Wednesday 18 May 2022, 10am–1pm

OTO Project Space: Workshop on 21st Century Noise with NRU (Noise Research Union with Sonia de Jager, Cecile Malaspina, Mattin, Inigo Wilkins, Miguel Prado, Martina Raponi)

No Longer Available


The world is in a state of crisis. This acceleration of complexity, together with issues such as climate change and a growing suspicion in regards to the power for change through political or cultural means leave us with the need for concepts that can help us understand these times of turmoil. Noise is such a concept. Therefore, it is not surprising to see an emerging interest in noise in different fields and systems as diverse as information theory; music and sonology; machine learning; capitalism and finance; aesthetics; physiology; blockchain; complexity; psychology, etc.

Coherence, consistency, predictability and order are well-known and related concepts which have been paramount to the statisticoscientific ethos of the 20th century. As we enter the new millennium it has become more and more apparent that disarray, chaos, unpredictability and, particularly, noise, are not simply the 'disorganized' counterparts to these notions but actually harbor generative conceptual means to move beyond this elusive diametric opposition. The social and technical legacies of those developments are still reverberating, but in the 21st century, amidst a cascade of upheavals and crises in the ecological, economic, social, and aesthetic spheres, and as we move further into a digital, automated, hyperconnected paradigm, the meaning of noise has begun to be radically altered again and urgently demands to be rethought.

Since the seventeenth century, with the development of probability theory, there has been a significant shift in the understanding of order and randomness, not only abstractly but bound up with a new statistical form of social power, colonial expansion, and the onset of capitalism. In the nineteenth century this shift gave rise to statistical mechanics and dynamic systems theory, which paralleled an increasing attainment of fine control over matter and life at the same time as a dawning realization of fundamental uncontrollability. It was in the early twentieth century that the episteme was completely transformed again with the redefinition of the concepts of information and noise in information theory, computability theory, and cybernetics. This had massive scientific, philosophical, political, and artistic consequences, and there was again a simultaneous expansion and intensification of forms of control and resistance in all domains of human activity. As a result, in the 20th century the role of aesthetics as traditionally understood has been put into question, and noise disrupted the way music was practiced and perceived, becoming central to sonic and artistic practices at large as both compositional material and conceptual inspiration.

21st century noise resounds across globalized neoliberal capture, burgeoning AI power, the rise of platform economies and transnational corporate empires, neocolonialism, drone strikes and cyberwarfare, fake news, sweatshops, robotic dogs and predictive policing, cryptocurrencies, self-driving cars, space tourism, etc. If 20th century noise was a centrally broadcast symphonic maelstrom, 21st century noise is a user-generated cacophony that has amplified existing forms of exclusion and exclusivity. Noise in music and sound art both expresses this situation and enacts resistance to it. How can we listen to it with new ears? Is it possible to hear the structural conditions that produce in us psychological pathologies and bring us to the mental states of noise? Is it possible to improvise a non-exclusionary future amongst this noise? Can the scales of its risk asymmetry be altered? Can noise be harnessed not for competitive profit but for collective benefit? Is a new noise possible? Could this noise bring political agency?

As a way to answer these questions we propose a workshop as an open door into noise’s multidisciplinary reinterpretation. This event brings together a group of thinkers, artists and musicians looking to examine the complexity and vastness of phenomena ranging from cognition to corporeality and culture, through the lens of noise.


We welcome participants of all backgrounds to join the discussion. The main tasks during the workshop will be those of dialogue and diagramming. We will discuss interpretations together, identify some common lines of thought and attempt to morph the group diagrams into collective ones. Our approach is nondisciplinary and completely open to questions and challenges, we are united by our interest in noise but not by our individual interpretations.

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