Internal periphery / Personal background noise
I apologize but I must start defining this concept of personal background noise with pathetic and semi cheesy story and observation dating all the way back to late 90's. In the evening of Friday 18. of June 1999 (or actually it was already past midnight and technically sat 19.) I was lying on my bed in my own room. I was fifteen years old and of course still living with my parents. I had hard time getting sleep because it was a Provinssi Rock weekend. Provinssi Rock is a rock-festival that has been organized since 1979 in the Törnävä Island -area in Seinäjoki Finland.
I only had the ticket for saturday cause my budget did not allow me to rock and roll the whole weekend. The anticipation was rising and knowing that some of my friends were at already in there made it even harder for me to cope with the fact that I was lying in my bed at home, listening to my father snoring loudly in the next room.
Luckily during the nineties the decibel limits of the concerts were not taken in account so seriously. So it was not rare that during the festival, you could easily hear the noise coming from the main stage all the way to our home even though the distance was just less than 10 kilometers. Somewhere around the midnight the circumstances turned optimum for the noise to travel the distance when wind calmed down and obviously turned to blow from the direction of the festival. I had my window open, because it was a relatively worm evening and probably cause I hoped to hear some signs of the music reverberating from the island.
To tell you the truth I also had some doubts concerning the festival in general. Previous year I visited it briefly, but then it was really cold and rainy weather and the day I went there were no bands that I would actually enjoy so much. Addition to all that I had to take care of my vomiting friend most of the time so my experience of the festival was mostly something like getting really wet and cold hanging around the filthy bajamajas.
But this year things were quite different from the get go. Now there were bands that I was really waiting to experience plus I had heard so many euphoric stories from my friends from the other days of the festival that I was really excited to go.
Coming back to that certain moment, laying on my bed I suddenly started to hear it. I was amazed how strong the noise was. I assume it was a brief sound check before the gig actually started, because I could hear some kind of bursts and thuds entering my room from the window. Then it begin. There were no doubts that this was a gig starting in the main stage. Through the window all the way to my ears these vibrations of the air molecules transmitted signals that I had been waiting.
I realized that the band was Skunk Anansie, and knew for sure that one of my friends who was a big fan was in the front line.
I focused to listen and little by little I could recognize the drums and some vocals, other sound was just this blurry dreamlike fuzz, like beautiful natural disaster, earthquake, volcano eruption, or some gigantic heard of animals approaching. Probably because of the wind altering its volume and direction the sound was in a way undulating, creating waves that were bursting through my window and slowly but steadily filling it with this matter of some kind, matter that changed the room completely. It was not the same room sat in the normal evenings of the week performing my mundane school work avoidance actions. No, it became a dreamlike atmosphere were all the details of the room adopted a new meaning and alternative aesthetics. The noise, the soundscape filling my room attached itself to the objects of my room altering their appearance in my perception.
The sound itself, the undulating noise coming from the huge pa-system 10km away was now the soundscape of my room. The perception and interpretation in my head started to advance and developed towards a fantasy of the place that was the source of the sound. I could see the stage, thousands of sweaty smiling people in front of it pouncing and undulating in the same frequency as the sound in my room. I could depict the orgastic faces of these people, the foggy midnight light on their hair and skin, intensity and urgency of now floating above them. I could see my friend in the midst of these people and I could feel the skins of other people pressing to my skin and radiating their warmth on me. The feeling vibrating through all these images and sensations was nothing else but sheer love. I have no problems stating this as silly and as pretentious it may sound. The feeling was of course generated by me, by my fantasy that this noise had triggered.
All the sensations included in my fantasy were actually there all the time. The light was the actual light present in my room, the warmth was the feeling of my own skin under the blanket, sound was the sound that was filling my room. I can remember that in my fantasy, the sound that I fantasized being present in amongst of these orgastic people was not something that I assumed to sound like in the actual location of the stage but the very sound that was filling my ears at the moment.
This experience was extremely beautiful for me and I can still remember it very precisely. I don’t remember the fantasies about the people I made, but I remember the sound, the appearance of my room and the feeling on my skin.
The distant peripheral sound affected my inner auditory imagination and made me create this fantasy that affected my experience and ways I perceived the very location, the center I was present at the moment. And of course my ideas and emotions colored and in a way produced the aesthetics of the experience. As Voegelin describes his experience with the neighbor pounding bass in the summer evening and states that "if you like your neighbor their music is much less noisy" He depicts how the neighbor music coming through the open balcony door saturates his room and fills it with invisible littering layer, becoming a sort of "inert block of solid auditory material" (Voegelin 2010, 44)
Although Voegelins experience was negative and provoked him to take control the situation by answering back to neighbor with his own music I see much resemblance in the depiction of the experience and the way he felt the locality and spatiality of the noise entering his space. Who this peripheral noise was affecting the very center of his own existence and forming his perception of it.
