The Hyper-Noise Aesthetics of an Exquisite Monster Sacré

Joseph Nechvatal, affected Open satyr, 2011 66×44” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas


Annoyance and its Allowances in the Age of the Digital Surveillance State



Art of Noise Conundrums


In the beginning was the noise.

-Michele Serres, The Parasite[1]


Recently in my book Immersion Into Noise (2011) I have mapped out a broad-spectrum of aesthetic activity I call the art of noise by tracing its past eruptions where figure/ground merge and flip the common emphasis to some extent. Immersion Into Noise concludes with a look at the figural aspect of this aesthetic lodged within the ground of consciousness itself.[2] In this paper, I will address noise aesthetics and the art context within our broad-spectrum data-monitoring info-economy environment of background machine-to-machine gigabyte[3] communication murmur  – and think through and deploy noise art as an embedded subject within the larger environment of ubiquitous computing cognitive capitalism.[4] This text will attempt then to think through an under the radar speculative reality of noise aesthetics in the era of algorithmic globalization. To do so, I will be examining some trends and vivid prospects for what I have been speculatively calling noise art – that is visual art as compared to noise music.[5]

In brief, noise art aesthetics[6] is a kind of unbound zone (where qualitative shifts of coordinates takes place) in which it is possible to carry out art experiments that would be unachievable in a different place. What noise art aesthetics has to offer is the possibility to understand things in a different way, shifting boundaries, departing from established functions.

This paper is somewhat of a reaction to what some interesting contemporary philosophers have been saying about contemporary art. Most notably, the surprising talk “The Next Avant-Garde” that the philosopher Graham Harman gave at the Aesthetics in the 21st Century Conference at the University of Basel in September that engaged me with the recent speculative realism[7] turn in continental philosophy and aesthetics. In that talk Harman criticizes Relational Art[8], calling it convivial art, so as to circle back to the formalist, media specific aesthetics of the art critic Clement Greenberg where art objects are free of the “tyranny of context” (but let’s not forget that they are already swallowed up in the politics of abstraction). This supposed context freedom merges efficiently with Harman’s theory of Object-oriented ontology[9] (OOO) but seemed somewhat at odds with his proclaiming that “there must be a new avant-garde in every field” that we cannot predict. Harman then touched on the subject of figure/ground relations (the main focus of my noise art aesthetic theory) in terms of anthropomorphic free, flat ontology without going very far in addressing the human specialness[10] (relationality) involved in viewing certain artworks. So soon after, I mentioned to him the irony of the intense dislike that Clement Greenberg had for the late work of Jackson Pollock, where Pollock played with figure/ground indeterminate states of ambiguity.[11] Indeed there are several vital planes of convergence between these two figure/ground poles (particularly in their critique of political domination and authority) that can be teased out with the art of noise. Thus this paper will be somewhat of a friendly response to Harman’s talk.

Also, I have been following closely the public proclamations of another philosopher on art, Simon Critchley. Critchley described in 2010 contemporary art’s dominant trend as an in-authenticity of “mannerist situationism” based in rituals of reenactment.[12] Critchley goes on in 2012 to describe the circumstances further, as the “cold mannerist obsessionality of the taste for appropriation and reenactment that has become hegemonic in the art world.”[13] So things have gotten no better. Clearly something deep-seated must be reevaluated. And art aesthetics is more interesting when it does the work of shifting meaning. So I am declining here Critchley’s urging for contemporary art to focus in on the monstrous, as, in my opinion, that parody of gloomy general dystopia only plays into the extreme spectacle aspect of mannerism. To be fair, Critchley doesn’t explain what or who he means by the monstrous[14] but when I think of the monstrous today I think of the high visibility of Lady Gaga (and her little monsters), extreme Hollywood lowbrow movies and grotesque far right political claims and postures. And in art (commodified and co-opted by the socio-economic system that is its life blood) we have had the work of Eduardo Kac, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Orlan and Paul McCarthy.

No, here I am only interested in a new contemporary aesthetic labor based in a certain exquisite untouchablity, and unseeablity – a monster sacré affinity of disconnectedness, that focuses on an impregnable diva-like commitment to a nihilistic aesthetic of becoming imperceptible[15] (ala Ad Reinhardt blackness, but one that takes you into embodied and embedded resonance perspectives, into radical immanence, and away from extreme pure abstractions). I am interested in an exquisite monster sacré aesthetic (where personal anthropomorphic eccentricities and indiscretions are tolerated) that is bent on combining the neo-materialist[16] vibrant world with a wider vision of political awareness including private spiritual, ecstatic or numinous themes accessible through the generative subjective realm of each individual (so not OOO); an aesthetics of perception politics based on resonance  – not a politics of visibility – which reveals in minute particulars the full spectrum of the extensive social-political dimensions.

