Joseph Nechvatal Interview Part 2 - Immersion Into Noise

V: “macro-context of Noise with regards to the secular space we are inhabiting” = Massive, historic context. Religion has always played a massive role in life. Capitalism (a worthy surrogate in my unpopular opinion) lets us project our beliefs and values upon an artwork, essentially seeing what is not there, interpreting what may or may not be there and giving energies to innate objects, like dark matter (but I won't rope science into question just yet). I wondered if you ever contemplated upon the possible similarities between religious dynamics of old and the belief of Noise. Like Dark Matter, and some speculative realist art pieces and also religion and capitalism (bourdieuian capital, cultural capitals etc) the worth is, intrinsically non definable objectively but subjectively obvious - sensed in ones minds eye.

JN: I see. Well, it occurs to me that there is nothing more massive than that groaning connect-break-connect cosmos where noise of one sort or another is everywhere. Of course, excess noise radiation indicates that the universe is continuously expanding. Unsystematic activity at the molecular level suggests that the universe consists primarily of processes of noise. So any massive topos for the universe must be in its very constitution indeterminate, noisy, complex, unified and unsatisfactory.

That does not tend to go down well in the realm of most religious dynamics that have achieved dominance recently. But I think it is permissible to say that this noise-state has become emblematic of our consciousness.

I say this because in a sense we are living in what might be called the noise age, as we daily attempt to orient ourselves in the noise of the expanded immersive electronic field. Certainly it is true that hidden in us and in connected computer-space there is something so noisy, abstract, so large, so astounding, and so pregnant with the darkness of infinite space that it excites and frightens us and thus returns us to the experimental and to a state of stimulating abstract desire and restlessness. In one sense artists are prepared for this state better than most in that the history of abstract art has shown us that consciousness may refuse to recognize all thought as existing in the space of clean and clear representation, and by scanning the space of representation art may formulate the knowledge of the laws that provide its de-compressed noisiness.

But with an abstract comprehension of the noise age, art theory itself needs to take on a new sense of de-compressed spirit and redefine itself from the omni-perspective view found in immersive cyberspace. It is neither surprising nor coincidental that an epistemological change in art theory would follow connectionist noise developments inherent in hyper-media as the immense perspective of connected computer-space requires us to question the legitimacy of commonly held beliefs and the forgone conclusions established concerning the theoretical issues of sexual politics, multiculturalism, gender studies and the far-reaching heterogeneous philosophical critique of the cultural mechanisms of representation which have preceded it. The desire to theorizes this sense of the infinite and the spectacular via noise has lead me to a field of theoretical interests that I have amassing under the rubric of noise theory: a broken AND connection theory which is everywhere, all the time, all at once.

If this sounds like “religion and capitalism” it does so as tragedy.

It is a well worn cliché by now that we live in the era of information overload - hence a connectionist noise theory which purports to attempt an art noise of the extended virtual-field presupposes we have reached an orientational level of symbol density and we are now able to combine many individual symbols into complex noise relationships, or chunks, of information which can then be treated as single megasymbols. However, since it is impossible to make sense of today's swirling phantasmagorical stimulus, the general proposition behind a theory of noise is one of ripe delirium, as noise pulses with higher and higher flows of data to the point of near hysteria. In my view, it is noise theory's job to find out what unconventional un-connectionist sense this uncertainty might make to us, and to see how blocks of the chaos of information might start to sympathetically vibrate with each other based on a decadent reading of our electronic media environment.

So as far as a “religious dynamic” is concerned, I think the only similarities are those related to infinity, the sublime, excess and ecstasy. Rather, noise theory is compatible with and comparable to chaos theory, the contemporary theory which stems from physics, biology and mathematics which is closely associated with poststructuralist theory. While classical sciences isolated physical systems from their surrounding, chaos theory is founded on the realization that all systems in nature are connected and subject to flows of matter and energy which move constantly through them.

