Anthony Iles


In the lead up to the NAL11 Conference this Sunday we present a series of thought provoking blog posts from the participating speakers. First in the series is by Antony Iles from Mute, an excerpt from the Noise and Capitalism book that he co-edited.

View all posts via the NAL11-conf tag, have your say and engage with the speakers via the NAL11 Linkedin group.

"Rather than overcoming mediation, free improvisation and noise are in tension with it – something to which these many attempts to theorise music and its relations to politics attest. The stance of anti-mediation binds the practitioners of these musical interests to a modernist aesthetics in which successive institutional and formal frameworks for making and presenting music and art are transgressed and transcended. Yet there is also an important split – in the modernist academy this could be interpreted as refining a critique internal to the work, while improvisation and noise arguably turn outwards to the field of social relations. A good example of this is when the home-made electronics and improvisation trio Morphogenesis used to bring the outside of a gig into it by means of amplifying and filtering a microphone slung out the window of the venue they were playing in. Through these means they would bring the outside in and the sound of social relations and the location of the venue itself into play. Here, however is a key contradiction for our times. Turning the usual question on its head, Mathieu Saladin asks: what does improvisation have in common with capitalism? Finding the values celebrated in writing and statements about free improvisation to be one and the same with the values celebrated in the new capitalism that developed during the 1970s and 1980s. If this turn towards social relations has been the for some time a weapon of insurgent and outcast music, the harnessing of these relations is now a key strategy in capitalism's current push to reproduce itself anew.

Music is prophecy. Its styles and economic organisation are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible, that will impose itself and regulate the order of things.1
By going further into the details we can move away from the idee recu that improv is political music, a liberatory musical praxis. It is urgent to closely examine its conditions, to challenge improvised music's implicit freedom as a given – as Eddie Prevost insists:
Certain material conditions have to be met before any music can be made.
Music can neither escape commodification, nor can noise musicians escape the immediate material demands that capital makes of them (to sell their labour power). Existing conditions structure what music can be made and by whom, yet also music is one of a number of cultural forms by which people react against existing conditions and try to overcome them. As Matthew Hyland puts it,
improvisation (as Derek Bailey intends it) resists commodification almost successfully.'Almost' remains an upper limit as long as capital goes on being strengthened by what hasn't killed it yet.
Unlike any other form of music, improvised and noise music, nonetheless exists in capitalism. Since we cannot accept that noise or improvisation is by default anti-capitalist music, then we need to look more closely at those resistances and tensions this music carries within itself – where it provides potential tools for capitalism and where it supplies means for getting out of it."
1 Jacques Attali, Noise, Theory and History of Literature, Vol 16, Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Excerpt from the book Noise and Capitalism, San Sebastian: Arteleku, 2009.