This monster sacré affinity is a materialist nihilism of no that (if it goes far enough) can transform a metamorphosis (subject to the flickering formative forces of emergence)[17] into an all-embracing yes of delicate abhorrence.[18] So I am advocating here not the passive and thus incomplete nihilism of form, but a generative and virulent and curative nihilism that unleashes forces of reverberation to emerge and resonate like a web of inter-connected, molecular and viral relational affects and intensities that traffics in dissonance, deviation, and the incidental.

But what specifically can we glean for art from this instability and resonance of covert nihilism? In what kind of regimes of attraction/repulsion can the resonant nihilistic art object participate, and what may it do differently from other signs and objects? To these questions I offer a counter-theory to OOO formalism – a theory of à rebours[19] exchanges of figure/ground relationships: a nimble art as monster sacré that emphasizes human and non-human entanglements. This is an art that depends on playing out nihilistic negativity by intensifying its forces into an affirmative nihilism. This nimble nihilist bracketing pushes the audience towards open de-familiarizations, challenging them to think outside of the normal system of human consciousness. In this way it is OOO aesthetically favorable. So this art as nimble monster sacré is implicated in the very type of problematic instability that the ‘self’ undergoes in Nietzsche’s thought: the cohesiveness of the culture/state distinction, like the cohesiveness of the ‘self/other’ distinction disintegrates with the ontological instability produced by the annihilation of the real as distinguishable from the illusory. With a nimble art of noise – based in the distinction between active nihilism and passive nihilism (or monstrous nihilism) – we can depict the underground vigor of form as an active verve that can only be speculated at by thinking beyond the discursive. And that enacts a shift away from the subject-object dualism that is currently much lauded by Object-Oriented Ontologists.

The embeddedness of our inner world – the life of our imagination with its intense drives, suspicions, fears, and loves – guides our intentions and actions in the political-economic world. Our inner world is the only true source of meaning and purpose we have and nimble exquisite gazing[20] (that involves self-investigation) is the way to discover for ourselves this inner life. So we see now that in contrast to our frenzied data market surveillance culture,[21] that which trains us to fear the monstrous eyes of outer perception, an inner gazing style of art could encourage the development of nimble private vistas based on the embedded individual intuitive eye in conjunction with an abundant commons (not cloud)[22] that shares a sensibility for building a force. Of course this anti-purist gazing-commons sphere (essentially a rejection of the tyranny of labels, essential identities, abstractions and fixed ideas) is what allows art to make distinctions between subjects and objects that become unstable, and that embraces the entire embedded spectrum of imaginary spaces; from the infinitude of actual forms to formless voids of virtuality. Subsequently my interest here is in anti-pure nimble artists that challenge and sometimes reverse the monstrous hierarchy of figure and ground (figure and abstraction) through struggles with noise.[23] The question is: how do artists and dealers and critics prevent the market from eliminated that quality from art?

Certainly globalization is all about world space, so noise art aesthetics here will continue to be thought of in terms of spatialization: dimensions, areas, and territories. What space does noise clear and what space does noise clog? How does noise function as an attractor for a gazing-commons and as a repellent in the monstrous era of global data mining and the digital surveillance state? How can monster sacré aesthetic thought help us to think and live differently within our smooth and surveyed spaces through art? How can we live more intently and intensely in our imaginary cosmos of pleasure rooted in the non-closure of a gazing-commons aesthetic, with its yearning for otherness in the non-appropriative mode? By not ignoring the differences between the personal and the political, but on the contrary, by showing how these differences resonate together in unpredictable and contingent ways to form, in the words of Gilles Deleuze:[24] planes of consistency from which new political concepts can be formed.

So what does the brand contemporary art presently suggest for a gazing-common aesthetic? Not much, yet. Julian Stallabrass argues[25] that behind contemporary art’s multiplicity and apparent capriciousness lies a monstrous bleak uniformity and that this amounts to making culture uncurious, timid and stupid in the service of a big business ethos of unquestioning consumer conformity. Also, Stallabrass purports that the unregulated insular contemporary art market seeks to dupe newbie art rubes into being enthusiastic participants in the dumbing-down values useful to big business; values which address all communications to the lowest common denominator of the monstrously massive. So, the obvious question is: what about art’s responsibility of resistance? Perhaps surprisingly, for me the answer is to be found within the challenge of a noise style based in resistance through the cultivation of invisibility.[26] So I want to argue for an agony of style of logo invisibility – and the importance that should be given noise art aesthetic struggles for a gazing-commons.

