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Patrimoine culturel intangible : le cas de la musique

Irish Popular Music and Noise as an Intangible Signifier of Cultural Heritage: The Noisy Island

Le bruit dans la musique populaire irlandaise comme un signifiant du patrimoine culturel immatériel : l’île bruyante
Michael Lydon
p. 119-135

Résumés

Dans cet article je considère l’utilisation du bruit acoustique des musiciens populaires irlandais à l’ère numérique et post-numérique comme un signifiant du patrimoine culturel immatériel irlandais. Le bruit a toujours été présent dans l’histoire de l’enregistrement sonore : il imprégnait, masquait, voire détruisait le plaisir d’un enregistrement. Donc, le bruit hante la musique populaire et devient un artefact important du patrimoine culturel populaire par inadvertance. La présence du bruit est devenue plus incertaine avec l’avènement de l’ère numérique car les nouvelles technologies d’enregistrement ont donné l’occasion de la limiter. Malgré cela, le bruit persiste car les preneurs de son reconnaissent sa capacité à générer des sensations acoustiques. J’analyse ce constat à travers des enregistrements spécifiques de Damien Dempsey, Sinéad O’Connor ainsi que d’autres musiciens populaires irlandais. Dans le cadre de cette étude j’utilise les diverses modalités interprétatives de la recherche accordée aux études irlandaises en y intégrant les théories critiques des études de la musique populaire, de phonomusicologie et des études du son. Enfin, en accord avec l’objectif de l’UNESCO visant à ce que le patrimoine culturel immatériel ne fasse pas « l’objet de jugements de valeur extérieurs », je ne considère pas le bruit à travers les jugements de valeur établis, mais l’analyse d’une nouvelle manière comme un signifiant immatériel du patrimoine culturel irlandais.

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Introduction

1In the influential Noisy Island: A Short History of Irish Popular Music, Gerry Smyth asserts that the island of Ireland is

  • 1 Gerry Smyth, Noisy Island: A Short History of Irish Popular Music, Cork, Cork University Press, 200 (...)

[…] full of noises, and it behoves the Irish critical community to begin listening to them, and not only to the noises that are sweet, but also the ones we are routinely encouraged to believe are not.1

In using the term “noise”, Smyth is primarily signalling popular music, with the assertion being that this form of cultural heritage is often considered an unwanted (or not so sweet) counter to the sweet sounds of Irish traditional, folk, and classical music. Marie Thompson writes of noise that it

  • 2 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound: Noise, Affect and Aesthetic Moralism, New York, Bloomsbury A (...)

[…] slips between different disciplinary fields: it carries through the walls that separate science, acoustics, economics, politics, arts, information theory and law.2

In using the signifier “noise”, I recognise the ambiguity of the term. However, I examine noise from an acoustic perspective, considering the use of both media and environmental noise as intangible signifiers of Irish cultural heritage in Irish popular music. Thompson writes:

  • 3 Ibid.

Noise’s conceptual noisiness means that it often functions as a floating signifier: it can be used to talk about almost anything.3

Thereby, as a floating signifier, noise as Irish popular music can signal a form of cultural expression often subject to value judgements in perceptions of Irish cultural heritage. Whereas noise as sound is by definition judged as unwanted. UNESCO in the sixth of twelve ethical principles on intangible cultural heritage, acknowledges that

  • 4 UNESCO, “Ethics and Intangible Cultural Heritage”, UNESCO website of the Convention for the Safegua (...)

Each community, group or individual should assess the value of its own intangible cultural heritage and this intangible cultural heritage should not be subject to external judgements of value or worth.4

I thereby consider noise’s haunting presence in popular music, revealing that it is an integral intangible artifact of popular cultural heritage, that, once employed by musicians as skilled cultural practitioners, becomes an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage.

  • 5 Hereafter, the digital age, and post-digital age will be referred to as “(post-)digital age”. In li (...)

2I begin the article by considering noise as sound, defining both media and environmental noise. Next, I look to the purported marginalisation of noise in the digital and post-digital age,5 and the use of the haunting noises of popular cultural heritage as a response to the creative challenges realised with dominant pervasive listening patterns. In assessing these haunting noises, I recontextualise Jacques Derrida’s neologism “hauntology”, while also utilising theories relatable to noise / sound by theorists Marie Thompson, Jonathan Sterne, Samantha Bennett, and Jean-François Augoyard. Finally, I examine specific tracks by Damien Dempsey, Sinéad O’Connor, Fionn Regan, and David Kitt, revealing that in their respective use of the haunting noises of Irish popular music, these musicians utilise an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage. Ultimately, the article shows that the noisy popular musicians of Ireland use acoustic noise as an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage, as they respond to the creative challenges of the (post-)digital age.

Noise as an intangible signifier of cultural heritage

3Damon Krukowski writes:

  • 6 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, New York, The New P (...)

Noise, to an electrical engineer, is whatever is not regarded as signal. […] However, what I know well from working with sound and music is that noise is as communicative as signal.6

  • 7 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 43.
  • 8 Stan Link, “The Work of Reproduction in the Mechanical Aging of an Art: Listening to Noise”, Comput (...)

