City Research Online

Composing with noise: Utilising noise as a transformative and generative tool for creative sound practice

Higgins, Jonathan (2021). Composing with noise: Utilising noise as a transformative and generative tool for creative sound practice. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Within the field of Sound Studies, discourse on noise has increasingly looked to define noise by examining its affective and transformative properties, reformulating the question ‘What is noise?’ to ‘What does noise do?’ (Thompson 2017: 49). Approaching noise in this way presents an alternative to the three commonly accepted definitions of noise frequently utilised in texts on composition. These define noise as unwanted sound, spectrally dense sound, or loud sound. Through practice-based research this thesis and portfolio explores how the question ‘what does noise do?’ can be applied to creative sound practice.

By repurposing Claude Shannon’s (1948) A Mathematical Theory of Communication the thesis lays out an approach for employing the transformative and generative potential of noise within composition. This approach provides a simple framework for engaging with the near limitless applications of the transformative properties of noise within creative sound practice. By reframing the role of noise in this way, this approach offers an alternative to conventional methods for utilising noise within composition, which generally treat noise as a qualitative or quantitative property of a sound.

Creative applications of this approach are examined through discussions of both the accompanying portfolio and related work from other practitioners. The discussion is split between three different forms of creative sound practice: improvisation with playback media, score based instrumental composition and fixed media electroacoustic composition. Each of these areas of discussion relate to specific projects within the portfolio: an improvisatory performance practice using modified CD players, scores utilising visual noise, and a fixed media composition available as both a digital download and a telephone hotline. This discussion highlights how, as well as being a novel way of approaching composition, when used as a transformative and generative tool noise is uniquely adept at interrogating the flaws in commonly accepted notions in creative sound practice; instruments become performers, performers become composers, and what was once fixed becomes variable.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Higgins thesis 2021 PDF-A.pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
Download (3MB) | Preview


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login