The principle of constructing patterns of infinite becomings is perhaps inherent in avant-garde artistic tradition (avant-garde values). Graham Harman suggested as much. But this avant-garde now, I think, should be considered in terms of noisy invisibility not ontology, as deviating from the regularities of visible normality provides the avant-garde new sources for artistic production. Certainly, the values of the avant-garde have always been interfering with the channels of artistic production and reception – and these values are responsible for expanding the forms and definitions of art itself.[27] But like in nature, noise in art plays a productive role in the invisible life of a system when it stresses becoming-imperceptible.

But a becoming-imperceptible-invisibile monster sacré, today can no longer be a form of enfant terrible with-drawl, akin to Marcel Duchamp’s strategic invisibility,[28] but rather a phantasmagorical plunge into what Félix Guattari expresses as the chaosmosis.[29] In that sense, becoming-imperceptibly noisy is an event for which there is no immediate representation and therefore suited to the art of noise.

The art of noise marks a qualitative transformation into a non-place where being and non-being reverse into each other, unfolding out and enfolding in their respective outsides. This short-circuit causes a creative conflagration typical of the art of noise.

Let’s consider the difference between noise art (based on an individual’s inner vision) verses the monstrous mass machine data market,[30] with its digital functionalism. For me the difference is in looking into and projecting onto something – thereby discovering an emerging manifestation based in invisibility – as opposed to looking at something. In that sense it requires an active slow participation on the part of the viewer – and noise style demands as much. For me this requires use of hidden mental participation and, as such, is now essential in our climate of monstrous mass media (mass-think) in that it plays against the grain of given objective consensus visibility. In that sense painting becomes more like a service product (or a server)[31] than an autonomous (investment) object.

However, my main interest in invisibility lay in a texture of emerging claims of art-as-politics – with its emphasis on the production of individuality based in a political physiology (a political function of living systems) with a strong proposition of emergence as the key aspect. So, I will continue the work done in Immersion Into Noise by looking at the art of noise as an emergent property rooted in obscurity. This comparison relates to my palimpsest work as an indeterminacy-based noise artist.









Hyper-Noise Aesthetics


Noise nourishes a new order.

Michele Serres, The Parasite[32]


Now I would like to look more specifically at the possibility of further developments in noise art aesthetics concerning where becoming-imperceptible and becoming-perceptible nimbly interact. As sketched out in my book Immersion Into Noise, the evolution of visual noise art develops from certain pre-historic cave areas and baroque grottoes, to certain levels of mannerist and counter-mannerist complexity, to noisy spatial renderings in various exuberant architectural styles, then into cubism, futurism, dada, fluxus and other 20th century avant-garde movements, into the screech of technological noise art, and into the softness of software noise art aesthetics.

As noted above, what is important in the art of noise aesthetics is its intentional and elongated invisibility[33] and enigma. That is why this subject is so hard to write about. The very topic is a very difficult one to pin down and make intelligible for good reason.  The art of noise is an art of disbelief in habitual codes of practice and understanding. You must take the art of noise on its own terms or risk doing violence to the art.

Noise art is not a set of homogeneous practices, but a complex field converging around perceived weaknesses in the art system. Such a noisy hyper-cognitive stance[34] happens when the particular of electronic connectivity is seen as part of an accrual total system by virtue of its being connected to everything else – while remaining dissonant. Noise aesthetics is a complex and ambiguous political gazing, and its theory of an art of resistance and investigation would be increasingly valuable to an analytical social movement based on skepticism while undermining monstrous market predictabilities, as it strengthens unique personal powers of imagination and critical thinking. This is so as it counters the effects of our age of simplification: effects which have resulted from the glut of consumer oriented entertainment messages and political propaganda which the monstrous mass media feeds us daily in the interests of corporate profit and governmental psychological manipulations.

The noise art aesthetic of the monster sacré is that of dissonant immersion into a maelstrom of glossolaliaic unintelligibility, chaos and exaltation. The art of noise style is a way of seeing that reverses the order of figure/ground[35] to ground/figure. It collapses being into non-being (ontological implosion). It creates ambivalent aleatory[36] processes that are true to our inner essential world: dynamic pools of expansion and disintegration.