To define noise as an intangible marker of cultural heritage, it is important to consider the two formative categorisations of noise evident within analogue recording, and therefore the history of recorded sound. First, there is what Thompson defines as media / milieu noise, which is a clear recognisable signifier of analogue technology and all perceived antiquated modes of sound production and reception.7 The hiss, clicks, pops, and static best understood as emanating from devises such as a vinyl record, form as much a part of the history of recorded sound as any sonic component. Stan Link writes that, “In many ways, noise is the grammar of recording”, “Noise was always there, but disregarded and dismissed as the illegitimate offspring of the event and its transcription”.8 Therefore, media noise’s characterisation as an intangible marker of cultural heritage is irrefutable, as the history of recorded sound is permeated with media noise.

4The second categorisation of noise is environmental noise, or what is often described as studio noise. In using the signifier environmental as opposed to studio noise, there is an important recognition that the origins of this categorisation of noise are not confined to a recording studio. In essence, environmental noises are sounds that are picked up by the microphone but are deemed outside of the original signal. Krukowski notes that

  • 9 Damon Krukowski, Ways of Hearing, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2019, p.  (...)

Noise is unavoidable in any live recording, because mics are like our ears – they hear everything. The signal they pick up is always surrounded by noise.9

He maintains that

  • 10 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog…, p. 168.

Decisions in the analog studio were for the most part permanent; little could be undone, short of starting over, because there was no way to move backwards through the process. The sounds you made became your history.10

As a result, the mic as an ear records all environmental noise, whether that is a cough, sneeze, shout, or movement, thereafter, converting it to tape and history. In fact, the history of popular music is unknowable without the unintended noises of specific recording sessions captured on tape; one needs only think of Ringo Starr’s “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” which concludes “Helter Skelter”.

5Upon recognising noise as a rudimentary part of the history of recorded sound, it must be considered an intangible marker of cultural heritage. Jonathan Sterne purports that

  • 11 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, Durham – London, Duke Un (...)

On the basis of their sonic character, sounds become signs – they come to mean certain things. Technical notions of listening depend on the establishment of a code for what is heard but exist without affective metalanguage. A metalanguage of sound would consist of a nonspecialised set of terms that enable people to describe the details of audible experience in a purely abstract manner.11

  • 12 Laura U. Marks, “A Noisy Brush with the Infinite: Noise in Enfolding-Unfolding Aesthetics”, in The (...)

6Therefore, for a listener to immerse themselves within the practice of listening to a song, they require sonic signs to guide their experience: a metalanguage of sound – and, as will become apparent, noise – that not only functions as a descriptive agent but facilitates the reflective conscious to listen. Laura U. Marks argues that “Noise is the sea on which our experience bobs”, it is “the index of the infinite”.12 In terms of defining noise’s relation to a metalanguage of sound, its sign relatable qualities within an artist’s commercial releases, its presence is understood as a given. Thompson writes that

  • 13 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 3.

[…] there is much more to noise than unwanted sound, and to fail to recognize this is to fail to recognize the crucial role noise plays in auditory culture and in material culture more generally. There is no music, no mediation, no son [sound] without noise.13

In terms of viewing noise as an intangible marker of cultural heritage, noise can be understood as a part of a metalanguage of sounds which facilitate an engaged reception of popular music.

  • 14 Samantha Bennett, Modern Records, Maverick Methods: Technology and Process in Popular Music Record (...)
  • 15 Paul Hegarty, Noise / Music: A History, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2007, p. 5.

7In relation to Irish cultural heritage, noise as part of a metalanguage of recorded sound can be subject to national and local cadences when employed by a skilled “recordist”; an “‘umbrella term’ [that can be used] to incorporate producers, sound engineers, programmers, tape-ops, as well as conflations of the artist-engineer / artist-producer role”.14 Paul Hegarty writes that “Noise has a history. Noise occurs not in isolation, but in a differential relation to society, to sound, and to music”.15 For that reason, noise as an intangible marker of cultural heritage is subject to historical, societal, and cultural inferences, which, in turn, can signal or “sound” national identity. Noise’s ability to sound Ireland will be assessed in greater detail later in the article, but at this juncture it is important to stress the fluidity of noise as a floating signifier. In recognising this floating signification, a musician and / or recordist, as skilled cultural practitioners, can assess without value judgment the cultural potential of noise, before using this noise as an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage. Robert Strachan suggests that

  • 16 Robert Strachan, Sonic Technologies: Popular Music, Digital Culture and the Creative Process, New Y (...)

Cultural practitioners accumulate a store of knowledge in order to be fluent in the skills, conventions and histories relating to the cultural practices in which they are engaged. These knowledges are then put into action in the creative process.16

As skilled cultural practitioners, the musicians discussed in this article accumulate a store of knowledge in relation to noise’s possible cultural signification which they put into practice in their creative response to the various creative challenges of the (post-)digital age.

