Michel Chion is a composer, filmmaker, teacher, researcher, and the author of several books, including
James A. Steintrager is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and European Languages and Studies at the University of California, Irvine; he is the author, most recently, of
Noise and Music: A Legitimate Distinction?
This chapter explores the characterization of certain types or instances of sound as noise and in particular the distinction within the musical domain between supposedly inherently musical sounds and noisy ones. Western musical theory and practice have privileged tonic sounds, that is, those with precise pitch, and have overlooked or diminished the relevance of complex sounds, that is, those with nonperiodic frequency structures or variable pitch. Linguistic and cultural conventions further guide how we hear sounds as either noisy or noble. Acknowledging the constructive and constraining effect of language on aural perception can make us more open listeners and allow us to grasp the share of so-called noise already at work in much music, both within and without the Western classical tradition. The chapter concludes with historical considerations and analyses of the place of noise in music (from Verdi to Futurism and musique concrète) and in other media, particularly cinema.