The art of noise is that screech amid the collapse and extension of aesthetics connected to immanence and transcendence (where art is in the process of becoming-imperceptible-perceptible) facing the merging of figure into environment and environment into figure. We can find moments of this screech of collapse-extension in contemporary complexity theory and in some areas of information technology, nano-technology, cognitive science, and biotechnology.

These moments of collapse-extension accompany the contemporary development where the static image has become dynamically engaged with the human imagination and personal choices of the viewer. In some cases literally, engaging the participation of the viewer (who becomes what I have elsewhere renamed as the viewpant)[37] to the point of physical interactivity. In other cases they are engaged conceptually (or post-conceptually) by looking long and hard at the art.

Noise art aesthetics prefers the becoming-imperceptible invisibility of the later, as the participants in this eye-catching trend absorb into the work without engaging in the process of exposing their actions of external choices and events to measure and objectification (to some extent), and thus to the participation of the public in more or less advanced forms of control and reification. I believe that the forms of this aesthetic post-conceptual participation can be a decisive element in offering generative possibilities of development that will continue to be interesting and supportive of the gazing-commons.

But the noise aesthetic character of contemporary artistic production is reflected not only in the shift in some artists’ interest towards hard technologies and non-interactive art, but also in the pervasive presence of glitchy generative a-life digital technologies.

The initial phase of generative a-life digital practice that was experimental, pioneering, and research-based, is now being followed by a period of dissemination. This becomes particularly apparent if we gaze at performative processing software used to manipulate audio and video data, now being employed by a great number of video and sound artists. Some of these instruments make it possible to program noise interferences using graphic objects. This helps multiply the number of both artistic and commercial applications: the generation of audiovisual output, live media, VJing, and art installations which enable the monitoring of electro-mechanical devices (or the use of sensors) to receive input from audience stimuli. With spectator-sensoring, again noise art aesthetics prefers the becoming-imperceptible invisibility of hard looking to the becoming-perceptible as fodder for calculation.

However, while the use of compiled programming languages presupposes that the artists using them have some interest in becoming-perceptible technologies, systems based on graphic interfaces are often also used today by artists for whom digital technologies are no longer a distinctive element but rather a mere conceptual preference, as we see with the paintings of Wade Guyton.[38]

The unwanted becoming-perceptible trend is likewise evident if we consider another aspect: the spread through social media technologies of content that uses visualization and data monitoring, for example systems that survey and process in real-time preferences and movements of viewpants via mobile networks. The same becoming-perceptible tendency holds for many net-art projects. So process-based data monitoring design and algorithmic architecture have now passed through the experimental phase and begun to have anti-commons practical uses. What we have witnessed for art through this development, coupled with relational art aesthetics, is on the one hand a spilling over towards entertainment, and on the other a growing integration with fast data monitoring surveillance.

In defense of the individual-based commons, my theory of the aesthetics of an art of noise encourages data monitoring deferral. Seen as too ‘difficult’ by some, for me the paucity of clean art at a fast glance conceals the riches of associational gazing with respects to combinatory dynamics of leisurely layered creations.

In that respect, consider the large quantities of subtle kinds of noise that have proliferated since electricity, especially so since the onset of information revolution at the end of the 1970s. With it came a low impact noise emitted by every kind of electrical appliance, contributing to the white-noise dense texture of our acoustic environment.[39] Such a post-industrial white noise environment is ambiguously omnipresent and mostly subliminal.

My suggestion for visual art noise aesthetics is, I believe, fully able to render sensible the white noise sequencing when it uses subliminal latent excess in its presentational mode, and when avoiding over-determination like the plague. Because such an excess overload of representation offers us a measure of freedom of choice in how we unpack it (or not). The greater amount of stimulation-information needed, the greater the uncertainty that the “message” (proposition) offers. That is why my preference has been for semi-abstract, palimpsest-like work that contains subliminal latent excess. It has greater freedom of choice, and greater uncertainty, due to an excess of information via the ground/figure catastrophic collapse. This is what it takes to make nimble art today, if we consider that clean pop is that which the art of noise defines itself against. Pop spectacle is the outside of noise cultural aesthetics at large.

