Glitch Muse: Skrillex vs.The Beatles (Who Did Noise Better?)


An accurate representation of myself listening to the  songs mentioned in this blog post.

This week, we are exploring the use of glitch and error in the context of sound and audio, and Peter Krapp’s chapter, Noise Floor: Between Tinnitus and Raw Data, addresses the ways in which noise has developed over the years into something that is now a part of our “aesthetic vocabulary” (62). One of the most interesting things about Krapp’s article is his connection between sound glitching and experimental music, which begs the question: how much music can be compressed in lossy sampling before it ceases to be music? (53)

I believe this is the main issue at hand, not only in this particular reading but also in a larger theoretical framework as well, because one aspect of glitching that I am preoccupied with is meaning, and the distinct changes in meaning that is derived when one chooses to impose error upon a piece of work.

Upon reading Krapp’s article, his ideas compelled me to reconsider what noise is, musically. Originally, for me at least, noise could be anything that I would call “garbage”. An unnecessary sequence of loud sounds, a cacophony of crap, and just a whole lot of shiz (pardon my French). And there is no better illustration of my own personal definition of noise than the ever-so operatic ragtime of Skrillex. Yes, Skrillex.

Now, here is a song that CLEARLY exploits sound glitches, noise, and multiple textures of distortion that can be heard throughout. To any normal human being, this song may very well be what invented the migraine. Does it make much sense? No. Will it make your ears bleed? Quite possibly. But of course, this may be due to what Krapp calls “the hegemony of a narrow operating definition of music” (57). And it’s true, because if it weren’t for this hegemony, then there wouldn’t be a distinction between what is “pop” music and what is anything beyond that, like the avant-garde or experimental. That being said, Krapp makes a good point when he mentions that different kinds of glitches in music can come off as all too similar-sounding:

“An important objection to casting the process of glitching or circuit-bending in an aesthetic dimension is that it might seem as if to a layperson, static is just static, so that different kinds of glitches would be indistinguishable. This could potentially be taken to mean that avant-garde art necessarily transcends an individual’s perceptual capacity, as repetition reduces originality and increases accessibility; because forms are intelligible, they reduce unpredictability” (69).

So is it completely reasonable that all the clicks, dings, and womps that you hear in Skrillex’s “Doompy Poomp” turns into a nonsensical fusion of literal noise? YES. Because according to Krapp, music that is so exploratory in sound may be beyond one’s ability to make any sense of it since its lack of formality and familiar structure renders it unpredictable. I’d like to think that Krapp would also not be the biggest Skrillex fan when he says that “music is not ‘electronic’ if it merely reproduces known sounds and forms”. SURELY, even The Beatles could produce better noise than this!

However, if that is the case, then what separates Skrillex from The Beatles and their song, “Revolution 9”? Is it a more credible or “artistic” piece than “Doompy Poomp” simply because it’s The Beatles? I would say no because it’s just as difficult to listen to as Skrillex, and both represent a musical style that sets itself aside from the easy-to-understand mainstream. But with all the high-brow criticism aside, I think that Krapp’s article has also allowed me to come to the conclusion that meaning is intrinsic to both the artist and the listener, individually, and perhaps sometimes even independently, for music is a medium that often celebrates resisting its semantics while putting on display the aesthetic freedom and opportunity.