Noise in the (post-)digital age

8At this point in the article, it is important to consider noise in the (post-)digital age. Initially this entails examining a purported marginalisation of noise because of digital technology. Thereafter, I reveal some of the creative challenges facing popular musicians because of digital era technology.

9Thompson considers:

  • 17 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 2.

In the digital era of ever-faster connectivity and communications, of high-definition imagery and audio recording, it can sometimes seem as if noise has been conquered: that it is no longer a problem for our contemporary technologies.17

  • 18 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog…, p. 168, 191.
  • 19 Damon Krukowski, Ways of Hearing, p. 129.

Whereas Krukowski states: “In the digital audio studio, history is undoable”, “Digital time is ahistorical. Its signal arrives without noise – neither the noise of one another nor of the past”.18 Krukowski also acknowledges that, “In digital media, if you can point to something, you can usually eliminate it”.19 It seems then that in the digital age, noise has been apprehended as an unwanted sonic component and jettisoned from the recording process. Yet, this proves not to be the case, for as Thompson maintains:

  • 20 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 42.

[…] it might sometimes seem as if noise is a thing of the past, having been banished to the archives by the ever-greater fidelity of sound reproduction. But noise still lurks in even the most perfect of recordings […] noise can never be fully conquered.20

Therefore, variants of noise will persist within even the most perfect digital recorded tracks: though not by choice, it nevertheless will remain unconquerable. The second factor in noise’s persistence within the (post-)digital age is where the focus of this article lies, that being choice. Specifically, popular musicians choosing to use both media and environmental noise in their recordings as a response to some of the creative challenges of the (post-)digital age.

  • 21 Timothy D. Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology & Culture, New York, Routledge, 2011, p. 3.

10Timothy D. Taylor writes that digital technology is the most “fundamental change in the history of Western music since the invention of music notation in the ninth century”.21 The result is seismic changes in music’s reception and production, that have realised significant creative challenges for popular musicians. Anahid Kassabian argues that one of the greatest challenges facing popular music in the (post-)digital age is the advent of “ubiquitous listening”:

  • 22 Anahid Kassabian, Ubiquitous Listening: Affect, Attention, and Distributed Subjectivity, Berkeley, (...)

Those of us living in industrialized settings have developed from the omnipresence of music in our daily lives, a mode of listening dissociated from specific generic characteristics of the music. In this mode we listen “alongside” or simultaneous with other activities. It is one vicious example of the non-linearity of contemporary life.22

  • 23 Ben Ratliff, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now, London, Allen Lane, 2016, p. 1.

11This form of ubiquitous listening needs little explaining as most people within the developed world see the practice of listening alongside other activities as accustomed. Therefore, potential fans of popular music have become disconnected, failing to immerse themselves in the practice of attentive listening. In addition, Ben Ratliff argues that popular music reception has also entered the “time of the cloud”,23 an era of music reception dominated by Spotify or other streaming sites. According to him:

  • 24 Ibid.

We are listening in the time of the cloud. First there was a person making up a song, as ritual or warning or memorial. Then there was a person singing an old song that someone had made up. Then there was music in the church and the concert hall and bar and bordello; then the wax cylinder, gramophone, radio, cassette, CD player, downloadable digital file. And then there was the cloud. Now we can hear nearly everything, almost whenever, almost wherever, often for free.24

  • 25 Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, New York, HarperCollins, 2005, p. 2.

12Consequently, music fans have significantly more music to choose from, resulting in a “paradox of choice”.25 Along with ubiquitous listening, this tyranny of choice has resulted in greater fan disconnect, which in turn warrants a response from popular musicians. One particular response has been the (re-)emergence of noise, with musicians and recordists choosing to utilise noise’s fluidity as a signalling agent.

  • 26 José Cláudio Siqueira Castanheira, “The Matter of Numbers: Sound Technologies and Experience of Noi (...)

13Noise at its most basic level garners a response, thereby facilitating attentive listening. Musicians and recordists as skilled cultural practitioners are aware of this and use noise accordingly. They also recognise noise’s ability to act as an intangible marker of cultural heritage. José Cláudio Siqueira Castanheira claims that noise “[…] should not be there, impregnating, masking, even ruining, the enjoyment of a particular sound, but it certainly changes that sound and its meaning”; noise is “now part of the experience of an ancient sonority.26

  • 27 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 333.
  • 28 Ibid., p. 332.

14In forming part of this ancient sonority, noise is irrefutably an intangible marker of cultural heritage. Sterne writes: “If the past is, indeed, audible, if sounds can haunt us, we are left to find their durability and their meaning in their exteriority”.27 He further suggests that: “Recording is a form of exteriority: it does not preserve a pre-existing sonic event as it happens so much as it creates and organises sonic events for the possibility of preservation and repetition”.28 Thereby, noise as a part of this ancient sonority looms like a spectre over popular music. As skilled cultural practitioners, popular musicians are aware of this haunting, thereby recognise noise’s ability to act as an intangible marker of cultural heritage.