If the sound would have been totally clear and it would have not contained any evidences of distance, it would have not been able to produce such a fantasy. It would have contained too much information and too many signs, possible to be interpreted. The amount of information and recognizable elements would have suffocated the background; the peripheral parts of the sound that in their self do not contain any recognizable signals or signs that refer to certain objects as sources of sound. This fuzzy undulating abstract mattress of noise in my ears provided me the change to use my imagination in interpreting the source, its essence and its meaning. I feel that in the end it was of course not wholly abstract. It contained signs and signals, but not the kinds that would have any precise, fixed meanings. I feel these signs were something that Eero Tarasti calls as a Transcendental signs, in his book (Existential Semiotics, Tarasti, Eero. Existential semiotics. Indiana University Press, 2001.)
About the periphery and its meanings
As I have come to realize, for me the periphery is always something that you don’t know or understand. It is something imagined by the interpretations made from vague distant signals. These signals contain no predefined fixed meanings or modalities, but they can be seen as existential- or transcendental signs; objects that float in the gravityless transcendental space, out of our existence or "Dasein" which Tarasti uses as concept to describe the world in which the semiotic subject lives acts and reacts (Dasein is originally concept from Heidegger) (Tarasti 2000, 19). In Tarastis theory the constructing of meaning is not so much object based but more connected to the temporal processes and emerging from the "journey" made by the subject. (Tarasti 2000, 18) These journeys are kind of acts where the subject enters the transcendental and sees the signs against the emptiness. Tarasti depicts how "When the subject returns from his negation, the transcendence of his Dasein, he sees it from a new point of view. Many of its objects have lost their meaning and have proven to be only seemingly significant. However, those which preserve their meanings are provided with a new content enriched by the new existential experience." (Tarasti 2000, 11)
When we approach the periphery and become familiar with it, it stops being periphery, and transforms in to center. Centre is something recognizable, filled with familiar signs and signals, information that we can read from the instant perceptions that we make.
Periphery is something that can’t be fully understood, it escapes the known. It is always a production of our imagination, powered by perceptions, prejudice, suppositions and interpretations based on limited or fuzzy data.
And this fuzzy data, even if it would be just hissing or humming quite noise that's origin we have no actual idea, we of course still make the interpretation and try to imagine its origin. And even if we don’t come up with an actual concrete definition about what this is about, this data, this transcendental sign affects our perception of our surroundings and alters our aesthetical experience or our current center.
Coming back to the internal background noise
In my story I will now leap in to the next day, the actual day I attended the festival. I will not describe any experiences inside the festival area but just the sensations and experiences approaching it. While biking towards the festival area and sipping the homemade vine stolen from my parents, the hum coming from multiple different orchestras transmitted thru pa-systems got louder and louder and I was getting more and more affected by the wine experience grew stronger. The huge hum that was bit same as the undulating fuzz heard last night but this time more aggressive, more intrusive and highly enticing and cause of the bigger amount of sources even more fuzzy and unrecognizable. You could recognize some vague hints of harmonies but mostly it was like huge eruption, volcano or similar chaotic event destroying its surroundings and drowning it with its megalomaniac force. This thrilling promise of confusion and euphoric chaos made the experience aesthetically so strong that regardless of the magnificent urgency and rush to get to the actual spot the center of this destructive event, I stopped and focused on just perceiving the very essence of this anticipation, colored with the gigantic, violent, divine noise. In the end I understand that this as the most aesthetically satisfying experience of the whole festival. It was a hint, a promise radiated from the periphery to my center. It connected to my experience of previous night and my expectations producing an experience that was not possible to get from recognizable sounds, signs and aesthetic objects. This was a product of peripheral sound, background noise interpreted by me as subject through transcendental journey.
This mass, this noise affected me and produced in me an aesthetical mark of some kind. A premise of signification in against I reflect the perceptions, sensations and interpretations to come. It became some kind of personal background noise, an internal peripheral sound, something that represented to me an aesthetical focal point of abstract significance. Still today I notice that I listen distant noises and especially strong humming sounds as freeways, huge ventilation machines and stormy seascapes in a reference to this inner background noise. I seek for similarities and differences, harmonies, nuances structures and textures. Of course during the years this inner periphery; personal background noise has changed and altered a lot, but I feel that a very starting point of beginning to realize the existence of this phenomena that defines pretty much how I interpret and experience different aesthetically spaces, events and scapes that contain noise and especially distant non recognizable background noise.