new zealand electronic poetry centre


 Capital of  the minimal
B r u c e   R u s s e l l

A Free Noise Manifesto

'Now that this most excellent and perfect concord of life does remain
principally in the midst of a line drawn from Unity, or the fountain of
form, to the Earth or duality, which is the fountain of matter, I prove it
thus by the accords of Music...'
Robert Fludd: Philosophia Moysaica: 1638

1. That there is an area between other forms of music where all of the 'rules' which hold them apart cease to apply. All musics bleed into this Empty Quarter, some exist more within, and some more without, its bounds.
    i) Being beyond 'music', it is noise.
   ii) Being beyond 'rules', it is free.

1.1 In a universe of free choice, unrestrained by divine tutelage, received dominant ideas, or unshakeable norms of 'civilised' behaviour, one can do anything one chooses.

1.2 In such an ethically sceptical universe, a plurality of goods must prevail.

1.3 The tough question is thus unavoidable in its unmediated immediacy, 'What exactly are you going to choose to do?'

2. Free music is so much a part of traditional folk forms that it is scarcely recognised as such. By definition it does not exist at all within the corpus of academic classical music, since the rules of that form do not admit of its existence.

2.1 Therefore we find that LaMonte Young has not been admitted to the pantheon of classicism - for expanding now into infinity.

2.2 This is Stockhausen's 'tendency to surmount finite time and death'. It is the Map of 49's Dream in action.

2.3 This rebellion against 'music' from within the classical tradition takes the form of attacks on the parameters of accepted tonality and harmonic structure. These are prosecuted either by the co-option of non-European traditions or by the rigorous application of post-Pythagorean number-crunching to scored works.

3. In this way classical music can imitate Free by the planned manipulation of noise. By contrast Free music uses noise purely because it is the basic unit of all musics.

3.1 Hence Cage, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Crumb, the 'Minimalists' (to name an arbitrary few).

3.2 'I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electric instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard.'
John Cage (1937)

3.3 Here still noise and music are conceived as a dichotomy. Rather, noise is a superset embracing music within itself.

4. Free music last came into the light through jazz, hence the widespread illusion that the two are somehow necessarily related.

4.1 The sanctification of profane musics which was the goal of many of the Free Travellers of the sixties led many of them through jazz and out into a world music. This path ultimately converges in the Empty Quarter of 'music' with that followed by the academicians in revolt.

4.2 Distinguished by an elevation of feeling to a pinnacle as the weather vane of experience; Free jazz, while chewing up and spitting out many through the exigencies of its service, left enough marks behind to show others the way.

4.3 In this twin threat we see the actual peril of the traditional academy. Outflanked on the one side by the revolt of outraged sensibilities (Feeling) and on the other by the revolt of formalism into a florescence that destroys the very boundaries of the 'work' itself (Repetition, Repetition, Repetition - the Three R's).

5. From the fringes of jazz, Free moved into rock music by a process of osmosis. Numerous zones of rupture can be identified in the period c. 1965-73.

5.1 An obvious exchange of this type occurred in 1968, just after Lou Reed uttered the words '... and then my mind split open...'. Later he was to acknowledge the priority of Cecil Taylor's influence over the squall of amplified guitar noise that followed. The direct personal connections with the Theatre of Eternal Music are too well known to merit examination. They form an evident context for this aesthetic in evolution.

5.2 Throughout the catalogue of ESP (a label in many ways thoroughly representative of this moment of convergence) this 'meeting' between jazz, rock, classical and folk musics is exemplified. The influence of Free music is everywhere evident.

5.3 Market forces and the growing power of international music production/publication cartel interests combined to stunt the mass effect of this unique historical moment. Minds split open just in time to be crushed - the zone of discontinuity in 'music' was, in the public eye at least, papered over.

6. Free music is distinguished by the absence of exact premeditation, and therefore by the abstention of the musicians from planned repetition of the same music on subsequent occasions. Hence the abolition of traditional notation. Structured musics of whatever provenance by definition follow set patterns and parameters of rhythm and tone.

6.1 'We must let sounds be what they are'. LaMonte Young (1960)

6.2 'Notes' don't matter, the playing and the elapsed time do.

6.3 Such spontaneous composition demands a particular process of recording capable of coping with its rigors. Live stereo recording is ideal in this context.

7. In this way Free mirrors reality, while structured musics reflect the vain attempts of human subjectivity to impose itself on the blind flood of faciticity.

7.1 The pinnacle and epitome of this mistaken understanding is represented by the life and work of Robert Fludd. As a late-Renaissance neo-Platonist he took as basic the conformity of the Real to the Ideal, and the clearest expression of this for him was the relation between the harmonic ratios of the whole tones and the structure of the cosmos itself. His model of the universe was a monochord marked with an octave of notes. No clearer expression of the 'musical' weltanschauung need be sought.

7.2 We stand this dialectic on its head.

7.3 Our noise grows out of confusion.

8. Noise from amplified electrical instruments, especially from defective and/or 'low tech' equipment, opens immense areas of the audible frequency spectrum to exploitation by the Free musician.

8.1 The medium is (a part of) the message.

8.2 Broken machines distance the musician from the process of the music. In this way random factors are introduced, analogous to those which arise from the interplay of harmonic overtones in an acoustic environment (a factor in a later stage of the music process).

8.3 Form and content come together in an apparent vacuity. The mode of recording is a part of the process, and an integral part of the outcome. The artificial distinction between musician (Artist) and technician (Craftsman) is dissolved.

9. Free music which utilises rock instrumentation and aesthetics as its jumping-off point can harness a noise more purely random and less limited by subjective considerations than that of any but the most determined acoustic musicians.

9.1 Exceptions: the unamplified attack of the Borbetomagus reeds, Brotzmann, or many North African trumpet musics. Many other honourable mentions must be omitted.

9.2 Examples: Rudolph Grey, Donald Miller. Hundreds of others doing the same thing on a subconscious level.

9.3 If we can see it, we have here a chance to seize another Free Moment, and leap out. Let us not close our eyes and forget to jump.

10. Such is the authority of the academicians' synthetic classical tradition that even those who do not embrace their premises and attendant prejudices instinctively reject the Free as 'not music'. All the more reason to make more of it.

10.1 'My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognises them as nonsensical when he has used them - as steps - to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it).
He must transcend these propositions and then he will see the world aright.'

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)


A Handful of Dust, The Book of Nature: Chapter the First [mp3 : 4.2MB]

ęBruce Russell 2004


Last updated 13 July, 2004