vulgar ways of responding to one another, average volumes or brutal noises. How many noise concerts that sound like noise concerts do you want to attend? Anything (such as an idea, a concept or any other element) can be used if it helps us to stop reproducing the stereotypes that we constantly make when we improvise or when we make noise. These elements might help you to go further from what you would do with your own intuitions, repetitive intentions and emotions. The incorporation of concepts in noise and improvisation might help us to develop unexpected ways of playing that can challenge the situation that we are in. Ways of playing that we might not dare try out otherwise.
8. 'I have found that the limitations imposed by decisions based on my personal “tastes” are absolutely stifling. Choices made through the criteria of subjective likes and dislikes are to me nothing more than a kind of therapeutic ego titillation that only inhibit further the possibility of sharing an artistic vision (as if it weren’t difficult enough a thing to do as it is). Besides, I really believe that truly good art is always made of broader stuff than the personality of the artist.' – Adrian Piper, 'A defence of the “conceptual” process in art'.
9. It is precisely in the limits, in the borders, in the beginnings and ends where one can find the hidden ideological contradictions and interests that rest on the constructions of the situations that we are in. We have more tools for expressing ourselves but also there are more laws that try to regulate our creativity. It is precisely that which frames the context in which we operate which must be severely questioned. These are the limitations that are constantly producing our subjectivity.
10. In conceptual art the artist frames all the activity that occurs in the moment of the artwork's presentation. The concept of 'piece' is antagonistic to noise, as one cannot totalise all the noise and say, 'this is mine'. Even when we make very loud noise, there are always elements escaping us. When we speak of John Cage’s 4′33”, we are not listening to the specific noises of each situation. We are talking about a specific piece by a specific composer.
11. One can introduce concepts, ideas and decisions within the context of an improvised concert, or use them while making them into noise. But as opposed to conceptual art, where the idea is what matters (c.f. Sol LeWitt), in noise, it is the noise itself in its totality that matters. Noise is ultra-specific. Noise cannot be represented, as there are those residual elements, that disinformation – that which cannot be count or defined – that makes noise to be noisy.
12. The nihilist character of noise makes it antagonistic to democracy, and it is absolutely realist in its given understanding that we are never going to be in a state of equality; even less so under capitalism. This does not mean that we should not try to understand each other as much as possible from our different positions and create democratic process, based upon a present, and not a future position (planning what we can gain at a later date).
13. There is more noise in language that we might think. One cannot grasp totally what somebody else says, to try to grasp the totality of meaning in a given communication/sentence is, according to Luce Irigaray, something characteristically masculine. Learning from Irigaray, we need to understand each other from the perspective of noise, an anarchic perspective without foundations, without structuring or categorising constantly what somebody else is saying, (in doing this we would reduce expectations and projections over what the other person is saying). We think we understand what is going on; at the same time we know that this is never totally true. Everything could explode any second. We better listen as much as possible now. There is no reason for us to be here. We are in/on the/a 'groundless ground' (Luce Irigaray). This does not mean the negation of thinking. The contrary is true. The established structures of thought need to be radically reconsidered, without justifying our reason to be here, our existence.
14. Even if noise is at the heart of progress, it is also that which progress cannot control: irrationality, distraction, the unconscious, the emotionally disparate… . Noise is the spectacle eating itself in an act of self-cannibalism.
15. It’s interesting to see the connections between noise and the origins of conceptual art. John Cage 4′33” (1952), La Monte Young, Composition # 2 (1960) (start a fire and let it be consumed), Henry Flynt, Concept Art (1962), Isidore Isou, Art esthapériste. All these examples, in one way or another contain elements of noise.
16. Two of the most interesting conceptual art
pieces in my opinion, contain a great deal of noise while they also
question the limits of art.
a) Graciela Carnvale, Lock Piece (1968)
'I have taken a group of people prisoners. The piece starts here and they are the actors' (Graciela Carnevale, 7 October 1968)
As part of Círculo de Arte Experimental Rosario, Argentina, Graciela Carnevale at the opening of her exhibition locked the audience in the gallery from outside. They did not get out until somebody broke the front glass window.
b) Christopher D'Arcangelo in collaboration with
Peter Nadin and Nick Lawson produced Thirty Days Work in
November 1978. The work was accompanied by a statement: 'We have
joined together to execute functional constructions and to alter or
refurbish existing structures as a means of surviving in a capitalist
economy.' The collaboration, the initial stage in a series of
evolving and interactive exhibitions at Peter Nadin's loft on 84 West
Broadway, was the culmination of a project D'Arcangelo and Nadin had
begun in 1977 in which the two artists questioned the status of their
day jobs as manual labourers, refurbishing loft and gallery spaces,
by drawing up contracts and sending out flyers that detailed a
description of their labour, the materials used and the time
17. An epic moment in my noise career: No Trend
festival, London, 2006.