A haunting instrumentarium of Irish cultural heritage

15To outline further noise’s haunting presence as part of an ancient sonority, I will now consider Derrida’s concept of hauntology, before revealing what Jean Hogarty considers a “hauntological structure of feeling” among popular music fans. I will then consider a theory from psycho-sociology, showing how popular musicians respond to a hauntological structure of feeling by using noise as part of an intangible instrumentarium of cultural heritage.

  • 29 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New Interna (...)
  • 30 Ibid., p. 90.
  • 31 Ibid., p. 108.
  • 32 Pierre Macherey, “Marx Dematerialized, or the Spirit of Derrida”, in Ghostly Demarcations: A Sympos (...)
  • 33 Jean Hogarty, Popular Music and Retro Culture in the Digital Era, London, Routledge, 2017, p. 2.

16In Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale, Derrida develops the theory of hauntology to examine the haunting impact of Marxism in European politics. Derrida remarks that socio-political ramifications of Marxism were still prevalent at the end of the 20th century due to societal hauntological confrontation with the spectres of Europe’s past in the form of Marxist ideologies and socialist reform: “One never inherits without coming to terms with some specter”.29 Derrida also considers that “Servitude binds [itself] to appropriation”,30 and that this servitude and appropriation can result in positive conjuration which “enliven[s] the new”.31 In repurposing hauntology for an assessment of popular music, it is important to emphasise that musicians in their own reception of popular music must come to terms with spectres from their past in the form of a recording. In turn, they then serve these spectres by appropriating the haunting noise of these recordings which they use to enliven their own work. Pierre Macherey writes: “[…] an inheritance is not transmitted automatically but is reappropriated”,32 a point that further emphasises the significance of noise’s reappropriation as part of this ancient sonority to enliven the new. Jean Hogarty employs Derrida’s concept of hauntology to examine popular music and musical listenership amongst an ethnographic group of Irish music fans: “My view is that we are in the age of retro culture that is occupied by the ghosts of popular music’s past”.33 Hogarty writes:

  • 34 Ibid., p. 3.

The increasing homogeneity of the creators [of popular music] leads to the homogeneity of the output. I argue that this lack of originality feeds into the hauntological structure of feeling – it breeds nostalgia for the more futuristic past when popular music was supposedly more youthful original, heteronomous, and forward looking.34

17Although this point seems to relate more with an older listenership, those of whom have known musical listenership in a pre-digital era, Hogarty equally notes a similar hauntological tendency amongst younger listeners. She writes:

  • 35 Ibid., p. 5.

[…] the young generation unit of retro fans developed a constructed sense of “authenticity”, which emerges from the hauntological feeling and the belief that the unlived past was a better place.35

For this reason, a hauntological response by popular musicians in turn answers an endemic hauntological structure of feeling. Or in other words, popular musicians recognise that their listenership desire music that sounds like the ghosts of popular music’s past, thus, they utilise both media and environmental noise as intangible markers of popular cultural heritage.

18Jean-François Augoyard writes:

  • 36 Jean-François Augoyard, “Introduction: An Instrumentarium of the Sound Environment”, in Sonic Exper (...)

From the psycho-sociological point of view, the environment can be considered a reservoir of sound possibilities, an instrumentarium used to give substance and shape to human relationship and the everyday.36

As skilled cultural practitioners, Irish popular musicians are aware of the creative potential of the environment(s) in which they record their music. They are also aware of the haunting influence noises produced in these environments have on popular music, thereby they recontextualise this instrumentarium by choosing to allow the noises of their media and environment to remain in their recordings. Thus, they are responding to an endemic hauntological structure of feeling evident in a listenership who have become disconnected with popular music because of ubiquitous listening and cloud-based omnipresence. As will become evident in the next part of this article, Irish popular musicians in their response to (post-)digital creative challenges, and an evident hauntological structure of feeling, utilise noise as an instrumentarium to serve as an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage.

The noisy island

19In writing on Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux and Amanda Haynes write that:

  • 37 Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Amanda Haynes, “Against the Grain: Counter-Hegemoni (...)

His repertoire has consistently championed working-class values and spoken out on the issues that affect the vulnerable in society. […] his life experiences and upbringing in Donaghmede have ultimately instilled in him a desire to question / protest against (through his artistic endeavour) what he considers to be an unequal social and political order.37

  • 38 Ibid., p. 456.

20In other words, Dempsey’s Irish working-class roots shape his artistic endeavour. To signal this aspect of his identity, Dempsey sings in a very pronounced Dublin accent; a “codified style, with particular techniques and local accents which are in the service of communication, representation and expression”.38 To foreground accent, itself an intangible marker of cultural heritage, Dempsey’s studio albums include a great deal of environmental noise. These include guitar fret, out-of-tune vocal delivery, coughing, sniffing, laughing and even musing about the recording process, all of which can be considered a part of a culturally specific instrumentarium of sounds that are created during the recording process.

  • 39 Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, “‘You’ll never kill our will to be free’: Damien De (...)
  • 40 Reynolds reflects on his favoured production style in YouTube tutorial “John Reynolds (Sinéad O’Con (...)

