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Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate tra Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate transnational audience.For its scattered listeners, Noise always seems to be new and to come from somewhere else: in North America, it was called "Japanoise." But does Noise really belong to Japan? Is it even music at all? And why has Noise become such a compelling metaphor for the complexities of globalization and participatory media at the turn of the millennium? In Japanoise, David Novak draws on more than a decade of research in Japan and the United States to trace the "cultural feedback" that generates and sustains Noise. He provides a rich ethnographic account of live performances, the circulation of recordings, and the lives and creative practices of musicians and listeners. He explores the technologies of Noise and the productive distortions of its networks. Capturing the textures of feedback—its sonic and cultural layers and vibrations—Novak describes musical circulation through sound and listening, recording and performance, international exchange, and the social interpretations of media.


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Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate tra Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate transnational audience.For its scattered listeners, Noise always seems to be new and to come from somewhere else: in North America, it was called "Japanoise." But does Noise really belong to Japan? Is it even music at all? And why has Noise become such a compelling metaphor for the complexities of globalization and participatory media at the turn of the millennium? In Japanoise, David Novak draws on more than a decade of research in Japan and the United States to trace the "cultural feedback" that generates and sustains Noise. He provides a rich ethnographic account of live performances, the circulation of recordings, and the lives and creative practices of musicians and listeners. He explores the technologies of Noise and the productive distortions of its networks. Capturing the textures of feedback—its sonic and cultural layers and vibrations—Novak describes musical circulation through sound and listening, recording and performance, international exchange, and the social interpretations of media.

