Krapp’s ‘Noise Floor’ & the Taste Cultures of Sound

In the chapter Noise Floor: Between Tinnitus and Raw Data, Peter Krapp delves into the “hegemony of a narrow operating definition of music,” and discusses the differences between noises and signals, and music and sound art (57). First, he defines noise as a signal that the transmitter does not wish to send, which indicates that the source of the sound and the intention of the sender are the only real dividing factors. Later, he distinguishes sound art from music due to sound art’s reliance on computing hardware and software, which again points to the source of the sound as the differentiating element. I think it is interesting how taste cultures apply to sounds and mark what sounds are acceptable forms of music, and what sounds are essentially unwanted. Krapp points to today’s obsession with the noise-canceling technology of headphones, which also led me to thinking about all of the software designed to perfect sound. In filmmaking, flawless sound is essential and any extraneous “noise” becomes extremely evident, and can ruin a whole film. The desire to have crisp sound in most films makes sense because the filmmaker doesn’t want to take the viewer out of the world of the story through their acknowledgement of a mistake in the production. In general, we have created a stigma against noises, and often associate certain sounds with error. Some people even have contempt for electronic music because they do not understand how music can come from computer-generated technology rather than physical instruments. I think it’s interesting that we still accept certain man-made glitches in music, like Krapp discussed with the scratching of a record by turntablists. Perhaps it’s because the scratching foregrounds the aesthetics of the medium and the tangibility of a record, which is essentially the opposite of digital music.

Krapp goes on to point out how a new generation of amateurs have taken back the glitch, and explains how these experimenters play around with the frame of reception rather than subvert it. I have trouble with the way that sound art is defined in opposition to music, because music itself is sound art and can be computer-generated. I love how the audio glitch artists incorporate noises that indicate errors, or are just considered monotonous, and create a fusion of sounds that can then be interpreted as music. On the other hand, some glitch artists take melodic sounds or songs that are already considered music and glitch them to the point that they are no longer comprehendible. If either one of these approaches is considered sound art, then who demarcates what is music and what is not? Where is the line drawn, and when can glitches be celebrated or conversely rejected as distasteful?