2.   Some Remarks on Noise


As I argue together with Larcher in the introduction to this issue, taking up “noise” as an analytical concept presents a number of challenges, which can all be taken as potential openings for novel pathways of analysis. First of all, noisiness makes it more difficult to enter into a dialogue with recordings, since it is contrary to the ideal of a recording, in which high-fidelity “presence” presumably allows for a more direct, unmediated connection to the context of the recording. By deconstructing these ontological preconceptions about recordings, paying attention to marginalized or discarded recordings can open up novel pathways for analysis.


Second, “noise” is a fluid category that signifies an ephemeral quality of a recording, for example. The category of noise signifies a lack of structure or sense, but once taken as an analytical object, it is “incorporated as non-noise” (Hegarty 2006: 1). In other words, when noise is analyzed, it becomes something that is not noise any more. So, instead of taking up noise as a category, noise in the process of being analyzed should be considered as suspended between noise and non-noise (cf. Neumark 2017: 167), or, as media scholar Marie Thompson puts it, “an interruption that induces a modification in bodies, systems, and relations” (Thompson 2012: 19; see also Wright 2022: 34).


Related to this idea of noise as a parasitic interruption (cf. Serres 2007: 3), third, as Sandro Simon writes in this issue, an inquiry into noise can be useful in pointing toward how knowledge is considered by multimodal scholars to be something that is “fabricated” (Dattatreyan and Marrero-Guillamón 2019: 221). In this sense, “noisiness” is a heuristic that can be used methodologically to side-step our biases and to reflect on our recording and knowledge-making practices. Attending to noise, I maintain, is a good example of the kind of “epistemic disobedience” (Mignolo 2009) recently advocated by artist and researcher Mark Peter Wright (2022: 3).

But what types of analytical contexts are elucidated by taking up noise as an object, or at least as an interruption? Just as dithering employs noise to enhance the quality of a signal, clarifying or sharpening its aspects, I contend that a similar attention to noisiness in anthropological field recordings and associated media practices can recontextualize and revalorize what might, by conventional standards, be dismissed as rubbish. Through the analyses presented here, I demonstrate this approach.