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Japan Noise: Global Media Circulation and the Transpacific Circuits of Experimental Music

Edition: Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 2006

Date: 2006

Region: JAPAN


Type of media: Grey

Language: English

Editor: M.B.


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of global media circulation that traces the transpacific exchange of “Noise” - an emergent experimental music genre - - between musicians and listeners in Japan and North America. Japanese Noise musicians have sold tens of thousands of recordings in the US, and helped to stimulate a significant American Noise subculture. Yet the dual reception of Noise as a “Japanese” music (sometimes labeled "Japanoise"), but also as a universal avant-garde style relies as much on imaginary speculations as on actual exchange. But by its very name, Noise seems to question the transmission of meaning from one distinct cultural space to another: if "Noise" is "Music," what, after all, is “Culture?"

Listening to urban sound worlds connects us to circuits of technological change; to transnational media networks and the historical projects of the Western
avant-garde,; and to the representation of Japanese modernity in the multi-layered sonic experience of musical performance in its cities. Based in several years of
fieldwork with participants both in Japan and the United States, my dissertation shows how separated individuals and sites of social production are linked together by recordings in cosmopolitan circulation. How do we expand modem frameworks of cultural politics, place, and expressive culture when we travel with recordings in their distribution? The movement of marginal and obscure experimental musical genres can reframe popular music’s symbolic and social practices on many different planes. Through its translocal circulation, Noise becomes a mutable commodity, a cultural trope, an aesthetic tool, a force for social connection and an aspect of everyday life. This dissertation is a multi-sited study of this modem context of music circulation, which questions well-traveled concepts of art, culture, nation, and identity by working towards an interdisciplinary inquiry into the conditions of media’s globalization.