30 review for Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    For my friends on here who only know my book side, I have a deep dark secret: I love noise. I mean, REALLY love noise. The compulsion started young. I remember telling my dad, somewhere around age 10, that I only wanted to listen to the loudest, heaviest, craziest music ever for the rest of my life. (Understandably, this declaration was met with bemused silence.) I've mellowed my stance a bit as I hit middle age, but the truth remains that noise is very important to me. And when I say noise, I a For my friends on here who only know my book side, I have a deep dark secret: I love noise. I mean, REALLY love noise. The compulsion started young. I remember telling my dad, somewhere around age 10, that I only wanted to listen to the loudest, heaviest, craziest music ever for the rest of my life. (Understandably, this declaration was met with bemused silence.) I've mellowed my stance a bit as I hit middle age, but the truth remains that noise is very important to me. And when I say noise, I also mean Noise. Both noise as an acoustic phenomena (amelodic sound devoid of message or content) and Noise as a genre (homemade acoustic or electric setups designed to craft a specific, personal type of intentional din) have been around for quite some time. Newcomers and pedants always cite Luigi Russolo's "Art of Noises" manifesto in 1911 as the shot heard 'round the world (which, fair enough, but there's also very few recordings and nearly all of them are orchestral pieces mixed with noisemakers), and then there's Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" (electronically-generated din meant to either make a Big Artistic Statement or wither his fanbase and cut ties with his label) and Robert Ashley's "The Wolfman," and Phillip Corner's "Oracle," all of which are noisy, or use noise, or conjure noises. But Noise as a modern genre started germinating in the late '70s, in the aftermath of first wave Industrial and Power Electronic musics. I and a few others argue that the first New Blockaders LP (now known as "Changez Le Blockeurs," but I think originally just self-titled) is ground zero for a true music of nothingness. It sounds like two men in an old shed, forcing rusty hinges, throwing around buckets of tools and kicking over piles of rakes while a microphone emits a lonesome hum. At that point, Hijokaidan were still a performance art/no wave rock band, indebted to Hawkwind and Airway, and Merzbow was still doing calamitous tape music more in the style of academic musique concrete and drawing inspiration from the "junk art" of Kurt Scwitters, whose collage-house gave Merzbow its name. (The German spelling is Merzbau.) But all of these things were gathering power and converging on a single point. Like a pandemic, Noise has been happening all over the world all the time for a long time, but like a hovering cloud, the epicenter of noise rises and falls on different countries every few years. In the late '90s, mainland Europe was really hopping, and around '98 and '99, you just couldn't top the Swiss collective Schimpfluch Gruppe. From 2001-2004, Sweden was all and everything to me for noise, with labels like Abisko, Segerhuva, and Gothenburg Blood Cult. In 2005, the U.S. went back on top for a few years, with '07 and '08 a particular high point. But in the mid '80s and especially the early '90s, Japan WAS noise. If you were in America (or Europe or England or anywhere else for that matter) and you were interested in sound at the extremities, you were following Japan religiously. Many of the sonic codes, pathways, gestures, and operational methods all came from this time and this place; in a lot of ways, we've never really gotten out from under it. So it's no huge surprise that a major study of Noise would focus on Japan. Japan from '89-'94 is like swinging London from '66-'68: every new project was more astonishing than the last. For heshers and weirdos in America, it was all about Merzbow's "Venereology" CD, which brandished a sticker that stood as a throwdown challenge for every heavier-than-thou headbanger who saw it: it simply said, "THIS IS THE MOST EXTREME RECORD YOU WILL EVER OWN." David Novak, a writer and performer who has played with Anthony Braxton and others, spent many years in Japan interviewing some of the primary movers of Japanese noise, from its founders (Jojo Hiroshige, Masami Akita, Yamazaki Takusha, Toshiji Mikawa) and its brilliant younger practitioners (like Guilty Connector's Kouhei the Filth) trying to find out what makes Noise tick. He traces Japanese Noise to the "Jassu-Kissa" or "Jazz Cafe" of the '50s and '60s, where earnest young music students would spend hours in small, privately-owned semi-public (invite-only) rooms, listening to American jazz played at thunderous volume through state-of-the-art speakers while sipping overpriced drinks, building their music education through total immersion. The owner/proprietor would hold court, and all others were encouraged to shut up and study at his feet. A later form of Kissa/Cafe that emphasized free-form and avant garde musics brought a group of regulars who contributed records from their own collections, often creating fusions by playing multiple records at once or modifying the recordings with effects pedals or through overdriven volume levels. In this way, they created their own sound. Then, like scientists with a small vial of fast-acting airborne contagion, they sent it out into the world. The story of Noise, of people gathering in dark clubs and musty basements to watch performers unpack a card table covered with mechanical doodads and effects pedals, turn them on full blare, all while shaking sheet metal or screaming bloody murder into a mic, should be an exciting and vibrant one, full of white-hot intensity, abandon, audience confrontation, and even elements of physical danger -- witness the early Hanatarash show where Yamatsuka Eye nearly collapsed the club he was meant to play in by driving a backhoe through the supporting wall. But beyond the elements of physical and aural danger, what it always is is visceral, tactile, and unlike anything else you're likely to pay to see. Yet, for some reason, capturing this blitzing abandon has been nearly impossible ever since writers decided that Noise needed a voice. The subtitle of "Japanoise" is "Music At the Edge of Circulation." Its emphasis is not the excitement, invention, abandon, or visceral assault, but the way that Noise as an artform operates outside of conventional music channels, creating its personal art in a place of relative mainstream cultural secluzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... To be fair, this is a far more fun and readable history of Noise than we've seen so far, and a lot of the insights, even if a bit eggheaded, are pretty new and worthwhile. The aforementioned Kissas (listening cafes) and the intricacies of Japanese underground record store culture was eye-opening, and Novak really takes it all the way to the present, including the revival of the tape, which is both reactionary (an intentionally dead format) but also life-saving to the community. In an age of near-constant file-sharing, where the ability to cram terabytes of interchangable data onto a computer, Novak argues that the Noise cassette "first represents an idealized object of musical creativity that cannot full be absorbed into new media, even as its contents are remediated for digital exchange. Second, its obstinate material form requires Noise audiences to maintain systems of distribution based on face-to-face encounters." I had struggled for years to explain to people why tapes are still vital, not just as an object, but as a winnowing mechanism, but Novak takes it one further -- without tapes to mail or trade at shows or buy on merch tables or pass back and forth to our friends, noise just becomes a vast digital lending library with no librarians and no other visitors, nothing but endless white walls and empty listening chambers. But this cassette? This is MINE. I made this, and now I give it to you, and I hope you listen to it (and not just add it to your giant unlistened pile at home). Of course, I've blathered on for paragraph after paragraph without really explaining to you why Noise is fun, bracing, addicting, and life-giving either. For me, it's like watching a new language being written every time. Watching new people come along and find new twists, new dialects, new gestures: this is always going to be exciting for me. Seeing people who were fairly generic five years ago suddenly find their own voice is breathtaking, and it happens all the time. Novak does a decent job with this, capturing the passion and the fanatic crowd reactions (his depiction of the legendary Incapacitants show at the No Fun Fest in New York City in 2007 is humorous and insightful - and hey, look who's thanked in the liner notes...[hint, ME! That's my title, "The Crowd Inches Closer & Closer..." It's from a review I wrote of the show, and which Mikawa asked to use]), but I still believe the genre (or non-genre as it were) deserves a "Sound of the Beast"-type oral history of its own, one that examines each sub-genre, each era, each moment the noise crown lifted from one country and landed on the next, without all the remediation this and transnational that and reconfiguring of the circulation routes the other. I understand, of course, that to secure publishing on a book like this, you probably have to academic it up. I just hope that one day, someone won't have to. Among the numerous books about Noise that have been written so far, this is probably my favorite, but the best Noise book, the one that will explain it back to future generations once there's no more electricity, is yet to be written.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mason Jones

