Definition of Noise

Noise. The word has many contradictory meanings, connotations and usages. For example the generic usage inferring any sound created is a noise and the exclusive usage inferring any sound classed as a noise is a sound unwanted. In common parlance we already consider a noise to be more than a sound – perhaps kinetic activity as in ‘the noise of the city’.

In the SNU learning agreement I stated “I am taking as my starting point the idea of ‘digital noise’ – in the sense of timbres and shapes that we may have heard or seen so many times that we take them for granted and they become a form of noise to us.” and subsequently said that I would be studying “the use of mathematical noise in digital art”.

Three weeks on from submitting the learning agreement I have had chance to explore the term ‘noise’ and consider which definitions and attributes are relevant to this project.

From a sound design perspective, noise in the sense of ‘white’ or ‘pink’ noise is a generated sound source that can be mixed into a synthesis or sample signal path to add an atonal audio element to a sound, or perhaps even used in its own right. In electronic music, noise might be combined with a percussive sound to create a synthesised drum sound, for example a snare. Apart from the literal usage of generated noise, ‘noisy’ sounds in the wider sense can also be created using techniques such as downsampling/re-sampling, distortion, x-modulation, resonance etc. The main characteristic of these effects is to make the sound dirty, over-saturated, ‘squeezed’, or in some way modulated to an extent that the original character of the sound is disrupted.

For the audio dimension of this project, the definition of noise I am interested in exploring exists on an axis between tonality and noise in the sense of disruption of tonality. The two audio studies I have produced so far (see the Initial Audio Outcomes post) both have disruptive devices eg ‘chopping up’ of sound and ‘squeezing’ of sound. In both cases the application of disruption is restrained in that the original tonality and dynamic of the sound is to a lesser or greater extent preserved, but the tension between tonality and disruption of tonality is certainly there.

For the visual aspect of the project I have been investigating the use of noise in the sense that a digital artist uses noise generated by mathematical processes to create detail, for example object texture (fur, hair etc)  or form (clouds, hills etc)  in CGI renders. Noise of this type is used to add aberration or feature to an otherwise simple form, effectively by a process of structural deformation.

Here then is another definitional axis that offers an avenue of exploration for this project – that between form and structural deformation through the application of noise in digital art.

Marrying the audio and visual tensions together – we arrive at an über axis of definition with tonality/form at one end and disruption of tonality/deformation of structure at the other.

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