My concern here is with the ethical and liberating use of representation (and anti-representation) within the broader image environment. By attempting to represent the monster sacrés aesthetic as non-representable (as the hugeness of post-industrial white noise is ubiquitously if subtlety present) one can obliterate the proper object of re-representation through the awareness/consciousness of gazing aesthetic bursts. This stress on the alterity and ineffability of noise that eludes our fuzzy grasp of its grandeur is what hyper-noise art is about.

The term hyper-noise is my theory of noise art as constructed via connected-competing vectors and figure/grounds.[40] This concept owes something to Quentin Meillassoux’s idea of hyper-Chaos that was sketched out in his book After Finitude: a form of absolutization where nothing is impossible or unthinkable.[41]

Hyper-noise art refuses easy consumption and encourages love, because a love for visual noise art will make perturbing events in your life more tolerable. It will make you able to see more and make you more adaptable to disturbance, rather than being torn up about them. It will help you to avoid psychic ossification by your loving latent expanse. This is what suggests referring hyper-noise art to the aesthetics of the sublime, which, in the 18th century, was linked to the grandness of natural phenomena. Now hyper-noise art is an innovative version of the sublime in which, for the first time, the embeddedness that we recognize ourselves in concerning white noise matches up with our subliminal inner noise world. This embed awareness can be produced by noisy artistic becomings.

Generative hyper-noise art is perhaps the most evident example of this hyper-noise sublime opportunity, as generative art serves to produce unpredictable results, both when it is based on arithmetic instructions contained in code, or in other ritual rules. So hyper-noise software art means primarily some form of generative or semi-generative art, in which the artist establishes the operational tenets/choices that are calculated to act autonomously or (in my case) semi- autonomously.

I have chosen semi- autonomous means because fully autonomous generative practices, which privilege end results that are sometimes decorative visualizations, often make for eye candy that can be just fine for club VJing, but can only be considered a form of measly folk art within our cybernetic-algorithmic era.

The above mentioned white-hyper-noise dense texture of our acoustic environment, with its uniformity and lack of variance, suggests to me a possibility of connecting ourselves psychically to the great chain of being (that which proceeds us and of which we are apart) through contemporary art. However, this requires an active imagination that is aided by the visualization properties offered up in the art of noise.

This potential of noise art aesthetics is embedded in the recognition of our sheer potentiality: all the selves we have within to develop or burn out. All the worlds we might create or destroy. Hyper-noise art shows us that we are more diverse than we had imagined; and more tolerant. It points out that what we have in common is a dangerous propensity for overrating our powers of comprehension.

But noise art aesthetics is hostile to generalizations. It is recalcitrant by design. It affirms with jubilation our state of varied mutability. That is my general standard of excellence for it.

Noise art aesthetics tears our phallogocentricism apart to confront the diversity in us, and in each other. This lesson is a necessity and the recognition of this necessity is part of the peculiar pleasure that noise art affords us. A pleasure clearly of rapturous abandonment where the intended effect is an inner liberation by means of de-simulation. Noise art aesthetics opens up in us a sense of possibility that we understand and feel at one and the same time to be both dangerous and indispensable. It points us towards the perilous turbulences and chancy exhilarations that pass through us: overcast, heartbroken, eloquent passages that pull us apart even as they discharge pent-up repressed ways of accepted common wisdom. So, my initiative for a hyper-noise art aesthetics is not a swoon to an intricate inner violence. Rather it is more like the look and sound of the delicately puckered anus that we each own but do not face, that opening that keeps reminding us that we were left behind.

So noise aesthetics is a return to the shifting ground on which music and art rests. The art of noise gives us a sense of discovery that marked music and art’s beginning. It is an alternative, phantasmagorical, way to express the agitation between form and the ground. It dislodges art and music from their customary formal frameworks and makes them thrillingly intense again. The art of noise is beautiful negativity.

But understanding noise aesthetics may be the wrong goal here, as the art of noise attempts to expresses the unsayable. Or perhaps all it says is: WAKE THE FUCK UP (sounding a wake up call). But that is far from nothing. So perhaps this idea of a visual art of noise is a psychotic outburst that disrupts smooth image operations with an explosion of buried visual hysteria that promises a highly diverse world.

Its incomprehensibility by design connects the commons to our unconscious mind and inner feelings through what I think to be a type of chaos magic.[42] Through a variety of techniques often reminiscent of Western ceremonial magic or indigenous shamanism, many practitioners of chaos magic believe they can change both their subjective experience and objective reality. Although there are a few techniques unique to chaos magic (such as some forms of sigil magic), chaos magic is often highly individualistic and borrows liberally from other belief systems. In this way, some chaos magicians consider their practice to be a meta-belief. But I consider it to be a phantasmagoric art of noise.