21To expand on this point, Devereux, Dillane and Power, in their assessment of Dempsey’s “Colony” argue that Dempsey uses the uilleann pipes to signal Irishness. This iconic Irish instrument is often used to signify the nation in paintings, and it is frequently employed in film soundtracks to “sound” Ireland.39 In much the same way, Dempsey uses noise to “sound” Ireland. This is evident on “Factories”, a track from Seize the Day (2003), which begins with Dempsey questioning in his Dublin accent: “What else? I’ll just try this on its own and see”. He then proceeds to play a new track on the guitar before audibly running his fingers across the guitar neck creating noise (00-10). At this point he begins what is to be construed as the song, albeit with a full ten seconds of environmental noise at the beginning. To a sound engineer, these ten seconds can be heard as outside of the intended signal, or environmental noise that can be removed via digital technology. In “Factories”, however, Dempsey and the album’s recordist John Reynolds choose to include the sequence of environmental noise, thereby sounding Ireland by emphasising Dempsey’s accent. In a telling insight into his production style, Reynolds notes that his favoured working environment and production space, is one that is “simple”, “communitive” and affords intimacy between the working parties,40 thus enabling an intimate reception of the recording. Sterne writes that,

  • 41 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 236.

Considered as a product, reproduced sound might appear mobile, decontextualized, disembodied. Considered as a technology, sound reproduction might appear mobile, dehumanized, and mechanical. But, considered as a process, sound reproduction has an irreducible humanity, sociality, and spatiality.41

Therefore, the noise at the beginning of “Factories” serves two specific roles. As noted, the noise highlights Dempsey’s Dublin accent, becoming an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage. Yet, it also highlights the humanity, sociality, and spatiality of Reynold’s recording process, revealing the instrumentarium, or reservoir of sound possibilities, accessible in a simple production space. In signalling this process, noise as a marker of place becomes an important part of Dempsey’s music; hence, an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage.

22Dempsey’s The Rocky Road to Dublin is a cover album of Irish traditional songs that includes noise throughout to signal Irish cultural heritage. It is also an album that foregrounds Dempsey’s hauntological influences, as it is dedicated to specific canonical figures from Irish traditional and folk music such as Joe Heaney, Margaret Barry, Luke Kelly and The Dubliners. It is Dempsey’s noisiest album, with environmental noise used effectively to signal haunting influence and the Irish factors crucial to Reynolds’s process of sound production. This is evident on “The Rocky Road to Dublin”, where the voice of Barney McKenna of The Dubliners, who features on the album, is heard saying “that was cleaner” (03:49-51). A similar use of environmental noise is found at the end of “Kelly from Killan / The Teetotaler”, where a chair movement is followed by a short dialog between the musicians:

Barney McKenna: That’s ok boys.
Other player [possibly John Sheahan]: cough [clearing throat]
Barney McKenna: You give the drone you see with the the… [plays banjo]
Other player: Nice, nice, nice, warm sound isn’t it? (05:23-39)

  • 42 P. J. Curtis, Notes from the Heart: A Celebration of Traditional Irish Music, Dublin, Poolbeg, 1994 (...)
  • 43 Adam R. Kaul, Turning the Tune: Traditional Music, Tourism, and Social Change in an Irish Village, (...)

23Fundamentally, both these instances of environmental noise could be removed, yet they validate the album’s Irish traditional and folk credentials with approval from seasoned traditional folk performers. The dialogue, or environmental noise, was recorded in an Irish pub in Lanzarote (Charlies’ Bar) and features another icon of traditional Irish music in Sharon Shannon on button accordion.42 In another instance of the use of environmental noise on the album, a rowdy clink of a glass is heard on “The Twang Man” (07-09). This noise, coupled with Dempsey’s slurred vocals, functions to position the performance in a pub session environment. Thereby, indicating the albums intent to signal the importance of the Irish pub session to national and international interpretations of Irish traditional music.43 The use of noise alongside Irish traditional instruments and players like John Sheahan, Barney McKenna, and Sharon Shannon, emphasises noise’s ability to serve as an intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage.

24In a final use of noise, the album finishes with “Madam I’m a Darlin”. Of the track Dempsey writes:

  • 44 Damien Dempsey, “Album Notes”, in The Rocky Road to Dublin, New York, Sony Music, 2008, p. 4.

The tune in the end just came from the 3 of us [Dempsey, Sheahan, and McKenna] messing around in Doolin […] it’s sort of dreamy and gives us a feel of the west of Ireland.44

  • 45 Ibid., p. 3.

In looking to complement the dreamy feel of the West of Ireland, and the January he spent in Doolin swimming and arranging the music for the album, The Rocky Road to Dublin concludes with eleven seconds of noise in the form of waves and seabird calls. Furthermore, the use of sea noises to conclude the album can be construed as a homage to Dempsey’s childhood vacations to the coastal counties of Clare and Galway, where his passion for Irish traditional music was fostered.45 The use of noise on Seize the Day and The Rocky Road to Dublin may be dismissible upon casual listening. Nevertheless, they illustrate Dempsey and Reynolds’ ability to assess noise without influence from external judgements of value or worth, thereby serving both recordists as intangible markers of Irish cultural heritage. Yet, they are hardly alone in this regard as the noisy island of Ireland is replete with popular musicians who, as skilled cultural practitioners, assess noise away from external judgements, and recognise its signalling agency.

