The philosophies of Noise/Music: A History by Paul Hegarty

But is it a history?

This is one of the things that struck me as I finished the book. One does not have to worry if the book is well-written – it’s almost too wordy and garrulous for the normal reader. In fact, I would suggest being accustomed to philosophical works, and not expecting a thoughtless pulp read when you pick up the book.

Noise/Music: A History chronicles the uses of noise (i.e. cut-ups, harsh noise, digital, analog, etc.) through the late 1800s until now. It follows a course from early classical music, free jazz, progressive rock, power electronics, industrial, up until the rise of harsh noise, glitch, and the use of sampling, while also contributing a complete chapter to Merzbow‘s work.

While Noise/Music does present a very factual, interesting look at the evolution of noise in music, it doesn’t serve as a great introduction to noise music for the uninitiated. The use of certain selections of noise, and Hegarty’s delving into the inner workings of each section’s meanings, are critical readings which seem too in-depth for a supposed “history.” It feels as though Hegarty is expecting the reader to know and understand his philosophies into what makes noise what it is – and though he does explain in the beginning that he did not want the book to become an extensive and pretentious discography of his album collection, to me, it became just that. Instead of Hegarty explaining the history in general of a certain style of noise, he takes certain albums – probably ones that you’ve never heard, due to the sheer enormity of the noise genre – and critically analyzes them, explaining in needless detail their point to society and their cultural relevance. Honestly, I just wanted to know a little bit more about the noise genre in general, rather than be immersed in a philosophy of noise and sound that I really couldn’t contemplate the meaning of.

I did learn, however, how describing noise can be put into words. Also, some of Hegarty’s points on the validity of noise as a genre of music seemed true. However, over all I felt that Hegarty’s take on noise was too long-winded and complex for the noise beginner. If you would like to have an introduction to the noise genre, I would suggest looking elsewhere. But if you’re a student of noise and sound, this would be a really relevant introduction for those looking to join the noise genre.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Alex says:

    I thought that this book wasn’t upposed to be about the ‘noise genre’ as much as the use of the noise aesthetic across genres. That being said, I havn’t read the book yet, only the introduction. Still, had I not read the introduction, I’d probably have been disuaded from reading the book as there’s nothing more frustrating than a music writer letting bragadaggio get in the way of informativeness. If you say that this book fits that accusation then I’ll read elsewhere. Whattayasay?

  2. ryneb says:

    Yeah, I can see where the book could be considered a look at using noise across genres. However, a lot of what it points out is the history of how noise came to be.

    I know that in the intro, Hegarty says that he did not mean for the book to be a look his precocious discography, but as I read it, it seemed that way. The book IS titled A History, which I assumed to be a guide to getting into the noise genre, but Hegarty goes about talking about the rise of different forms of noise in different genres by mentioning various genre releases that a beginner would probably have never heard of.

    At the same time, some of what Hegarty has to say is very interesting, even if it does come off as sort of pretentious (at least to me anyway). Depending on how much you like siphoning through confusing, convoluted philosophical rants, I would say that it is worth a read and the reader can take away what they want to from it and discard the filler – and it also works as a jumping-off point to checking out some of the bands who Hegarty thinks were important to each genre.

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