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Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts Reprint Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262611725
ISBN-10: 0262611724
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Sound saturates the arts of this century," writes Kahn, a professor of media arts at the University of Technology in Australia, in an illuminating but densely theoretical study of sound in 20th-century literature and art. Kahn begins by considering the early experiments at the Cabaret Voltaire of dadaist poets Richard Huelsenbaeck, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara, whose poetic and "musical" performances were intended to achieve a Rimbaudian "alchemy of the word." He then analyzes how noiseAin the form of screams and bomb blastsAfunction in such prose texts as Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. But the artistic hero of the book is John Cage, whose monumental works with water provide the theme for the central portion of the book. Kahn devotes considerable energy to arguing that Cage's Water Music of 1952 was at least as revolutionary as his silent pieces. "Pollock's dripped and poured paintings and Cage's water sounds," he writes, "heralded a larger concurrence of fluidity, water, sound and performance" in the arts for years to come. This leads to a discussion of postmodern American composers, including LeMonte Young and Tony Conrad, who chose extreme amplifications of noise to bring the auditors back to "silence" once their ears stopped ringing. As for the "meat" part of the title, it comes from another source of theoretical inspiration to Kahn, William Burroughs's idea of "schlupping," defined as the sound of "soft innards being sucked out of a body," which is how the reader may feel attempting to get through this incisive but difficult book. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The role of sound in the spectrum of artistic disciplines is one of unique and boundless dimensions. In his new book, Kahn (media arts, Univ. of Technology, Sydney, Australia) examines the history, philosophies, politics, patterns, technology, sociology, and impact of sound in art. Emphasizing that "none of the arts is entirely mute," he surveys the potential equality of aural and visual in the artistic hierarchy, the influence of aurality on various forms of art and cultural thought (and vice versa), the fluid boundaries between the concepts of noise and music, and Western vs. Eastern definitions of the voice. He covers everything from the poetry of Kerouac, the films of Bunuel, the compositions of John Cage, and the paintings of Jackson Pollock to dripping water and body sounds. Kahn's research is impressive, and his presentation is thorough and precise. Although certainly not for the casual reader, this volume will be an asset to scholarly and academic collections.ACarol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 472 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262611724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611725
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Kahn's text sprawls over 358 pages, and is filled with innovative insights into the auditory component of the 20th century avant-garde. I found the most brilliant section to be his critique of John Cage. Cage created music with the aim of "quieting the mind, to open it to divine influence." Kahn is the first to articulate what I have felt, that Cage, the zen anarchist, is just as manipulative with this goal as any tonal symphonic architect! As Kahn puts in,

"...Cagean silence...has silenced other things, as it dwells at the problematic edge of audibility and attempts to hear the world of sound without hearing aspects of the world in a sound" (p. 4) Kahn turns on its head Cage's stated aim of "just letting sound be," speaking rather of "Cage's dominion of all sound and always sound," a project to turn all sound into music! (p. 197)

Much of the rest of the book, the sections on "Water Flows and Flux" and "Meat Voices," is a wandering chronicle of various avant forms, and Kahn has fun with organic analogies. But it's a fascinating trip through little-known terrain, and Kahn is a fearless and creative guide!

(verified library loan)
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Format: Paperback
If at times overly academic, Douglas Kahn's seminal work "Noise, Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts" should be required reading for any course related to sound and such audio-visual domains as film and television.

In his book Kahn adresses the historical changes (or, development?) in noise abatement, looking at noise as a cultural, musiological and essentially political phenomenon (with an apparent inspiration from Jacques Attali). Accompanying the different types of noise abatement in Western modernity (as voiced e.g. by Arthur Schopenhauer), are also - as Kahn illustrates - different experiments into the use of noise, whether defined as a strictly musical or cultural phenomenon. In music we thus find such experimental composers as John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer (exploring different types of musique concrète), in film we find early auteurs as Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Alexandrov (through the use of natural sounds, asynchronism and different sonic counterpoints). Even in other - less obviously sonic - arts may we find otherwise elaborate experiments with sounds and noise(s). Take for example the vivid attempts at breaking the rigid rules of communication and narration through distinctly phonetical, verbo-literary experiments in the works of James Joyce and William Burroughs - or the creative disruption of the organic line in the paintings of say Gerhard Richter.

Further examples could be found ad nauseum, and Douglas Kahn goes to great length in his interesting and well-documented explorations. Noise IS a part of the arts as much as our close environment, whether we register or hope to reject it.

Kahn's pioneer-footsteps, thus, leave a vivid trail for others to follow, for in his book - if nothing else - he has shown how different sonic experiments (and, more specifically, different types of noise) are all around us. Instead of conservative strategies of silencing and abatement, we should listen!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very theoretical read. Don't expect to be able to fully grasp the contents of this book without having some other one's handy. Not for beginners, lot's of references to the classics. Very useful if you're beginning to construct a lit review for an important paper, even a dissertation.
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Format: Paperback
I love it and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the art of sound... or how sound has been used as art... or the philosophy of sound. It is a sound read. As mentioned before, do not read if this is your first rodeo, however, if this is your second rodeo... you should be just fine. Seriously though, not an easy read but a worth while read. Very smart. Lots of insight.
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Format: Hardcover
This astonishing history of twentieth century art offers a deep and profound view of intermedia and multimedia through the aspect of sound. Kahn's narrative is beautifully written and well researched. He supports the text with a wealth of documentary sources that permit further research. This book is a seminal contribution to research in intermedia, multimedia, and media studies. KF
Book review published in Design Research News, Volume 6, Number 8, Aug 2001 ISSN 1473-3862.
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