Noise. We all suppose that there is that which we hear, the signal, the message, and there is that which we ignore, the noise.

That works in a very subjective and unenlightened world. Let's consider a conversation amongst a number of people. If I happen to be listening to one thread of a conversation, I would consider any other threads of the conversation noise.

What if all noise were actually signal to the right audience?

A further example: Something initially incomprehensible to the listener, in the case of myself, let's say Mandarin Chinese, would be noise. Yet if I learned to speak Mandarin, then it would suddenly become signal.

These examples all tend to deal with Noise as it pertains to the individual, but not to an object, like for example, electromagnetic noise. This however, wouldn't be noise but might be information if one was studying that particular electromagnetic radiation, let us say the solar wind. Or if it was interference on the radio, that may be other people using other radios, or pulsars or who knows what, but it might all be information/signal directed at other people/objects than oneself.

What about cosmic background noise, or the noise of virtual particles? All these things can impart useful knowledge when one makes them the signal rather than the noise. And Finally, what if signal/information is simply the constructive interference of noise?

What if the framework in which information exists is actually noise? What if things only have the meaning we give to them? Or would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? What if the human experience is founded in prejudice?So the question may be better asked: "Is there Signal?"

In the audio sense, the difference between "noise" and "music" (substitute "signal" for "music" if you prefer, or depending on context) occours principally in the mind, at least according to the modern musical school consisting of such people as Edgard Varese, John Cage, et al. Music had, up until the beginnings of the 20th Century, been defined, in a sort of un-written definition, as organized notes. This was replaced by Varese's definition of music is organized sound, which justified (in his mind, at least), the creation of the first all-percussion piece. Alvin Lucier ran with this and created the either hypnotic or irritating "I am Sitting in a Room", in which a spoken text is repeated over and over, until the harmonics of the room wipe out any semblance of recognizable speach. Perhaps the most telling experiment of the whole modern movement, however, is 4'33", in which the audience expects to hear music, but instead ends up listening to the ambient noise in the context of hearing music.


So what of it, then? If music is what is heard, then the difference between "music" and "noise" is not in the sound, but rather within our perception of the sound, and is infact largely determined by context--that is, when the brain knows that it's at a concert and is supposed to be listening for music, it is more likely to pick up on it, and therefore, even if the music is not what is expected, it is more likely to be interpreted something worthwhile. And therefore, in response to the earlier write up, I would say that yes, there is always signal in some shape or form, but context is often very important to obtain it.

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