Guitar Noise: Power, Meaning, and Influence in PopularMusicDave Wall
Where ever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. Whenwe listen to it, we find it fascinating.
guitar history simultaneously spans popular and classical styles, urban and rural techniques, contemporary and historical practices, written and unwritten traditions, and Western and non-Western cultures
Victor Anand CoelhoIn its brief life, the electric guitar has become one of the most powerful icons in 20
century music. This is evidenced by looking at its role in popular music post -1950 and,through that role, the sheer number of people exposed to it. If, as Jacques Attali says, power and subversion are born out of music, and disorder and the world are born out of noise (Attali, 6) then the guitar - in its pre-eminent position within the world of popular music, and through its use of noise - becomes a tool for radical transformation.I will argue that the electric guitar has been instrumental in influencing, enacting, andchallenging socio-cultural and musical discourses through its use of noise in the contextof popular music. The noise I refer to here and throughout this paper indicates not onlyaural noise, but also non-aural noise associated with actions and attitudes that disrupt thenormal flow of events within a culture. In effect, it covers virtually any cultural channelfrom various discourses to modes of dress and speech. This non-aural noise goes bymany names: subversion, originality, idiosyncracy, transgression, all of which the electricguitar demonstrates. Following Frances Dyson, we can also see noise ± as an aspect of vibration and because of its ambiguous nature ± as something that unifies, ³«thatdissolves the distinction between the body and technology, nature, and culture, andresolves the problem of representation and mediation.´ (Dyson, 11) Noise fractures andunites simultaneously.Before I begin, two caveats: first, when speaking of popular music, I am specificallyspeaking of the popular music of North America and the United Kingdom. Second, myuse of the terms ³electric guitar´ and ³popular music´ imply one another. When Imention one, the presence of the other is assumed. I should also say that the breadth anddepth of this topic demands more than the scope of this paper allows. The reader can takethis as an introduction to the issues that emerge in this arena.In order to provide context and focus, I begin with three definitions of noise, acoustic,communicative, and subjective giving particular attention to subjective noise. While we