noise&capitalism.pdf»/dev/dsp - NOISH~ FSS-15
Recording under the moniker NOISH~, Oscar Martin has released an album for the Free Software Series, a label that spotlights experimental music, produced using free software. For this experiment NOISH~ has described his process as a “transcodification of the book noise&capitalism to an audio release, where he used a Shell Linux console and the command:
Now for some context. There are a few dimensions to this release that should be considered. Firstly, there is a difference between using software that is free, and software created by individuals with a strict philosophy regarding how their tools should, or should not be used, distributed. If you are a bit hazy on the details, check them out at GNU Operating Systems – The Free Software Series definition.
I tend to stay away from making value judgments on artists political preferences on software, or methods of creation; ie paying money for something could contribute to an economic system that maybe deemed unsavory. Discriminating at this level might lead down the path of making aesthetic judgments based on socio-anthropological-economic concerns, and I am not an anthropologist or ethno-musicologist. Also my degree in economics doesn’t really contribute to the field of music criticism, but I find it interesting how much Marxist theory gets unpacked in Noise & Capitalism, which for the uninitiated is a compilation of essays by various writers and musicians.
That said, I do love discussing the technical concerns of hardware and software possibilities, and I do think a “part” of the Free Software movement, is empowering people to explore creative expression without having to spend a lot of money.
The other dimension to this release, is that NOISH uses a text source, as a starting point to synthesize a product, that is indeed noise, and perhaps a “meta-critique” of the varying viewpoints contained in Noise & Capitalism. In essence, we have ideas, which are converted to binary code which a digital audio engine converts back to analog sound for our ears to transmit/transcode for our brains to interpret.
“Noise & capitalism” (edited by Mattin & Anthony Iles) attempts to describe the nexus of “noise” to copyright, and capitalism. More specifically, “… Noise & Capitalism, is a tool for understanding the situation we are living through, the way our practices, and subjectivity are determined by capitalism. It explores contemporary alienation, in order to discover whether practices of improvisation, and noise, contain or can produce, emancipatory moments, and how these practices point towards social relations to extend these moments.”
On a release titled trAnsCodE 2010 Oscar Martin illuminates his artistic motivations…”What fascinates me about digital media, is having the possibility to transform whatever you can decode into 0 and 1, and been able to dump it into different shapes, and even languages (audio can be turned into image, DNA from a cauliflower into a sonora piece…) I find here a retro flavour of the poetic absurd DADA; some kind of situationist deviation, or perhaps a shoot of machine-desire connection…”
Using a software combination of Shell, Pure Data and ARdour, and other devices; tape recorders, cassettes, feedback mixers, NOISH processes the output to an extreme universe of sonic dynamics. Here is my personal log of the twenty six minute listening journey.
00:00:00-00:00:32 ear prickling stereophonic grit begins
00:00:33-00:01:30 three to four various timbres of static interspersed with feedback
00:01:30-00:02:25 white noise floodss the mix the track is nowing raging loud
00:02:26-00:03:10 circuit bendy type bleeps and noise
00:03:11-00:05:40 a noise swell followed by random deeper bass tones erupt
I realize that my monitors are going through a serious workout, and although I feel sorry for them, it is quite entertaining to watch the speaker cones dance.
00:05:40-00:08:33 little random waved shaped tone blips do their little “sample and hold” dance
00:08:33-00:09:15 waves of granulized sound swing back in forth like a pendulum…next a transition
00:09:15-00:10:53 motor-like noise with a subtle drone in the distance, a time for reflection
00:09:15-00:12:22 soothing static starts to wiggle into recognizable patterns as 60 hertz hum rises
00:12:23-00:15:50 RF interface, loud rumbles and sine tones fight for the spotlight while more flavors of white noise are mixed and panned around. It gets louder and louder.
