Joseph Coughlan-Allen (University of Liverpool, UK)


Hum. Buzz. Hiss. The almost unavoidable electrical noises commonly encountered in everyday life with domesticated electricity. These sounds occur to some degree in all kinds of situations, including the making of recorded music. Often regarded as unwanted noises, there are numerous methods available to prevent, attenuate, or remove these sounds during the processes of recording and mixing a record. Nevertheless, electrical noise is occasionally audibly present in music recordings for a variety of reasons. In some cases, such electrical sounds are even deliberately included, and/or intentionally accentuated for the purposes of creative expression. In such instances, the meanings attributed to some of these sounds can be surprising, with recording artists describing them as “quaint”, “organic”, and even “human”.

This paper will attend to the questions of why electrical sounds feature in selected recordings of music and what meanings were attributed to them (if any) during record production. These questions will be addressed via qualitative examination of the recordings themselves, as well as published interviews with those involved in their making. The results of this process will be contrasted with critical responses to these recordings, probing the disparity that often occurs between artistic intention and audience reception. Consideration will be given to the consequences of “framing” sound within the borders of a recording, as well as the more general concepts of significance and connotation, with the aim to instigate and generate discussion as to why and how meaning has emerged from noise.