Chaoist noise art creates the visualization bridge between form and intuition, as its uncertain images have more information in them than a clear certain image (or sound) where the information quickly becomes redundant. Thus noise art aesthetics gives rise to new thought. It promotes the emergence of new forms of an old story: art.

As mentioned above, what is important in the art of noise is its intentional enigma. It needs to be obscure to the degree that its codes cannot be discerned. This phantasmagorical obscurity and mystery is increasingly desirable in a world that has become increasingly data-mined, mapped, quantified, specialized and identified in a straight-forward matter of fact way. This will for enigma is the basis for discovering and entering into an immersion into the art of noise, even.[43]

Such aesthetic enigma is alluring when intelligible mining type data processing is perceived as hollow, trite, and insensitive. Its goal is to disrupt instrumental logic and contradict, counteract, and cancel out false reason and hollow feeling.

What also interests me profoundly with the art of noise aesthetic is the extent to which it urges the mind towards transformations. Here art is the infinite space of hyper-chaos[44] imagination. The hyper-chaos art noise dynamic exceeds the art world to the point where this dynamic empowers art to oppose that which threatens it (money) – as the strategy of a dissonant hyper-anything[45] includes principles of networked connections and electronic links that give multiple choices of passages to follow and continually new branching possibilities. Instead of stressing the reflective limits imposed by the category of art – the art of noise aesthetic can attempt to specify the resistance embodied within it. So noise art’s counter to the spectacle’s misery consists in not forgetting or denying spectacle, but in an interruption of it with a phantasmagorical semi-remembering of pre-spectacular suffering through which human grief is at one and the same time relived and relieved. Suffering and joy, like figure and ground, are here tied together, neither one without the other. Constantly flickering. Thus noise art aesthetics suggests and produces stress in us; one might even say an urgent anxiety of disintegration. So dedication to its merits, if there are any, might well be described as vaguely heroic, because noise art aesthetics suggests the revelation of a plentiful nihilistic life force. Thus noise art aesthetics can be as creative as it is destructive. Or implies an endless struggle between the two. In that sense it is a cul-de-sac of ill communication (vacuole)[46] – the communication of enigma itself.

Indeed, phantasmagorical falsifications of the self are high-lighted by noise arts non-representation ability; its refusal to participate in the world of the clear and precise, with its massive data banks, clone-like life style models and ideological conceptual camps. When we have become too complicated to clarify and order, but too accepting of administrations of our existence – noise art aesthetics offers a certain path of socially acceptable withdrawal. I mean here a boomeranging figure/ground withdrawal that provides the means for secretly re-identifying ourselves, and then coming back into the world commons: scrubbed.

So noise art experience has something that words risk diminishing. Nevertheless, I obviously have felt that I must take that risk because if we are to continue to live among electronic vibrations that mine us, it may be helpful to talk back against them. But yes, noise art aesthetics is the transmitter of unspeakable secrets. That is why art noise matters. It wants more from us. Moreover, it teaches us to want more from art. It teaches us to look deeper, to hear more, and to trust the inner noise.

There are now many artists who see the symbolic and metaphorical dimension of a work as of little importance.  I am not one of them. For me, the real worth of vigorous contemporary art is in its ability to deliver to the commons excessive sensually-embodied implications (and not a bank vault to stash virtual cash in). As noise art aesthetics are indistinguishable from that which it produces as the art of noise, in might be considered as a panpsychic[47] sphere that contains systems of chance operations within it. What more can we ask of this spherical art of noise aesthetics than making art again unpredictably alive enough to produce palimpsest visions?



Joseph Nechvatal

November  2012


[1] Michele Serres, The Parasite, University of Minnesota Press (2007)  p. 13

[2] This involves a question of the qualities (and levels) of awareness of our own consciousness within aesthetic realms which we are capable of attaining through noise art. Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011)  p. 210

[3] Data storage is measured in bytes. A gigabyte is a billion bytes of information. The New York Stock Exchange, produces up to 2,000 gigabytes of data per day that must be stored for years.

[4] Stupendous amounts of data generated by nearly one billion people are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send e-mail with files attached, buy products, post on Twitter or read newspapers and art theory papers online.

