Paul Hegarty’s Noise/Music is one of the more provocative books I’ve read this past year. When I first encountered the book, I assumed—like many readers—that it would be a book about a genre that has come to be known as “noise music,” which evolved in Japan in the 1990s but has subsequently become a world-wide phenomenon. While “noise music” does in fact get addressed in the latter part of the book, Hegarty’s book is actually about something much larger; it is a socio-musicological examination of the ever-changing threshold of tolerance between music and noise in a wide variety of musical genres during the 20th century.
To give the full flavor of his book, we have broken with our usual InPrint format and have featured two chapters from it. We offer his account of how noise has been used to evoke power in music from the post-punk industrial movement in England and the United States to the progressive hip-hop of groups such as Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan. We’ve additionally included Hegarty’s more philosophical assessment of listening, which synthesizes theories of Martin Heidegger, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Toop, Brandon LaBelle, and others.
My goal as a listener has been to keep aesthetic prejudices from interfering with how I experience music, so Hegarty’s exegesis has proved an invaluable treasure trove for such a listening paradigm. Although in our discussion about the book, he ultimately contended that personal judgment on some level is an inescapable component of how all human beings—both as cognitive and social creatures—experience music, even “noise music.”