A noise theory cognizant of the same principles of connectivity would begin with the presumption that a theory bomb has exploded, showering us with bits of theory shrapnel, drastically changing the way in which we perceive and act, even in our private dream worlds. This realization may lead us back to Michel Foucault's analysis of Raymond Roussel's Fin-de-Siècle invention of dreamy language machines that produced texts through the use of repetitions and combination-permutations, as a dream-like and machine-like logic provided Roussel's writing with a seemingly endless variety of textual combinations flowing in circular form. As described in Foucault's book Raymond Roussel: Death and the Labyrinth, Roussel's technique and its process of endless development lends itself well to the creation of unforeseen, automatic and spontaneously inventive theories which give the reader a feeling of being pulled into the noise of eternity through the ceaseless constructions of theory itself, transmitting an altered and exalted state of mind to the reader as it systematically imposes a formless anxiety through its labyrinthine extensions, doublings, disguises and duplications.

Most salient to my noise theory is Foucault's analysis of Roussel's final book, How I Wrote Certain of My Books, which contains and repeats within its mechanism all the mental-machines he had formerly described and put into motion, and by doing so making evident the master-machine which produced all of his previous text-machines. Hence Roussel presents to us a model of theoretical perfection: a theory machine which functions independently of time and space, pulling theory into a developmental logic of the infinite. Hoist by it's own petard.

So yes, in terms of what you call “massive historic context” I may not omit this internal logic of the infinite and its tragic drama which I find potentially interesting for noise theory - for it must be remembered that electronic theory itself resides in a field of virtual immersive perceptions at once seamless and fragmented - made up of electronic energies corresponding to the new combination of space and time. An immersive perspective without horizon. Thus noise theory might be considered as an osmotic membrane, a blotter of ubiquity resulting in the atomization and disintegration of normal information and data. This merges noise theory into its proper network of circulation - demystifying the ideology of its reproduction and intervening in its system of cultural interpretations.

Whereas religious pre-noise theory is made up of conventional, rigid, social representations, my noise theory makes use of the abstract potential of the connected, all-encompassing sign-field. Thus it is unconventional, and therefore demonstrative of the real arbitrary nature of all representations, as I learned from Michel Foucault's The Order of Things. Hence noise theory may offer art the opportunity for the creation of relevant and applicable anti-social theories (abstract, ecstatic, and/or antiseptic) which may continue to move and multiply.

Noise theory opens thought up to new spaces of malleable and combinatory sites that exceeds religious sentiment through a perpetual multiplication of significance. It does so by creating a hybrid of inner meaning and cosmic inference, thereby opening up a glitchy territory of signification in which to connect and create a chain of decoded and deterritorialized meanings into new megasymbols.

V: Noise theories inter-exchanging dynamics are certainly is more malleable than traditional religions, I appreciate that - but I still feel there are some belief based similarities in the mechanics of reception, thought certainly more liquid in nature..
Cyber theory and our collective interaction and emersion with the sprawling online ether has been a concern of mine (theoretically) for sometime now. There are many examples of how online cultures are evolving the way we think, younger people do have slightly different cognitive processes than older people mostly because of their deep engagement with the internet through their formative years. Music, literature and artistic practices are changing as this new landscape of interactions and communications emerges.

Do you feel that enquiries and explorations into Noise are best suited to traditional modes or online modes of poly-ontologous engagements... I appreciate that that essentially Noise would transcend both, but which is more fruitful or progressive in this respect? If neither are their any differences subject to Noise?

JN: You make a good point about reception, as it is clearly important to an art of noise that offends yet allows us to look into own underlying assumptions of sacred superfluity. Noise in art, I think, as you suggest, can face us up to the radical implications of sacred superfluity while purging us from conventional ways of thinking by making no recourse to imagined exterior principles or a priori assumptions. It theorizes principles of linkages, of connectivity, and breaks of the intersection of all non-noise god theories, giving rise to theoretical production and the creativity of the poly.

May I just say that this escape from previous non-noise religious theories has the most urgent political/social ramifications in our media society. This is so as this new noise theory has a well founded but ambiguous urge for epistemological reconfiguration based on the capacity of connected electronic media's immeasurable (and ultimately noisy homogenous) intermixtures that provides the definition of the material links that abet and break communications while also expressing the laws of composition and decomposition that administer it. Hence this noise theory can be, in a sense, the abstract theory of all representation when it attempts to orient itself in the unlimited field of representation, which utilitarian ideology attempts to scrutinize in accordance with a step-by-step, discursive method but which now appears as noise metaphysics, but a noise metaphysics which abstraction helps to step outside of itself. Thus perhaps its intention is to achieve an ultimate integration of consciousness by the dissolving of theory into its original unmanifested ground (symbolic of stark unconsciousness) and of infinite complexity in unity.

