15 Jul 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

An artwork is never alone. Interference can come from the actual material, like in a half-toned image, or the hiss of a recording made on a scavenged x-ray. Interference can also come from the deliberate play or disruption of the reader/viewer’s expectations of a medium/genre, and/or the “bleeding-in” of other pieces, of the discourses surrounding and running through a given work.

“As I write this, I can’t help but think that ‘aesthetic of interference’ also has metaphorical resonance in our contemporary age of resistance . . . perhaps that’s a whole other blog post.”

In my previous post I talked about the quote above, from another post on this blog by Emily Larned. I connected it to the work of Viktor Shklovsky, and a particular essay about Shklovsky. My reading of Emily’s text (and my future writing) was already woven through with, or emerging out of, other readings of other texts. Those outside texts—that interference, that noise, that heap, that murmur—can be used as, transformed into, a matrix.

“[Bertolt] Brecht had always attacked the myth of the transparency of language that had governed the practice of theater since Aristotle; the self-reflective, anti-illusionistic montagelike devices that interrupted the flow of his plays aimed at aborting the identification of the spectator with any character and, as he phrased it, at producing an effect of ‘distanciation’ or ‘estrangement.’

The first example Barthes commented on in his 1971-2 seminar was a text in which the German writer patiently analyzed the 1934 Christmas speeches of two Nazi leaders (Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess). What struck Barthes was Brecht’s extreme attention to the form of the Nazi texts, which he had followed word for word in order to elaborate his counterdiscourse. Brecht pinpointed the efficacy of these speeches in the seamless flow of their rhetoric: the smokescreen with which Goering and Hess masked their faulty logic and heap of lies was the mellifluous continuity of their language, which functioned like a robust, gooey adhesive.” [1]

“In communication theory, noise is that which distorts the signal on its way from transmitter to recipient. There will always be an element of distortion, either externally or internally, coming from the medium itself. In music noise is often originally a malfunction in the instruments or electronics (a disturbance of the clear signal), which is then reversed into a positive effect. . . . When you reverse a disturbance into a part of the music itself, it is not smoothly integrated but infuses the music with a tension. There is still a play on the formerly negative relation between noise and signal when a noise is legitimated. This tension is an important part of the musical power of noise.” [2]

“I identify these interfaces that obscure ever more from the user in the name of ‘invisibility’ and the ‘user-friendly’ with what’s fast becoming an ideology. I use ideology not merely in the sense of the adamant belief in making the computer more approachable but more in the sense that user-friendly is used quite deliberately to distort reality by convincing users that this very particular notion of a user-friendly device—one that depends on and then celebrates the device as entirely closed off both to the user and to any understanding of it via a glossy interface—is the only possible version of the user-friendly, one that claims to successfully bridge the gap between human and computer. In reality, the glossy surface of the interface further alienates the user from having access to the underlying workings of the device.” [3]

The “aesthetics of interference” is an aesthetics of noise. Noise is the world—seething, stewing, clamoring, singing, generating—outside of the artwork. Noise is material, which is where the artwork becomes part of the world, and where the world pierces the artwork. Noise is the pixel, the half-tone, the smear, the seam, the suture, the footnote, the epigraph, the frayed edge of a sound. Noise is that which we did not expect from the artwork, in the artwork, driving the core tension of the artwork. Noise feeds our attention. Noise catalyzes our sight. Noise is necessary when power continually lies and obscures.

“With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion.” [4]


1. Yve Alain-Bois, “Formalism and Structuralism,” Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, eds. Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve Alain-Bois, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004), 33.

2. Torben Sangild, “The Aesthetics of Noise,” 2002. Available online at

3. Lori Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), xi.

4. Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 6.

Image: details of Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic on canvas.


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