    Kind of hard to give a rating to this one because it will be entirely subjective. Given my involvement in the world of Noise over the years, a lot of this was fun reading about my friends, so it's sort of hard not to enjoy it (disclaimer that I'm quoted a couple of times in the book as well). Most importantly, Novak has done a lot of research and the book is filled with information about the historical origins and context for noise in Japan and elsewhere. The organization is perhaps peculiar, fo Kind of hard to give a rating to this one because it will be entirely subjective. Given my involvement in the world of Noise over the years, a lot of this was fun reading about my friends, so it's sort of hard not to enjoy it (disclaimer that I'm quoted a couple of times in the book as well). Most importantly, Novak has done a lot of research and the book is filled with information about the historical origins and context for noise in Japan and elsewhere. The organization is perhaps peculiar, formed around the points he wants to make and not based on chronology or another solid foundation. I feared the book might be a slow read, but overall the balance between academics and readability is fairly good. I'll admit to skimming some sections, either because I already knew the information or because it was delving more deeply into semiotics and the like than I cared to go. Thankfully, Novak's descriptions of noise performances are very well-described, and do a decent job of conveying the intensity and excitement of a good show. The book's not a survey of noise history, and doesn't attempt to tell the full story; its focus is, more or less, on the idea of "circulation," the relationship of noise in Japan to the rest of the world, and the flow of Noise interest and knowledge. It's honestly difficult for me to tell how interesting other folks will find the book, because it's dependent on your interest in, and background on, noise and experimental musics. Check it out and see, I guess!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Riar

    Understand the idea to dissect Noise in academic work, but with almost 50 pages of footnotes and references in this book I found it over-intellectualize. "It's got absolutely no message, it's totally open, there is no explanation. Especially people in Japan or Asia. I worked a lot with people there, and actually like it very much because they are very, very anti-intellectual. When I worked with people in Europe, Europe is a very old continent and people like to think and put all of these theorie Understand the idea to dissect Noise in academic work, but with almost 50 pages of footnotes and references in this book I found it over-intellectualize. "It's got absolutely no message, it's totally open, there is no explanation. Especially people in Japan or Asia. I worked a lot with people there, and actually like it very much because they are very, very anti-intellectual. When I worked with people in Europe, Europe is a very old continent and people like to think and put all of these theories to the stuff and in Japan if I work with Merzbow or something, we make many records and doing concert but we never speak about what we are doing. Because there's no reason for it. " -Zbigniew Karkowski

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    good book! thank you japan! thank you masami akita! thank you jojo hiroshige! thank you toshiji mikawa! thank you yamazaki maso! thank you yamantanka eye! thank you takashi mizutani! thank you keiji haino! thank you juntaro yamanouchi!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Markus Svensson