  • 46 Sara Cohen, “Men Making a Scene: Rock Music and the Production of Gender”, in Sexing the Groove: Po (...)
  • 47 Alan Williams, “Weapons of Mass Deception: The Invention and Reinvention of Recording Studio Mythol (...)
  • 48 Noel McLaughlin, Martin McLoone, Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and after U2, Dublin, Ir (...)
  • 49 Samantha Bennett, Modern Records…, p. 13.

25Since her debut album The Lion and the Cobra (1987), Sinéad O’Connor has emerged as one of the most important popular cultural representations of transnationalised Irish identity. Her skill as a cultural practitioner has afforded her a canonical status, with her use of noise signalling her skill as a recordist; a role often subject to gendered value judgements with scene making, production, and creativity often framed as “comprising [of] male activities and styles”.46 O’Connor’s skill as a recordist was established at the outset of her career, when at just nineteen she replaced the veteran recordist Kevin Mooney on her debut album. Throughout her career, O’Connor has then shown a consistent recognition of the mythologies that shape the way musicians, and recordists approach their work. This constitutes an awareness of production criteria, or myths of sound production, through which successes and failures are measured.47 In no album is O’Connor’s studio mythologising as astute as on Theology (2007), an album that was released in a double album format with disc one entitled the “Dublin Sessions” and disc two entitled the “London Sessions”. In a unique approach to the album form, the two discs feature almost the same track listing, the only difference being that the “London Sessions” features a cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. The other significant difference between the two sessions is related to production, with the “Dublin Sessions” produced acoustically by Steve Cooney, while the “London Sessions” was produced by RonTom and is more polished in terms of digital production. The initial premise for the album was that O’Connor looked to record an acoustic-only album which resulted in the “Dublin Sessions”. Unsurprisingly given the acoustic nature of the “Dublin Sessions”, the session is significantly noisier in character, with guitar fret, whispering fractured vocals and studio noise all evident. A second feature of note in the “Dublin Sessions” is that it was recorded in Windmill Lane Studios, a studio synonymous with U2 and their ending of the exile narrative in Irish popular music.48 The importance of the space, and the perceived ownership by U2, is recognised by O’Connor with her knowledge of Irish popular music’s systems of hierarchy. For this reason, her use of Windmill Lane can be construed as initially a challenge to what Bennett purports as a “type of workplace canon”,49 but also a way to again sound Ireland. The choice of recording space relates to the use of noise in temporally positioning the recording process inside a studio, as those listening and engaging with the album by reading the sleeve notes, are equally brought inside Windmill Lane upon listening. This redirects their point of focus away from the album to a present environment of great significance to Irish popular music, thereupon signalling intangible Irish cultural heritage with a specific environment of Irish music.

  • 50 Ibid., p. 58.
  • 51 Salomé Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, New York, Conti (...)

26The use of noise as an intangible marker of an Irish environment is also evident in specific recordings by Wicklow musician Fionn Regan, who primarily uses antiquated analogue technology to record and produce his music. Bennett suggests that this use of antiquated recording technology enriches recordings with a “past-era sonic familiarity”.50 To acquire this past-era sonic familiarity, Regan recorded The Shadow of an Empire (2010) in a makeshift recording studio in an old biscuit factory in Wicklow, whereas The Bunkhouse Vol. I: Anchor Black Tattoo (2012) was recorded using just a four-track tape recorder and a single microphone. In essence, Regan’s use of antiquated recording technology brings this past-era sonic familiarity to specific Irish environments, while using the environment as a reservoir of sound possibilities, an instrumentarium used to give substance and shape to his recordings. Thereby, the resulting recordings can be interpreted as intangible markers of Irish cultural heritage. Another example of noise’s use as an instrumentarium is evident in David Kitt’s “Step outside in the Morning Light”, a song from his debut EP Small Moments (2000). As the title suggests, “Step outside in the Morning Light” lyrically reflects Kitt’s desire to enjoy a bit of morning sunshine. To sonically represent the joy of stepping into the morning light, Kitt concludes the song with an initial use of media noise in the form of a warbling noise before a lengthy passage of environmental noise. This begins with the sound of someone, who the listener is to assume is Kitt, opening and closing a door accompanied by the sound of keys, followed by a car door opening, birds singing, and traffic noises – all of which signifies Kitt driving somewhere. Throughout all this use of environmental and media noise, music can be heard in conjunction. However, the final sequence of environmental noise has no musical accompaniment, thereby sounding Kitt’s walk in the morning light as he is heard walking and saying in his pronounced Irish accent “how ya doing” to a passer-by (06:00-12). The use of environmental noise in this final sequence correlates to Salomé Voegelin’s assessment that noise can be construed as sounding akin to a verb.51 The sequence in all lasts for one minute and twenty-seven seconds, and clearly serves to narrate Kitt initially leaving his home, before driving to a park and going for a walk in the morning light. In the sequence, noise actions his journey, with the environment serving as an instrumentarium to give substance and shape, therein serving as intangible markers of Irish cultural heritage.