After 13 concerts of intense and loud noise, I stood up on stage holding a microphone and wearing mirror sunglasses, looking like something in between a 'Ramblas' human sculpture, and Lou Reed in the Metal Machine Music cover. I stayed there holding the microphone without moving for 10 minutes. The microphone was recording all the stupid comments, all the heckling, the insults, and spit that the audience threw at me. After ten minutes I played the recorded file at ear splitting volume. When I explained this to Andrea Fraser in a tutorial at the Whitney Independent Study Programme, she told me: ‘ah, I get it John Cage meets Dan Graham’. Here there is a big difference of understanding when we talk about conceptual art and when we talk about noise. If we talk about Conceptual Art we talk about a piece, if we talk about noise we have to make a fictitious framework to set up its limits.
I was able to say to Andrea what the ideas that I brought to the concert were, but she understood this as another conceptual piece. Under this perspective I frame all the activity happening from the audience as if I was a managerial artist. This is something we can see more and more in contemporary art. With the excuse of making a critique of authorship artists use more and more the logic of management in order to appropriate the contributions and the general intellect produced by the supposedly 'activated audience'. Coming back to the concert, if I would do anything with the recording, this resultant documentation would not be a representation of that happened, but a thing of pure opportunism from my side. As we know there is nothing pure in noise. It would be impossible to represent the atmosphere, the smell of alcohol, the feeling of being an arsehole that a member of the audience said he felt. Noise only exists in the present.
18. Chaos goes against representation. Noise goes against habit. The unreason to be here and its break up with correlationsim is closer to noise than conceptual art.
19. We could understand noise as a form of hyper-chaos:
We must grasp how the ultimate absence of reason which we will refer to as “unreason”, is an absolute ontological property, and not the mark of the finitude of our knowledge. From this perspective, the failure of the principle of reason follows, quite simply, from the falsity (and even from the absolute falsity) of such a principle – for the truth is that there is no reason for everything to be or to remain thus and so rather than otherwise, and this implies much to the laws that govern the world as to the things of the world. Everything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to logical laws; and this not by virtue of some superior law capable of preserving anything, not matter what, from perishing. Our absolute, in effect is nothing other than an extreme form of chaos, a hyper-Chaos, for which nothing is or would seem to be impossible, not even the unthinkable. – Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, (2006).
20. The absolute of unreason destroys both postmodern relativism and the Kantian correlationism that binds thinking with being. We only have nihilism as a conceptual tool to understand better where we live.
21. ‘This is not terrible, nothing terrible is happening' Emma Hedditch said at KYTN 2010 festival in Dundee, in a concert where our only instruments were our sensibility and our speech. Even though, it created a charged atmosphere full of projections and expectations. Only silence and words. Silences full with emotions. An inverted form of punk, where the audience got angry with us (the supposed musicians: Emma Hedditch, Howard Slater, Anthony Iles, Mattin) because we were too sensitive to each other. Because we were trying to understand each other. This was a noise concert.
22. What conceptual tools can the nihilist use without falling into either correlationsim, or relativist postmodernism?
Determination-in-the-last-instance involves an ascesis of thought whereby the latter abjures the trappings of intellectual intuitionist as well as of objectifying representation. By submitting to the logic of determination-in-the-last-instance, thought ceases to intend, apprehend, or reflect the object; it becomes non-thetic and is thereby turned into a vehicle of what is unobjectionable in the object itself. The object becomes at once the patient and the agent of its own cognitive determination. Rather than looking to intellectual intuition to provide an exit from the correlation circle – a move which threatens to reinvoke some short of pre-established harmony between thinking and being – determination-in-the-last-instances unbinds correlation synthesis in order to effectuate (rather than represent) an identity without unity and a duality without distinction between subject and object. It effectuates a non-correlational disjunction between unobjectionable reality and ideal objectification by instantiating the identity of-the-last-instance between the being-foreclosed of the object and that of the real qua being-nothing. Identity without unity and duality without distinction are the hallmarks of determination-in-the-last-instance insofar as its structure is that of what Laruelle calls a 'unilateral duality'. By effectuating a unilateral duality between thought and thing, determination-in-the-last-instance manifests a non-correlational adequation between the real and the ideal without re-incorporating the former within the latter, whether thought the machinery of symbolic inscription or the faculty of intellectual intuition. – Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound, 2007
In the extremes we meet!