That’s not music – that’s just noise!

by Dave Maier

Masonna2Noise music – if that's even what you want to call it – is pretty hard to defend in polite company. Most of the guys who make it are demonstrably weird if not downright insane, and of course it sounds like the cat got its tail caught in a blender. Who wants to listen to that? All it's good for, seemingly, is to piss people off, and/or to show how edgy and cool you are. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that in defending noise music, critics point to just these things. But are they right to do so?

Here's one way this defense might go. One critic, Nick Smith, appeals to Theodor Adorno’s views here, which looks funny at first, as Adorno is famously all about the high art, as pointedly opposed to anti-artistic hipster trendiness. But let's let Smith explain this paradox to us, and then see what we think.

Adorno[Deep breath.] According to Adorno, language, art, and philosophy are all manifestations of underlying sociocultural phenomena. Everything Adorno deplores – the economic inequality and social oppression which he sees as the inevitable result of capitalist economies based on the principle of abstract exchange-value – can thus be diagnosed in the analogous ills afflicting the corresponding spheres of culture, including philosophy itself. The engine of capitalist culture is instrumental rationality, which abstracts from individual things and persons for the purposes of economic and social efficiency. To preserve the principle of exchange-value, thought denies individual uniqueness, and at the same time, defines knowledge according to the concepts which thus deny it, allowing knowledge to be put to work for socioeconomic purposes. This self-deluded “identity thinking,” put into the service of instrumental rationality by the very structure of our thought, prevents philosophy from self-reflectively diagnosing its own illness. In pursuing rationality and “objectivity” for its own sake, it simply repeats its mistake in the process of attempting to correct it, if it even gets as far as the attempt.

That sounds bad; but it gets worse.

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