27These are some examples of noise’s use as intangible marker of Irish cultural heritage. Yet they also serve to signal the fluidity of noise as a communitive sonic agent, with Irish popular music in the (post-)digital age replete with both media and environmental noise. This is evident across musical styles and genres, as heard in singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes’s “I Wanna Stay”; in the alternative rock band Fight Like Apes’ “Tie Me up with Jackets”; in electronic-rock band Jape’s “Floating”; in the hip-hop duo Messiah J & The Expert’s “Place Your Bets”; and in the funk-rock band Republic of Loose’s “Fuck Everybody”. In this article, I affirm Smyth’s assessment that the island of Ireland is full of noises. In analysing without value judgment noises that the critical community are routinely encouraged to believe are insignificant (or indeed not so sweet), I have shown Irish popular musicians as skilled cultural practitioners utilising the fluid communitive agency of media and environmental noise to signal Irish cultural heritage.

Conclusion

28Sterne argues that

  • 52 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 153.

People are used to treating things that they can hear but cannot see, smell, touch, or taste as “present” and, therefore, it would make sense that the first sense of a kind of intimate, distant, immediacy would be accomplished aurally.52

On the noisy island of Ireland, popular musicians have found ways to use noise in their studio recordings to aurally signal their presence while responding to specific creative challenges of the (post-)digital age and an established hauntological structure of feeling among their listenership.

29The use of noise in Irish popular music is a non-material social and cultural practice evident on the island of Ireland. The use of noise’s fluidity as a communitive agent facilitates Irish popular musicians’ greater creative opportunity in their respective studio albums. As I have shown in relation to Dempsey, O’Connor, Regan and Kitt, noise’s fluidity manifests itself aurally to signal Irish cultural heritage, thereby becoming by design an intangible signifier of cultural heritage. In simple terms, these skilled cultural practitioners have assessed both media and environmental noise without value judgment and realise that specific noises in their studio recordings communicate aurally their Irishness. Sterne suggests:

  • 53 Ibid., p. 259.

The sound of the medium in effect indexed its social and material existence – the machine could stand in metonymically for the medium. Wishing away the noise of the machine then suggests wishing away the noise of society.53

Hence, to wish away the media and environmental noises that index social and material existence, is to cast judgement on a form of intangible cultural heritage. As I have shown in this article, the noisy island of Ireland is not forestalled by established value judgments but is replete with noisy popular music indexed with noisy intangible signifiers of Irish cultural heritage.

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Bibliographie

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Dempsey Damien, The Rocky Road to Dublin, Sony Music, 2008.

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Kitt David, Small Moments, Rough Trade, 2000.

Messiah J & The Expert, Now This I Have to Hear, Inaudible, 2006.

O’Connor Sinéad, Theology, Rubyworks, 2007.

Regan Fionn, The Shadow of an Empire, Universal Ireland, 2010.

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Dillane Aileen, Power Martin J., Devereux Eoin, Haynes Amanda, “Against the Grain: Counter-Hegemonic Representations of Pre and Post ‘Celtic-Tiger’ Ireland in the ‘Protest’ Songs of Damien Dempsey”, in Songs of Social Protest: International Perspectives, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Amanda Haynes (eds.), London, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018, p. 455-472.

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Link Stan, “The Work of Reproduction in the Mechanical Aging of an Art: Listening to Noise”, Computer Music Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 2001, p. 34-47.

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Notes

1 Gerry Smyth, Noisy Island: A Short History of Irish Popular Music, Cork, Cork University Press, 2005, p. 7.

2 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound: Noise, Affect and Aesthetic Moralism, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, p. 1.

3 Ibid.

4 UNESCO, “Ethics and Intangible Cultural Heritage”, UNESCO website of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: https://ich.unesco.org/en/ethics-and-ich-00866.

5 Hereafter, the digital age, and post-digital age will be referred to as “(post-)digital age”. In line with research on the two waves of music’s digitalisation, an era that “meant unprecedented convenience and thus turned music into a low hanging fruit”, the timeframe of the digital is presented as 1992-2014 (Dominik Bartmański, Ian Woodward, Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, p. 26).

6 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, New York, The New Press, 2017, p. 11.

7 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 43.

8 Stan Link, “The Work of Reproduction in the Mechanical Aging of an Art: Listening to Noise”, Computer Music Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 2001, p. 40, 37.

9 Damon Krukowski, Ways of Hearing, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2019, p. 127.

10 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog…, p. 168.

11 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, Durham – London, Duke University Press, 2003, p. 94.

12 Laura U. Marks, “A Noisy Brush with the Infinite: Noise in Enfolding-Unfolding Aesthetics”, in The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media, Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, John Richardson (eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 104, 107.

13 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 3.

14 Samantha Bennett, Modern Records, Maverick Methods: Technology and Process in Popular Music Record Production 1978-2000, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, p. 1.