This dynamic interdependence of electronic forms of noise in contemplative vision is certainly poly and as so represents the ultimate in re-configuration, one that subsumes our world of simulation/representation into a nexus of over-lapping unity of mind which equals an understanding of the unity which ties the whole universe into a single noise, linking observations of the outer world with precise extractions of human essence. This noisy view of theory, brought to a certain sense of pliability, offers a double prospect: first, the solipsistic images of theoretical excess, and then, as in a psychedelic glamour, in the reverberant structure of the unfolding total-theory-work.

This assertion on my part concerning theoretical noise consciousness as possibly being multiple and unified simultaneously combines into an all-inclusive private picture the segregated forces and particles of noise through sympathetic vibration, just as the strings of a piano do, especially when tuned to the system called just intonation.

If what I have said above sounds slightly religiously metaphysical, it is metaphysical only in so far as it is memory, intensity, and stratosphere all working together in making up an internal model of the self. My noise theory's central mission is in addressing information now as a personalized megasymbol. Hence my art noise theory is non-linear, yet it displays long-term tendencies and organizational patterns and principle of becoming in and through constant mutation. It is a principle of intermingling micro-relations in an ongoing processes of macro-relations. Therefore it theorizes principles of transversality and of contaminations within the personal obsessions of the individual.

But I don’t want to suggest that noise cannot also impact on society at large. It can and does at times. For example, the entry of recorded noise into popular rock music can be traced to Tomorrow Never Knows, the final track of The Beatles' 1966 studio album Revolver. Credited as a Lennon/McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon. The track included looped tape effects. For the track Paul McCartney supplied a bag of 1/4 inch audio tape loops he had made at home after listening to Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower.

McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops. After experimentation on their own, the various Beatles supplied a total of 30 or so tape loops to George Martin, who selected 16 for use on the song. Each loop was about six seconds long. The tape loops were played on BTR3 tape machines located in various studios of the Abbey Road building and controlled by EMI technicians in studio two at Abbey Road. Each machine was monitored by one technician who had to keep a pencil within each loop to maintain tension. The four Beatles controlled the faders of the mixing console while Martin varied the stereo panning and Geoff Emerick watched the meters. Eight of the tapes were used at one time, changed halfway through the song. The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration. According to Martin, the finished mix of the tape loops cannot be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.

But most notable in this vein is Revolution 9, a track produced in 1968 by The Beatles for The White Album. It made sole use of sound collage, credited to Lennon/McCartney, but created primarily by John Lennon with assistance from George Harrison and Yoko Ono. Lennon said he was trying to paint a picture of a revolution using sound. The composition is similar to the avant-garde Fluxus style of Ono as well as the musique concrète works of composers such as Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry.

V: Yes, I wholly echo the notions you raise in the second and third paragraphs, there is very much an ontological chasing of the horizon, and infinite regression formed from feedback and infinite receptions and animations. Noise and Religion will always share an unseen foundation, a bottomless foundation. Painting a mirror problem, every move changes what you are painting, you will never paint the reflection.

I'd say this aspect of the dynamics similarities is a massive realm to explore, through art too as well as theoretically.

Changing topic slightly - or operating across different lines. My understanding of contemporary music is subjective, but I believe that there is a pandemic salvaging of past histories - because no new history is available (due in part to the Noisy, Cyber, data saturated, infinitely transparent and..oddly as addresses previously ultimately opaque/claustrophobically subjective world we inhabit) - so echo's and collage, remix and reference are the only tools left to create a context, something new cannot be made without a context being seen/heard by the listener - so a control of existing materials emerges in almost all aspects of modern genres. Also a labouring occurs, music is transformed into a leitmotif or a slo-mo homage.

Could Noise be seen as an alternative to this? Finding newness through the massive shifting matrix? What are your thought's on Noise's possibilities to become active independent of this (salvage-phile, neophobic) syndrome?

