The Meaning of Indeterminacy: Noise Music as Performance

Publication Date: 
March 2014
Cultural Sociology March 2014, 8 (1)

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In aesthetic terms, the category of ‘sound’ is often split in two: ‘noise’, which is chaotic, unfamiliar, and offensive; and ‘music’, which is harmonious, resonant, and divine. These opposing concepts are brought together in the phenomenon of Noise Music, but how do practitioners make sense of this apparent discordance? Analyses that treat recorded media as primary texts declare Noise Music to be a failure, as a genre without progress. These paint Noise as a polluted form in an antagonistic relationship with traditional music. But while critiques often point to indeterminate structure as indicative of the aesthetic project’s limitations, we claim that indeterminacy itself becomes central to meaningful expression when the social context of Noise is considered. Through observational and interview data, we consider the contexts, audiences, and producers of contemporary American Noise Music. Synthesizing the performance theories of Hennion and Alexander, we demonstrate how indeterminacy situated in structured interaction allows for meaning-making and sustains a musical form based in claims to inclusion, access, and creative freedom. We show how interaction, not discourse, characterizes the central performance that constructs the meaning of Noise.