00:15:51-00:19:06 A thinning out occurs, noise subsides to allow one skittering electronic voice which eventually evolves into a rapid fire machine gun serenade
00:19:07-00:20:43 I think I have reached the valley of BUFFER OVERIDE
00:20:44-00:24:13 a resonating metallic sound undulates amidst a dense forest of harsh scraping static
00:24:13-00:26:11 the slithering digital beast makes its way back to its cage.
If you make it this far and still curious, I believe the strengths of this release rely on what I consider Martin’s vision of composition, and not a simple machine translation of the data. As far as I can tell, NOISH only uses his Shell Linux trick, to gather sound for inspiration. There are a plethora of other post-processing tricks, mixing and stereo panning to aggregate the noise into a finished piece. It is worth a listen if you appreciate anything DSP, and its not as academic as the premise may suggest.
When I first listen to a CD, I almost always put it on without paying any attention to the sleeve notes or press release, and usually in the morning before work, while I go about the day’s early chores, washing, ironing, putting CDs into envelopes etc… So I don’t pay as much attention to it, or to the details I may have about how it was created, the instrumentation involved etc, as I would in the evening when I listen much more closely with the intention of writing about the music. So early today I played through tonight’s CD a couple of times, letting it pass me by as a just-OK disc of computer generated feedback and white noise detail. The sleeve notes later revealed what I was listening to to have begun life as something more interesting, though the question of whether the end result is any more listenable once this added information is known remains to be asked.
The disc is the fifteenth release on Mattin’s Free Software Series label, which will eventually be available as a free download from the label’s website. It is named Noise&Capitalism.txt and is credited to NOISH, who apparently is a computer musician named Oscar Martin. If the title rings a bell, then you may remember that the book edited by Mattin that came out last year had the same name, and it is the text of that book that has lead to this music being generated. Although the diagram on the sleeve that shows the process used is a bit vague, it seems that Martin took a pdf of the book’s text, fed it somehow through a laptop into a cheap radio cassette recorder, presumably somehow processing the pdf as an audio signal, maybe using an automated text reading voice. He then used a combination of digital and analogue transformation processes to feed the work back into a computerised audio file, which is then presented on this CD.
Interestingly, this is almost exactly what Robert Kirkpatrick seems to have done for his latest limited edition release, details here. Though he started with a different text, the two musicians seem to have independently struck upon the same, or at least very similar conceptual ideas to make their music. I haven’t heard Robert’s piece, but I suspect that it could sound not dissimilar to Martin’s CD, a kind of mashed up mess of digital and analogue feedback and distortion, full of tiny details jammed together, occasionally landing on some interesting shapes and patterns but ultimately much more interesting as an idea and concept than as a piece of music.
The track here is divided up into clear sections, with dense sections of what sounds like a badly tuned radio and electronic scribbling interspersed with quieter, more spacious parts, these little breathing spaces being more interesting to listen to. In many ways the music reflects what I thought of the book, really thoughtful and thought-provoking in places, a bit of an impenetrable wall in others. The whole thing clocks in at a little under half an hour, which is long enough for me, but to be fair the CD doesn’t overstay its welcome and changes gear often enough to retain the attention. The sounds themselves though are very familiar and well worn. Knowing how they were originally sourced adds a layer of intrigue to the whole work, but ultimately as a piece of audio to listen to I’m glad there isn’t more then twenty-six minutes of it. Although I would never have guessed how it was made, there is still a sense of disconnection in the music, away from too strong a human touch. I might have guessed that audio signals of some kind were being fed through digital patches of some kind, but otherwise I’d never of known.
So I find myself wondering if, had I not been intending to write about this CD, would I ever have noticed how it was made? Is the conceptual side of the release actually a vital part of the whole project, an element without which the music is rendered entirely uninteresting? Is there a point being made here? Could any text have been used to the same effect or does the piece of conceptual art require Mattin’s book to retain its power? Does the music stand up on its own? Soon it will be available as a free download and you can decide for yourselves. Personally speaking, without the added information about how the track was created, this review would have been a lot shorter than it is now.
Review by Richard Pinnell — The Watchful Ear