JN: I tend to deduce that definitely noise is a possible alternative to thanatophilic re-mix cultural conservatism - even while acknowledging that the history of avant-garde culture is a rich tipple from which we can draw intoxicating stimulus. Morton Feldman once said something interesting about the quality of noisy newness in his text "Sound, Noise, Varèse, Boulez" that “noise is incomprehensible yet it is noise that we truly seek since the greatest truth lies behind the greatest resistance.” If we take his thought on resistance sincerely, and opposition remains an ambition for art, than cultural newness still has some probability to emerge out of the massive necrophilia syndrome. But what is obligatory is an innovative fortitude of looking beyond.

Lucio Fontana often said that the canvas for him was primarily there not for what it is or for what it represents but to show that we can look and move through it. It is for this reason that he punctured holes (buchi) in his canvases as a means of integrating the theoretical space represented on the surface of his paintings with the tangible space that surrounded them. Fontana, in his last interview with Tommaso Trini said that, “The evolution of art is something internal, something philosophical and is not a visual phenomenon. Speaking of the buchi in a late interview, Fontana said, "...the discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is the infinite, so I make a hole in this canvas, which was the basis of all the arts, and I have created an infinite dimension (...) that is precisely the idea, it is a new dimension corresponding with the cosmos. The hole was precisely to create that void there at the back."

Concerning this puncturing of holes, Fontana said in the last interview that "...if any of my discoveries are important the buchi (hole) is. By the buchi I meant going outside the limitations of a picture frame and being free in one's conception of art. (...) I make a hole in the canvas in order to leave behind me the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art and I escape symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface." To make the point in specifically heightened immersive terms, Fontana created in 1952 a ceiling peppered with his punctured buchis for the Kursaal at Varazza which also incorporated low-angled lighting. He repeated the gesture on the ceiling of a cinema in Breda the following year.

For Fontana however, space no longer functioned, as it did for the Futurists, in the context of the image (the flow of space around sculpture or the implied space of painting), but it became the palpable field in which his proto-cyber method took shape. Hence he literally transgressed abstract painting's support, refusing the illusory for the actual, activating ambient space and the technological allure that envelops post-modern life.

I raise the example of Fontana here in order to show an example of an art desire that might reterritorialize. But we can talk about cultural noise in the abstract too, as a polyvocal epidemic or contagion. As a basis of becoming.

V: Oh, wow - your calling the remix crazed artists thanatophilic?!?! Fantastic! Presume this is most applicable to Mark and Dinos Chapmans Insult to Injury Series! This is perhaps the polar opposite of your hopes with regard to art and art with Noise etc..

Your comments about Fontana are interesting, and maybe elucidate how much importance you feel is to be found in and around Noise's employment and presence in Contemporary Art. Without being too simplistic, would you sat that Noise is your Buchi? Has similar potentialities as Fontana's Buchi - or the potential he hoped?

JN: I have nothing particular against the work of the Chapmans. I just don’t find them or Maurizio Cattelan or Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami at all interesting in terms of the complexity of noise as I’ve been talking about it above and in the book. Their sort of one-liner art is closer to the pop logo aesthetic that for me cultural noise strives to make problematic. In that sense, an overly tight focus on Fontana's Buchi should also be avoided.

But it is true that my noise production has been hovering around holes in the human body, most recently retinas and anuses. That again will be the emphasis in my New York show this May that I am thinking of calling errant anusmOs. The idea is to link the individual through noise to the universe in a way that is not overly human so we can imaginatively re-place ourselves inside the context of the Dionysian flux of cosmological nature. There is an image from this series of paintings on the cover of my Immersion into Noise book called sOuth pOle.It has been enjoyable and fascinating talking with you. I will just leave you with the suggestion that noise, as I see it, is an obscure (w)hole of intense potentialities that gives artists the capacity to speculate, fabricate, and think and act otherwise.

V: Jospeh, thanks, it's been a pleasure.

Joseph Nechvatal
'anus frenzy'
2011, computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas, 70 x 40 cm, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

Joseph Nechvatal's Viral Symph0ny can be downloaded here


  1. Immersion Into Noise [Paperback] by Joseph Nechvatal is now available for purchase.

  2. Hi Joseph

    That's brilliant, will check it out!

    A lot of the questions raised in our interview have really stayed with me recently - stay in touch, especially about the sonic / political convergence of Noise.

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