[5] Noise Music in general traffics in dissonance, atonality, distortion, incidental composing, etc. This music begins with Russolo, Luigi: ”The Art of Noises: Futurist Manifesto” in Cox, Cristoph & Warner, Daniel (ed.): Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum (2004) For more see Hegarty, Paul: Noise/Music: A History. New York: Continuum (2007)

[6] For a full investigation into this topic see Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise, Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011);idno=9618970.0001.001


[7] Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary philosophy which defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy or what it terms correlationism. While often in disagreement over basic philosophical issues, the speculative realist thinkers have a shared resistance to philosophies of human finitude inspired by the tradition of Immanuel Kant.

[8] Relational art or relational aesthetics is a mode or tendency in fine art practice originally observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud defined the approach simply as a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. The artist can be more accurately viewed as the “catalyst” in relational art, rather than being at the center.

[9] Object-oriented ontology (OOO) is a metaphysical movement that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. Specifically, object-oriented ontology opposes the anthropocentrism of Immanuel Kant’s Copernican Revolution, whereby objects are said to conform to the mind of the subject and, in turn, become products of human cognition. In contrast to Kant’s view, object-oriented philosophers maintain that objects exist independently of human perception and are not ontologically exhausted by their relations with humans or other objects.

[10] Art’s coherence stems from human values and symbolic systems and the role of the beholder, thus is, and must be, correlational and anthropocentric.

[11] For example, Jackson Pollock’s portrait of Jane Smith, No. 7 (1952) that I saw numerous times at her home and that is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[12] At his talk “The Faith of the Faithless, Experiments in Political Theology at the Dance Politics & Co-Immunity Workshop” in Giessen, Germany, November 12th, 2010

[13] Simon Critchley, “Absolutely-Too-Much”, Brooklyn Rail, Summer issue 2012

[14] Given his age and Englishness I would guess Throbbing Gristle.

[15] “Although all becomings are already molecular, including becoming woman, it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all the other becomings. […] If becoming- woman is the first quantum, or molecular segment, with the becomings-animal that link up with it coming next, what are they all rushing toward? Without a doubt, toward becoming-imperceptible. The imperceptible is the immanent end of becoming, its cosmic formula. […]” Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translation by Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press (1987)  p. 279

[16] Manuel DeLanda coined the term neo-materialist in a short 1996 text “The Geology of Morals, A Neo-Materialist Interpretation” where he treats a portion of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus in order to conceptualize geological movements. For more on neo-materialist see Manuel DeLanda’s interview in New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies by Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2012)  p. 38

[17] In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.

[18] For a musical comparison, see “The Beauty of Noise: An Interview with Masami Akita of Merzbow” in Cox, Cristoph & Warner, Daniel (ed.): Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. New York: Continuum (2004)

[19] The meaning of à rebours is against the grain. Also, À rebours (1884) (translated as Against Nature or Against the Grain) is a decadent novel by the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans. Its narrative concentrates on the tastes and inner life of Jean Des Esseintes, an eccentric, reclusive aesthete and antihero who loathes bourgeois society and tries to retreat into an ideal artistic world of his own creation.

[20] to look long and intently. Gaze is often indicative of wonder, fascination and revelation.

[21] For example take the fact that now under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, is the blandly named Utah Data Center, being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital transactions. It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy. For more on this trend see James Bamford’s book The Shadow Factory: the Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Anchor (2009)

[22] The term “cloud” is often generally used to describe a data center’s functions. More specifically, it refers to a service for leasing computing capacity.

[23] As I have done with my own work while also collecting examples of many other artist’s work that can be placed in this continuum.

[24] Gilles Deleuze (January 18, 1925 – November 4, 1995) was one of the most influential and prolific French philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century. Deleuze conceived of philosophy as the production of concepts, and he characterized himself as a “pure metaphysician.” In his magnum opus Difference and Repetition, he tries to develop a metaphysics adequate to contemporary mathematics and science—a metaphysics in which the concept of multiplicity replaces that of substance, event replaces essence and virtuality replaces possibility. Deleuze also produced studies in the history of philosophy (on Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Bergson, Spinoza, Foucault, and Leibniz), and on the arts (a two- volume study of the cinema, books on Proust and Sacher-Masoch, a work on the painter Francis Bacon, and a collection of essays on literature.) Deleuze considered these latter works as pure philosophy, and not criticism, since he sought to create the concepts that correspond to the artistic practices of painters, filmmakers, and writers. In 1968, he met Félix Guattari, a political activist and radical psychoanalyst, with whom he wrote several works, among them the two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia, comprised of Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Their final collaboration was What is Philosophy? (1991).