    Too much theoretical arguments slows this book a bit, but some really entertaining observations as well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Casper Veen

    Incredibly interesting history and analysis of noise music, featuring many fascinating stories and anecdotes. Provided me with a lot of new artists and subgenres to explore!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Henrique Iwao

    livro de etnomusicologia da cena noise décadas 80 a 2000, na relação de idas e vindas entre o japão, onde ela ebuliu, e o estados unidos. muito interessante e com teorizações que soam sensatas, em meio a uma pesquisa histórica bem feita. contém também algumas fotos icônicas, e relatos de eventos "lendários". o comportamento pós-colonial japonês em relação a seus artistas é muito bem colocado. as ideias de circulação como parte da produção, junto a de retroalimentação cultural guiam para o entend livro de etnomusicologia da cena noise décadas 80 a 2000, na relação de idas e vindas entre o japão, onde ela ebuliu, e o estados unidos. muito interessante e com teorizações que soam sensatas, em meio a uma pesquisa histórica bem feita. contém também algumas fotos icônicas, e relatos de eventos "lendários". o comportamento pós-colonial japonês em relação a seus artistas é muito bem colocado. as ideias de circulação como parte da produção, junto a de retroalimentação cultural guiam para o entendimento das dinâmicas interessantes que fizeram parte da cena, ainda mais para aqueles que participam de alguma. O capítulo sobre os cafés de jazz japoneses e desdobramentos é surpreendente para quem nunca neles ouviu falar.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    I'm not exactly a fan of *listening* to Noise, but I am a fan of the *concept* of Noise, esp. as I learned about groups like Boredoms, Violent Onsen Geisha, and the Gerogerigegege when I lived in Japan mid-90s. Novak's book is academic, and you have to be okay with that kind of writing for a lot of it (I hadn't read something this academic for a while, so it took me a bit of time to get back into it) but then Novak will often step away from the lectern and write in a more populist style, especia I'm not exactly a fan of *listening* to Noise, but I am a fan of the *concept* of Noise, esp. as I learned about groups like Boredoms, Violent Onsen Geisha, and the Gerogerigegege when I lived in Japan mid-90s. Novak's book is academic, and you have to be okay with that kind of writing for a lot of it (I hadn't read something this academic for a while, so it took me a bit of time to get back into it) but then Novak will often step away from the lectern and write in a more populist style, especially as he spent a lot of time in Japan having his ears and internal organs assaulted by Noise by such artists as the aptly titled Incapacitants. Each chapter has its joys, so let me summarise them. (Does this count as a "spoiler"?) Introduction: Explains what he means by "circulation", how a Japanese art form gained popularity in the west (mostly the US) and how that popularity informed what the Japanese artists did next, kind of a circuit of culture. 1: Scenes of Liveness and Deadness: Explains the difference between Noise as a live experience and Noise as a recorded medium. Very different in intent. Also interesting to learn how Noise is produced and mastered for cassette/CD to make it always sound "loud af" 2: Sonic Maps of the Japanese Underground: As I love maps and cartography, this is where I really started to groove with the book, as most Noise venues and music shops need maps to be found in the dense metropolis of Tokyo/Osaka. Nostalgic for me, as I did spend a *lot* of time in Tokyo trying to find shops and getting hopelessly lost. Also, Novak discusses how the Japanese Noise "scene" is a created land made by fans, who may never get to visit due to time and space. 3: Listening to Noise in Kansai: Not just about the listening environments (small, pokey little hidden rooms for 15-20 people) but an amazing history of the "jazz kissa" the coffee shop/bar that were created for serious listening of jazz, no talking. And how recorded music was valued over live music in Japan for a long time. Again, nostalgic for me, because one of these more relaxed jazz kissa was my "third place" during my time there. Indeed, it's where I really learned about American Jazz! 4: Noise as Genre: Explores the question--"is noise music?" "is it a genre"? And if so, what is the history of it. Includes a bio of the London, Ontario band Nihilist Spasm Band. 5: Feedback, Subjectivity and performance: A deep dive into how Noise musicians use their "instruments" (a shit ton of effects pedals and contact mics) and how little they actually know about tech. (It's not necessary to be a tech-wiz). 6: Japanoise and Technoculture: How Noise fits historically into 20th Century Japan and its relationship with technology. 7: The Future of Cassette Culture: Finally a look at how cassette culture helped spread noise worldwide, the history of a pre-mp3, analog world of trading, and how the Internet has changed things. Best quote from a musician: "I hate information! Fuck the Internet World" Anyway, just a wonderful book, unexpectedly so. YMMV tho.

