Timestretched noise

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I started time-stretching noise to try to get my head around some of Theodor Adorno’s concepts on music.

Time-stretching changes one aspect of noise - what it sounds like - while leaving other aspects that are essential to it, the same – its rhythmic, pitch and harmonic content. According to Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises, a fizz is no different to a ffiizzzz when categorising noise - although timbre is not just harmonic content, it is rhythmic, pitch and harmonic content that define a noise. The Art of Noises further invites musicians “to conduct a sustained observation of all noises, in order to understand the various rhythms of which they are composed, their principal and secondary tones” – and time-stretching shouldn’t, ideally, alter pitch, rhythm or harmonics.


My time-stretching noise was an experiment in trying to get to grips with a passage in Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music: “From dance it [the sonata] received a patterned unity, the intention of achieving the whole; from song it received the opposing, negative impulse in turn producing the whole by its own rigor. In maintaining the identity of the composition in principle - through the tempo”.


Time-stretching noise should create difference, but also an essential sameness, through a process that changes what gives the recording its holistic nature, tempo. It seems that’s what made Schoenberg’s music progressive: “Adorno put forward the general categories of sameness and difference as being the most fundamental to a theory of form… They are always mediated through the totality of the work’s structure” (David Roberts’ Art and Enlightenment). “…the generation of identity and difference… [extended] to the sonata form as a whole… is further developed by Schoenberg, who thereby… can lay claim to the heritage of classic bourgeois music” (Max Paddison’s Adrono’s Aesthetics of Music).

However, to be noise the recording must be meaningless. Adorno writes in the Dialectic of Loneliness:


“The musical language is polarized into extremes: on the one hand, into gestures of shock - almost bodily convulsions - and on the other, into the brittle mobility of a person paralyzed by anxiety… the musical ‘mediation’ which their school had previously intensified to an undreamt of degree, is destroyed by this polarization, and its destruction has taken with it the distinction of theme and development, the steadiness of the harmonic flow, and the unbroken melodic line as well.”

I hope that a similar polarization destroys any traditional meaning to noise. By decreasing the tempo the dynamic quality of noise is freed from dependence on the wit or skill of traditional methods, like how Schoenberg was able to make dissonances sonorous in their own right. Was the “anxiety” of Schoenberg’s radical innovations based on an aversion to previous taste?

Without wit, what can noise really do or say?


In this piece, Social Drift, after editing out any noise that did not evoke anxiety, I overwrote that with simple edits, in case the absence of meaningful aesthetic processes is content in a more general sense - something “going on”. Finally I erased all but one short looped section, destroying any intro, conclusion or development that erases anything more general “going on”, similar to the Harsh Noise Wall approach. The editing out of parts is not an aesthetic process: isn’t that the whole point of Adorno’s critique of the culture industry? Time-stretching itself is not meaningful; to quote Russolo: “noise in fact can be differentiated from sound only in so far as the vibrations which produce it are confused and irregular, both in time and intensity”. So the use of time-stretching cannot make what would otherwise be noise, music.

However, meaningless noise cannot be mimetic. So, with a final time-stretch I try to make it appear as being music; another way of defining noise - not as an absence of meaning, or referencing Russolo, but sound production that is easily recognized - like the protrusion of time-stretching here. As already mentioned, time-stretching does not make music, but it nonetheless orders the meaningless noise; an enigmatic kind of musicality. It cannot make any material more musical so it is not objectively so; but in an inessential way order has been created, like how cloud formations can appear to be people playing. Adorno says all art is enigmatic. To solve its meaning involves narrow-mindedness, so that the interpretation of the whole is not legitimatized but is nevertheless true - as if our interpretations were not some final essential fact about the object: “If one seeks to get a closer look at a rainbow, it disappears… understanding in the highest sense - a solution of the enigma that at the same time maintains the enigma - depends on the spitualization of art” (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory).

Music only relates to other works enigmatically, and enigmatically being art music is enough for mimesis; so noise need only be enigmatically [not really] art music to have truth content. In acousmatic listening we bracket how it was made and what we listen for grounds what is bracketed. If time-stretching has truth content, then because all the recording is left stretched, that is grounded as a quality of the whole of the recording, which is how art should be encountered according to Adorno.