Week 5 – Noise/Pencil and Paper

There are many different ways noise can be defined depending on the context in which we think of it. Usually we think of noise as loud or unwanted sounds. However, noise can also be thought of in terms of physics as fundamental to the sound of many vibrating systems (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014). Some types of noise are commonly used in lots of music:

• White Noise – Equally intense sound waves at all frequencies of the audio spectrum. Similar to static heard between stations on an FM radio.
• Pink Noise – frequencies that decrease in intensity at a rate of three decibels per octave towards higher frequencies.
• Many different forms of coloured noise occur naturally everywhere. For example, wind whistling through trees. Distinctive types of coloured noise occur where there is a wide noise spectrum with emphasis on a narrow band of frequencies.

Noise Music is a genre characterised by the use of noise in a musical context. One of the people to experiment with noise music was Luigi Russolo (30 April 1883 – 4 February 1947), an Italian Futurist painter and composer, and the author of the manifesto The Art of Noises (1913). Russolo found traditional tonal music to be too restrictive and saw noise music as its replacement in the future. He built his own instruments/noise machines called Intonarumori.

“The variety of noises is infinite. If today, when we have perhaps a thousand different machines, we can distinguish a thousand different noises, tomorrow, as new machines multiply, we will be able to distinguish ten, twenty, or thirty thousand different noises, not merely in a simply imitative way, but to combine them according to our imagination” (Luigi Russolo (1916). The Art of Noises (English translation.)

Noise has featured prominently in the work of many artists following Russolo, for example Pierre Schaeffer (Music Concrete) and Karheinz Stockhausen.  For this week’s composition the task was to create a piece using only the recorded sounds of a piece of paper and a pencil. Influence in making this piece was taken from the likes of Pierre Schaeffer and the music concrete style.

Obviously much of the sound of music concrete and the past works of Pierre Schaeffer was created through the use of and manipulation/abuse of tape. Nowadays there are many more tools available to create many imaginative effects with sounds and so, the aim with this composition was to compose a piece of music concrete using modern tools to the fullest extent.

To begin with the sounds of the paper and pencil were recorded using an ADK A51 Type V condenser microphone which has a cardioid polar pattern. This enabled the high quality and clean capture of the following sounds:
• Pencil drawing lines, circles and scribbling.
• Pencil Breaking
• Crushing the pencil
• Flapping the Paper
• Hitting the paper with the pencil
• Hitting pieces of the pencil together
• Stabbing the paper with the pencil
• Ripping the paper

Using the recorded sounds as source material an arrangement was created. The piece progressed from fairly normal drawing sounds, to more aggressive sounds as the paper and pencil ‘clash’, and on to an ending of destructive sounds as we hear sounds of the pencil being crushed. Many effects are used throughout the piece to created interesting sound landscapes and sound transformations. The suite of GRM tools effects was used manipulate the original recorded sounds.

Comb ResonatorFreeze Delay

To pick out some effects in this week’s composition:
• From 11 secs to 51 secs we intermittently hear the effects of delays on the sound of pieces of the pencil tapping together.
• At 36 secs we hear the pencil break and the reverb is comb filtered and layered with stretched comb filtered reverb which has been stretched with Pauls Extreme Sound Stretch.

Paul Stretch Comb

• At 1.31 secs we hear the sound of the pencil drawing circles suddenly freeze and the sound is transformed with filters.
• At 2.11 the GRM resonator can be heard as the pencil is being crushed.

Below is a link to this week’s composition:



• Battier, Marc (2007). “What the GRM Brought to Music: From Musique Concrète to Acousmatic Music”. Organised Sound 12, no. 3 (December: Musique Concrète’s 60th and GRM’s 50th birthday—A Celebration): 189–02.
• Dack, John (1994). “Pierre Schaeffer and the Significance of Radiophonic Art.” Contemporary Music Review 10, no. 2:3-11.
• Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Noise. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/417178/noise and http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/555255/sound/64014/Noise – Accessed Tue 18th March 2014.
• Hegarty, Paul (2007). Noise/Music: A History. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
• Luigi Russolo (1916). The Art of Noises. A Futurist Manifesto. (English translation)


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