Some months ago my wife woke me up at the middle of my afternoon’s nap…
“Enrico, you have to take this call, I know I’m not supposed to interrupt your sacred nap, but it’s your publisher from Berlin, it has to be important”
“Hi! […] Oh really? A commission for the National Centre of the Performing Arts in China? […] Environmental Concert? Urban Noise?? Wow! Got me on board!!
After hanging up I began to feel puzzled by the challenge. How in earth could I make a piece of music based on urban noise? Isn’t music the very opposite kind of sound than noise? What is noise to begin with?
“Loud and unpleasant sound that disturb people” – Larousse Dictionary
My goodness! Surely I didn’t want to disturb the Chinese audiences with loud and unpleasant sounds. I kept on looking for a more workable definition…
“Any undesired sound, either one that is intrinsically objectionable or one that interferes with other sounds that are being listened to” – Encyclopaedia Britannica
Much better. If noise was “undesired sound” I only had to want a given sound to make it music – being careful to avoid any unpleasant interferences, of course. But still one question haunted me: Is there such a thing as “intrinsically objectionable sound”?
“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we ﬁnd it fascinating.” – John Cage
That’s it! Paying attention to sound converts noise into music! There’s no such thing as “intrinsically unpleasant”. Any sound, no matter its origin or context, given the right treatment can be a part of music!
So I packed microphone, headphones, digital recorder, and roamed the busy streets of Mexico City hunting down the most interesting urban noises for my piece.
Knife sharpener, street organ, car horn, welder gun, hammered junk, racing cars, where all transformed into the electronic part of this piece with the help of ring modulation, pitch shifter and granulation synthesis devices. I then wrote the orchestral part squeezing from the instruments the most outrageous noises I know them capable of.
I had my score already, although one question still begged an answer…
How to call this transformation of urban unattended noises into contemporary music?
“Whatever comes out of an active noise control system and cancels an existing noise, leaving the world noise free.” – Jeff Mercure