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  • Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation by David Novak
  • Shelina Brown
Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation. By David Novak. (Sign, Storage, Transmission.) Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013. [x, 292 p. ISBN 9780822353799 (hardcover), $89.95; ISBN 9780822353928 (paperback), $24.95; (e-book), various.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

David Novak’s Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation provides a theoretically informed critical exploration of contemporary Japanese Noise, or “Japanoise” music, carefully contextualizing the cultural, technological, and philosophical dimensions of this resistant form of sonic expression. David Novak’s study is developed across seven chapters that trace three key themes: first, the problematic ontology of Noise as an antimusical anti-genre; second, the emergence of Japanoise within transnational feedback loops of cultural exchange and circulation; and lastly, the interpretation of Japanoise as a humanistic mode of cultural resistance against Japan’s rapid modernization and the rise of global technoculture.

From the outset of his investigations, Novak is acutely aware that Noise is not a cohesive musical form that can be “hermeneutically unpacked as a consistent stylistic project” (p. 6). Developed by practitioners, or Noisicians, who often identify as antisocial, antihistorical, and antimusical, Noise resists generic categorizations and sets out to disrupt conventional modes of musical experience. Nonetheless, with the widespread circulation of Noise recordings across the globe, this antimusical form has, problematically, come to be acknowledged as a musical “genre” in its own right. Rather than conforming to dominant stylistic trends, however, Noisicians claim to uncover the workings of Noise in isolation, as they come to be attuned to its pure, transcendental manifestations. In this vein, Noisicians such as the members of Hijokaidan prefer to think of Noise as a mystical, “ghostlike” soundscape that stands in opposition to all extant forms of musical categorization.

While acknowledging the tendency for Noise to be mysticized by its practitioners, Novak nonetheless provides the reader with a detailed explanation of the technology behind Noise production. Namely, a Noise performance unfolds as a circuit chain is looped, and then subsequently overloaded with feedback, resulting in a torrent of sonic excess. During the course of such a performance, the Noisician’s “intentions are subverted by an out of control relationship with an electronic system” (p. 156). Noise is thus a mode of sonic experience that involves succumbing to an overwhelming barrage of sound. A highly individualized, trancelike state is brought about through such an experience, one that might be likened to a transcendental experience of the sublime. This mystical experience is intensified by the flattening-out of the acoustic sound space that results from an intensely immediate wall of Noise. In the context of Noise recordings, engineers thus employ studio manipulations of EQ (equalization) in order to construct a flattened out—or “dead”—sonic space.

As a sonic form that gives rise to an intensely individualized experience, it is not [End Page 512] surprising that Noise is most often encountered in recorded form, rather than as part of a live, socially cohesive, local scene. In the case of Japanoise, Novak observes that the Osaka “scene” that is often credited with the rise of the genre was in fact composed of isolated Noisicians, who “often did not know each other’s work, and were more oriented towards overseas reception” (p. 16). Japanoise is thus a mode of cultural production that grew out of transnational “feedback loops” between practitioners and fans at the margins of underground scenes in Japan and the West. As opposed to theorizing global–local cultural exchange as a dialectical meeting of two disparate cultural sources, the theoretical notion of “feedback” enables Novak to conceptualize Japanoise as a cultural product that emerges within transnational circulation, evincing both a union of global and local influences, as well as the radical incommensurabilities that exist therein.

Needless to say, as an anti-music that emerges out of the “feedback” between transnational, underground scenes, Japanoise is redolent with politically-resistant cultural meanings. In Novak’s analysis, Japanoise offers up a “humanistic critique of technoculture, which was embedded in the geopolitical and economic sensibilities of Japan in the 1980s and 1990s” (p. 173). In this vein, Japanoise is similar to industrial music, which thematized the harmful...