15 Paul Hegarty, Noise / Music: A History, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2007, p. 5.

16 Robert Strachan, Sonic Technologies: Popular Music, Digital Culture and the Creative Process, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, p. 110.

17 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 2.

18 Damon Krukowski, The New Analog…, p. 168, 191.

19 Damon Krukowski, Ways of Hearing, p. 129.

20 Marie Thompson, Beyond Unwanted Sound…, p. 42.

21 Timothy D. Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology & Culture, New York, Routledge, 2011, p. 3.

22 Anahid Kassabian, Ubiquitous Listening: Affect, Attention, and Distributed Subjectivity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2013, p. 15.

23 Ben Ratliff, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now, London, Allen Lane, 2016, p. 1.

24 Ibid.

25 Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, New York, HarperCollins, 2005, p. 2.

26 José Cláudio Siqueira Castanheira, “The Matter of Numbers: Sound Technologies and Experience of Noise according to Analogue and Digital Modes”, in Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise, Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, Paul Hegarty (eds.), London, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012, p. 96, 97.

27 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 333.

28 Ibid., p. 332.

29 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, Peggy Kamuf (trans.), London – New York, Routledge, 1994, p. 21.

30 Ibid., p. 90.

31 Ibid., p. 108.

32 Pierre Macherey, “Marx Dematerialized, or the Spirit of Derrida”, in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s “Spectres of Marx”, Michael Sprinker (ed), New York, Verso, 2008, p. 19.

33 Jean Hogarty, Popular Music and Retro Culture in the Digital Era, London, Routledge, 2017, p. 2.

34 Ibid., p. 3.

35 Ibid., p. 5.

36 Jean-François Augoyard, “Introduction: An Instrumentarium of the Sound Environment”, in Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds, Jean-François Augoyard, Henri Torgue (eds.), Andra McCartney, David Paquette (trans.), Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, p. 8.

37 Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Amanda Haynes, “Against the Grain: Counter-Hegemonic Representations of Pre and Post ‘Celtic-Tiger’ Ireland in the ‘Protest’ Songs of Damien Dempsey”, in Songs of Social Protest: International Perspectives, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Amanda Haynes (eds.), London, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018, p. 460.

38 Ibid., p. 456.

39 Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, “‘You’ll never kill our will to be free’: Damien Dempsey’s ‘Colony’ as a Critique of Historical and Contemporary Colonialism”, MUSICultures, vol. 44, no. 2, 2018, p. 43.

40 Reynolds reflects on his favoured production style in YouTube tutorial “John Reynolds (Sinéad O’Connor, Damien Dempsey) Talks Melodyne”, 10 October 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGyLiu_lh8E, sponsored by Melodyne, a plug-in operator for a digital audio workstation (DAW). Melodyne is produced by Celemony Software GmbH, a German musical software company that specialises in digital audio pitch correction software.

41 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 236.

42 P. J. Curtis, Notes from the Heart: A Celebration of Traditional Irish Music, Dublin, Poolbeg, 1994, p. 113.

43 Adam R. Kaul, Turning the Tune: Traditional Music, Tourism, and Social Change in an Irish Village, New York, Berghahn Books, 2009, p. 23.

44 Damien Dempsey, “Album Notes”, in The Rocky Road to Dublin, New York, Sony Music, 2008, p. 4.

45 Ibid., p. 3.

46 Sara Cohen, “Men Making a Scene: Rock Music and the Production of Gender”, in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, Sheila Whiteley (ed), London, Routledge, 1997, p. 17.

47 Alan Williams, “Weapons of Mass Deception: The Invention and Reinvention of Recording Studio Mythology”, in Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound, Samantha Bennett, Eliot Bates (eds.), New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018, p. 158.

48 Noel McLaughlin, Martin McLoone, Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and after U2, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2012, p. 148.

49 Samantha Bennett, Modern Records…, p. 13.

50 Ibid., p. 58.

51 Salomé Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, New York, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010, p. 14.

52 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past…, p. 153.

53 Ibid., p. 259.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Michael Lydon, « Irish Popular Music and Noise as an Intangible Signifier of Cultural Heritage: The Noisy Island »Études irlandaises, 47-1 | 2022, 119-135.

Référence électronique

Michael Lydon, « Irish Popular Music and Noise as an Intangible Signifier of Cultural Heritage: The Noisy Island »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 47-1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 17 mai 2022, consulté le 13 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesirlandaises/12598 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudesirlandaises.12598

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Auteur

Michael Lydon

Centre for Irish Studies, National University of Ireland, Galway

Michael Lydon est professeur d’études de la musique populaire, du genre et de la musique irlandaise au Centre for Irish Studies à National University of Ireland, Galway. Il est le responsable de la communication de l’European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS) et le rédacteur des revues de Ethnomusicology Ireland. Il fait des recherches sur les études de la musique populaire ; les études de culture populaire ; les études du son et les études irlandaises.

Michael Lydon is a lecturer in popular music studies and gender and Irish music at the Centre for Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is the communications officer for the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS), and the reviews editor of Ethnomusicology Ireland. His research areas include popular music studies; popular culture studies; sound studies and Irish studies.

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