[25] See Julian Stallabrass, Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (2006)

[26] Perhaps this should not be surprising given the hidden complexity of a basic internet transaction is a mystery to most users: Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.

[27] For more on this read my essay Viractuality in the Webbed Digital Age that was published in M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online #5 25th Anniversary Edition (2011)

[28] Duchamp’s entire artistic activity since the “definitive incompletion” of the Large Glass in 1923 was an exercise in strategic invisibility, giving rise to objects and events which–because they were apparently too impermanent or unimportant or insubstantial, or because they eluded established genre conventions, or because they confused or diluted authorial identity–evaded recognition as “works of art.”

[29] Félix Guattari said in his noteworthy book, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, the work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment that leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.

[30] To support all that digital activity, there are now more than three million data centers of widely varying sizes worldwide, according to figures from the International Data Corporation.

[31] A server is a sort of bulked-up desktop computer, minus a screen and keyboard, that contains chips to process data. For security reasons, companies typically do not even reveal the locations of their data centers, which are housed in anonymous buildings and vigilantly protected. Each year, chips in servers get faster, and storage media get denser and cheaper, but the furious rate of data production goes a notch higher.

[32] Michele Serres, The Parasite, University of Minnesota Press (2007)  p. 27

[33] This parallels the fact that in many data facilities, servers are loaded with applications and left to run indefinitely, even after nearly all users have vanished or new versions of the same programs are running elsewhere. At a certain point, no one is responsible anymore, because no one, absolutely no one, wants to go in that room and unplug a server.

[34] Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise, Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011)  p. 32

[35] The characteristic organization of perception into a figure that ‘stands out’ against an undifferentiated background, e.g. a printed word against a background page. What is figural at any one moment depends on patterns of sensory stimulation and on the momentary interests of the perceiver.

[36] Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice.

[37] Joseph Nechvatal, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (2009)  p. 56

[38] As seen in the show Wade Guyton: OS at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, Fall 2012

[39] For more on this see Schafer, R. Murray: The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Destiny Books (1994)

[40] Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011)  p. 31

[41] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, Continuum (2008)  p. 64

[42] Some common sources of inspiration for chaos magic include such diverse areas as science fiction, scientific theories, ceremonial magic, shamanism, Eastern philosophy, and individual experimentation.

[43] As an example, see/hear Marina Rosenfeld’s Cephissus landscape (2002), an immersive noise work that undermines the central notion of “surround-sound” technology by locating viewers in an environment with no fixed center and numerous temporary sonic sweet spots where short bursts of mingled electronic and acoustic sounds intersect and decay in expanding concentric circles that suggest oscillate landscapes.

[44] See Quentin Meillassoux’s idea of hyper-Chaos in his compelling book After Finitude where it is defined as a form of absolutization where nothing is impossible or unthinkable. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, London: Continuum (2008)  p. 64

[45] Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011)  p. 32

[46] This is a reference to Gilles Deleuze’s (1925-1995) notion of the vacuole. This concept of noncommunication comes from Deleuze’s Postscript on Control Societies. Deleuze’s notion of control is connected to information-communication technology—a concept he pulled out of the work of William S. Burroughs (1914-1997). A vacuole is like a sac in a cell’s membrane, completely bound up inside the cell but also separate from it. Vacuoles play a significant role in autophagy, maintaining an imbalance between biogenesis (production) and degradation (or turnover) of many substances and cell structures. They also aid in the destruction of invading bacteria or of misfolded proteins that have begun to build up within the cell. The vacuole is a major part of the plant and animal cell. Nechvatal, Joseph. Immersion Into Noise. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (2011)  p. 14

[47] Panpsychism is the view that all matter has a mental aspect, or, alternatively, all objects have a unified center of experience or point of view.

About josephnechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an American post-conceptual artist who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity. In 1975, he moved from Chicago to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young. In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the sordid Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists’ group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose. In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrète audio collages. In 1983, he co-founded the famous avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and New York. In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987. In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic. In 1999, he earned his doctorat in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and soon wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise. In 2001, he extended his initial experimentations into the virus as an artistic painterly tool in a series of artificial life works. These works include various series of paintings, animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny. He has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body. You can follow him on Twitter at @twinkletwink Homepage:
This entry was posted in Art & Art Theory and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Hyper-Noise Aesthetics of an Exquisite Monster Sacré

  1. noir-realism says:

    Interesting… I’ll have to come back and read through this post thoroughly! I’ll check out your book, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s