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Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts: A History of Sound in the Arts [Paperback]

D Kahn
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 Oct 2001
This interdisciplinary history and theory of sound in the arts reads the twentieth century by listening to it--to the emphatic and exceptional sounds of modernism and those on the cusp of postmodernism, recorded sound, noise, silence, the fluid sounds of immersion and dripping, and the meat voices of viruses, screams, and bestial cries. Focusing on Europe in the first half of the century and the United States in the postwar years, Douglas Kahn explores aural activities in literature, music, visual arts, theater, and film. Placing aurality at the center of the history of the arts, he revisits key artistic questions, listening to the sounds that drown out the politics and poetics that generated them. Artists discussed include Antonin Artaud, George Brecht, William Burroughs, John Cage, Sergei Eisenstein, Fluxus, Allan Kaprow, Michael McClure, Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, Luigi Russolo, and Dziga Vertov.

Frequently Bought Together

Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts: A History of Sound in the Arts + Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art + Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art
Price For All Three: 48.83

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Product details

  • Paperback: 472 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New Ed edition (15 Oct 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262611724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611725
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 18 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Kahn's research is impressive, and his presentation is thorough and precise." - Carol J. Binkowski, Library Journal; "...a unique and important contribution to this emerging, exciting field. It is overflowing with ideas, references, and conjecture." - John Levack Drever, The Art Book

About the Author

Douglas KAHN is founding Director of Technocultural Studies at University of California at Davis. He is the author of Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press, 1999).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Obscure yet thought-provoking 1 Sep 2006
By kvetner
Ignore, for a start, the subtitle. Noise Water Meat would be a thorough failure as a history of sound in the arts, if that were what it really tried to be. It's primarily a history of the modernist avant-garde, up to the end of the 1950s. As such, it reflects a period where, with the exception of cinema, sound art had yet to become distinguishable from music, and still awaited release from the fourth dimension into the first three.

It's difficult at times not to become impatient with a book that, for example, considers John Cage's water music to be more interesting than (say) that of Annea Lockwood, or for which the boundaries of a discussion on 'impossible inaudible' sounds are essentially limited to Cage's early years. Kahn, a professor of media arts in Australia, acts here primarily as a historian, so his focus on dead white males is perhaps inevitable. Nonetheless, the whole book is tremendously relevant to more recent developments, and it's regrettable that connections with the last few decades are never really made.

There's one other obstacle to negotiate. Kahn's fellow academics may well feel that his prose is a "delight to read", but I imagine that most readers will find his ongoing desire to break the three-digit word count in his sentences more of a turn off. One day, we can hope, post-modernists, post-structuralists and all the other cultural studies post-literates, will summon up the energy to actually learn how to write in an accessible, intelligible way. In the mean time, Kahn's prose remains unnecessarily obtuse.

The book's limitations are unfortunate, because Noise Water Meat is a provocative, enlightening and expansive foray into an arena that demands better than many writers have previously offered.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, with a brilliant critique of Cage 26 Aug 2001
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Kahn's text sprawls over 358 pages, and is filled with innovative insights into the auditory component of the 20th century avant-garde. I found the most brilliant section to be his critique of John Cage. Cage created music with the aim of "quieting the mind, to open it to divine influence." Kahn is the first to articulate what I have felt, that Cage, the zen anarchist, is just as manipulative with this goal as any tonal symphonic architect! As Kahn puts in,

"...Cagean silence...has silenced other things, as it dwells at the problematic edge of audibility and attempts to hear the world of sound without hearing aspects of the world in a sound" (p. 4) Kahn turns on its head Cage's stated aim of "just letting sound be," speaking rather of "Cage's dominion of all sound and always sound," a project to turn all sound into music! (p. 197)

Much of the rest of the book, the sections on "Water Flows and Flux" and "Meat Voices," is a wandering chronicle of various avant forms, and Kahn has fun with organic analogies. But it's a fascinating trip through little-known terrain, and Kahn is a fearless and creative guide!

(verified library loan)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new voice for the silent spots in audio-theories 10 July 2006
By Andreas Halskov - Published on Amazon.com
If at times overly academic, Douglas Kahn's seminal work "Noise, Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts" should be required reading for any course related to sound and such audio-visual domains as film and television.

In his book Kahn adresses the historical changes (or, development?) in noise abatement, looking at noise as a cultural, musiological and essentially political phenomenon (with an apparent inspiration from Jacques Attali). Accompanying the different types of noise abatement in Western modernity (as voiced e.g. by Arthur Schopenhauer), are also - as Kahn illustrates - different experiments into the use of noise, whether defined as a strictly musical or cultural phenomenon. In music we thus find such experimental composers as John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer (exploring different types of musique concrète), in film we find early auteurs as Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Alexandrov (through the use of natural sounds, asynchronism and different sonic counterpoints). Even in other - less obviously sonic - arts may we find otherwise elaborate experiments with sounds and noise(s). Take for example the vivid attempts at breaking the rigid rules of communication and narration through distinctly phonetical, verbo-literary experiments in the works of James Joyce and William Burroughs - or the creative disruption of the organic line in the paintings of say Gerhard Richter.

Further examples could be found ad nauseum, and Douglas Kahn goes to great length in his interesting and well-documented explorations. Noise IS a part of the arts as much as our close environment, whether we register or hope to reject it.

Kahn's pioneer-footsteps, thus, leave a vivid trail for others to follow, for in his book - if nothing else - he has shown how different sonic experiments (and, more specifically, different types of noise) are all around us. Instead of conservative strategies of silencing and abatement, we should listen!
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An astonishing history of art 10 Aug 2001
By Ken Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
This astonishing history of twentieth century art offers a deep and profound view of intermedia and multimedia through the aspect of sound. Kahn's narrative is beautifully written and well researched. He supports the text with a wealth of documentary sources that permit further research. This book is a seminal contribution to research in intermedia, multimedia, and media studies. KF
Book review published in Design Research News, Volume 6, Number 8, Aug 2001 ISSN 1473-3862.
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it and I highly recommend it to anyone interested ... 9 July 2014
By Joseph Hoffman - Published on Amazon.com
I love it and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the art of sound... or how sound has been used as art... or the philosophy of sound. It is a sound read. As mentioned before, do not read if this is your first rodeo, however, if this is your second rodeo... you should be just fine. Seriously though, not an easy read but a worth while read. Very smart. Lots of insight.
4.0 out of 5 stars Where's the beef? 18 April 2012
By l_miliano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very theoretical read. Don't expect to be able to fully grasp the contents of this book without having some other one's handy. Not for beginners, lot's of references to the classics. Very useful if you're beginning to construct a lit review for an important paper, even a dissertation.
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