  9. 5 out of 5

    William

    Fantastic book about the Japanese noise scene. I particularly like how Novak worked with the metaphor of the feedback loop, which he picked up from the actual feedback loops used to produce noise music. His theory of cultural circulation as a feedback loop is very interesting, and he even brings in some help from cybernetics to expand on his case. Definitely worth reading and re-reading (in a kind of feedback loop).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jack Patrick Rudden

    Just totally excellent. Using the very production of noise through feedback loops as a metaphor for it's distribution and transnational circulation is beyond fantastic. Also plenty of anecdotes from varying noise scenes and loads of archival materials (posters, fliers, photographs) to pore over. Would recommend not only to lovers of noise, but to lovers of alternative music in general. Just totally excellent. Using the very production of noise through feedback loops as a metaphor for it's distribution and transnational circulation is beyond fantastic. Also plenty of anecdotes from varying noise scenes and loads of archival materials (posters, fliers, photographs) to pore over. Would recommend not only to lovers of noise, but to lovers of alternative music in general.

  11. 4 out of 5

    AaronL

    I don't even really like noise music, the only band mentioned in this book I particularly know about is the Boredoms, but I really loved this book. Great balance of anthropology, advocacy for artistic worth, criticism and personal experiences. I don't even really like noise music, the only band mentioned in this book I particularly know about is the Boredoms, but I really loved this book. Great balance of anthropology, advocacy for artistic worth, criticism and personal experiences.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thiago Silva

    Resvala no academicismo brutal em alguns momentos porque não tinha como ser diferente. Baita livro pra quem se interessa pelo tema, mesmo assim.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Farris Kassim

    A clear view on Noise origins, chronology and ethic! a good read well deserved.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sam O’Brien

    KCSHHSHHHHHHHHHHHWWWECFFFFFFFFFFCKCKKCKCKCKCKCKCKKCKCKCKKCKXKAHSHSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mankvill

    Not just a look into the extremely unique and interesting world of Japanese noise music, but how noise is defined in the history of Japanese culture and sociopolitics, how noise can be used to define the circulation of cultural norms and other things on a global scale. Really, really interesting when talking about the Japanese noise scene - making it, the history of it, etc. But extremely dense when talking about the other stuff, it almost seems like a college senior's final thesis paper. Still, Not just a look into the extremely unique and interesting world of Japanese noise music, but how noise is defined in the history of Japanese culture and sociopolitics, how noise can be used to define the circulation of cultural norms and other things on a global scale. Really, really interesting when talking about the Japanese noise scene - making it, the history of it, etc. But extremely dense when talking about the other stuff, it almost seems like a college senior's final thesis paper. Still, very interesting, albeit very heavy reading. Highly recommended for anyone even slightly interested in this kind of "music".

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Very well presented. The balance between theoretical and practical is perfect. If the theoretical feels too dry, Rest assured that the practical os waiting for you within 2 pages, maximum. I got this from the library, but will definitely be purchasing it because it's that good and worthwhile to have as a resource. Very well presented. The balance between theoretical and practical is perfect. If the theoretical feels too dry, Rest assured that the practical os waiting for you within 2 pages, maximum. I got this from the library, but will definitely be purchasing it because it's that good and worthwhile to have as a resource.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    merzbow is somehow still cool

  18. 4 out of 5

    George Bieber

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Haggarty

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Mckinney

  21. 4 out of 5

    TomBurgess

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sami Koskinen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Waterman

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  27. 4 out of 5

    Diz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lee

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jelle

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