Thursday, June 01, 2006

Background Noise #1

Artist/Album-- Jeff Buckley/Grace
Drink – Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat

Welcome, folks, to Background Noise, a weekly "column" I'll be posting on this here blog. I’ll do my best to get it posted each and every Sunday – life permitting. But, if extenuating circumstances prevent me from doing so, I’ll post that week’s column as soon as I possibly can. I hope you enjoy it and will stop by each week to read it.

What will Background Noise be about? Well, it’ll primarily be about poetry and my thoughts on poetry (literary theory, poetry vs. other forms of writing, what poetry means to us and the world, etc.), but there will be occasions when I write about other topics that interest me, as well (science, sports, music, philosophy, religion, politics, to name a few). I’ll try to keep the themes and ideas universal, but I will be using this forum to argue my opinions and state my cases. Please realize this is ultimately a personal column and that all opinions and commentary are mine – of course. If I posit something that is completely off base, or that you feel is wrong, don’t hesitate to call me on it. The great feature of blogs is the ability to allow comments (and, thus, facilitate exchange and debate), so I encourage all of you to use this feature and disagree with me, or present further proof of (or dissenting proof against) my case, or just to call me an asshat (though, I would prefer the ad hominem attacks and epithets be kept to a minimum, thank you). Debate is healthy and will only help us crystallize our thoughts and personal theories better. And in the case of art, criticism and theory are important in understanding the finer points of our lives, our place in this world, and how art affects both.

We experience, think about, feel, see, and worry about many things throughout a single day of our lives. But, how much of it do we actually retain? How much of a single day will be remembered in 5 years? 10 years? 25 years? Very little. In fact, there are very few actual DAYS that will be remembered in our lives, very few specific moments; yet we will have lived thousands of them. The vast majority of our lives, in the end, will be lost. This loss is the background noise that makes up an entire life. Our memories are blips that stand out against this prevailing background noise. Further, our poems and paintings and sculptures and music are blips in the background noise that transcend a single life and cross multiple cultures. I will try to quantify our background noise in order to bring just a little bit more of it into focus.

In my chosen field of work (chemistry) the concept of background noise is well established. If you are at all familiar with separation chemistry (HPLC, GC) or spectroscopy (IR, UV/Vis, NMR) you’ve undoubtedly come across the concept of background noise (sometimes called baseline noise). If not, the definition is very much analogous to the one above. Background noise (or baseline noise) is the ambient “noise” an instrument detects in the environment (don’t worry about the technical names or ideas here, as they don’t really matter. It’s the concept of background noise that I want to relay here. If you’re interested in the technical aspect of it, let me know and I can elucidate it further, but I’m pretty certain the interest is small, if at all existent, so I won’t waste anyone’s time with it). Basically, background noise is always there and it can consist of ambient electromagnetic “noise” in the detector, ambient electromagnetic “noise” in the environment and, in the case of spectroscopy in particular, the absorption of specific wavelengths of light by the atmosphere, among other things. What does this mean? Well, if we want a precise measurement using these instruments we need to account for this background noise. This is usually accomplished by quantifying it and subtracting it from any future measurements. This allows for a more precise and accurate measurement.

A more accessible example might be talking to someone in a crowded, noisy auditorium. The background noise would be the din of voices swirling about. In order to overcome this, you’d need to cancel it out (i.e. talk louder) so that the other person can hear you. Often, you’ll get sidetracked because you happen to hear an interesting conversation nearby. This is when something in the background noise suddenly becomes clearer; when a blip is registered.

So, in a nutshell, what I am trying to accomplish with this column is a quantification of the background noise of our lives; not in the interest of subtracting it out, mind you, but to make it stand out, to elevate it from the muck into the realm of the necessary and interesting. I hope to start one of those conversations that will sidetrack you from the normal day-to-day; to elicit a sudden spike out of the background noise. And art is the ultimate of background noise breakers, in my opinion – it is created with the intention of quickly and powerfully relaying information so as to make a difference in this world, however small. With this column, I hope to further substantiate those differences, if just a little.

I’ll try to add/link to supporting documentation, evidence, citations, definitions, etc. as they are required, or as I see fit (basically, when I remember to). For definitions I will use, exclusively, OR for consistency purposes. All links are meant only to further bolster my argument, to credit cited material, for clarification purposes, or to point you to further discussion held elsewhere on the internet. You are not obligated to follow these links, obviously, but the hope is that, be you so inclined, you will.

You’ll notice, too, that I started off this column listing a musical artist/album and a drink. I will do this every week. It will be the name of the musical artist (and album, of course) I was listening to while writing that week’s column. Likewise, the drink listed will be the drink I was imbibing. I’ve no idea why I will be listing them, other than it seems like a good idea and maybe it’ll help get the names of some artists (and beers/wines) I adore out there. It is also to show that the arts are often intertwined such that poetry and music and visual arts and performance art are really all part of the same incestuous family. Many (most?) artists in one genre get inspiration from other genres. I am no exception and find music to be both soothing and inspirational. As for the drink: it too can be soothing and inspirational in its own way.

If you’ve any recommendations for musical artists and/or drinks you think I should try – or that have been inspirational to you – let me know in the comments of these posts. I am always on the lookout for new music to listen to and new drinks to try.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the High Priest of the Church of the Black Pearl, the leader of the compound, the gracious host of Upright Against The Savage Heavens, and poet extraordinaire: Mr. Christopher Cunningham for allowing me the space to post these poetic rants and literary mumblings; and for showing the world how ART should be done.

So, welcome to Background Noise. I hope you sit and stay awhile. I hope you enjoy yourself. Above all, I hope I can make you think a tad about a little thing we call life. And poetry. And I would be remiss, of course, if I omitted love; or politics; or religion. Oh, and don’t forget philosophy.

Ah hell, I just hope I can make you think. About something. Anything. Period!



Blogger christopher cunningham said...

j.b, great column and great concept. it is one of the tenets of my own poetic work that I seek the smallest example of the largest universal truth and then try to put it in the fewest words possible. I revel in the "background noise," not in any nostalgic sense, which frankly, I despise, the whole idea of empty nostalgia, mere wistfulness for that which ISN'T rather than a thorough awareness/attentiveness to that which IS. right now. and I mean in FULLNESS, an attunement to the background noise as it dances around us, flaring up in our ears in colorful fragments of real life being lived.

art is also a celebration of the background noise as the poem, the song, the painting drags us out of "the normal day to day" and up into the "transcendent."

good show.

10:42 PM  
Blogger BMcG said...

my monday mornings wont be the same again - in a good way.
lookin forward to what you have to say.

4:21 AM  
Blogger Partisanpoet said...

Interesting thoughts about "Background noise" which, though it could be overwhelming, is the meat of reality, the awareness of which enriches our consciousness.

I have gotten much inspiration from straight ahead instrumental jazz -- Coltrane, Mingus and similar stuff becuase it is poetry sans words and because it doesn't get in the way. As for drinks, I prefer absinthe for similar reasons.

Looking forward to your column.

7:41 AM  
Blogger j.b said...

thanks guys. i appreciate the comments. i hope the column will spark some fires of conversation within us.

i'm glad the idea of "background noise" is understandable and, at least in part, agreed upon. being in the science field i get the opportunity to learn about a bunch of obscure and fascinating things that very often reflect a deeper understanding on everday life. at least it does for me.

well, we'll see how well this experiment works this Sunday!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Luis said...

Background noise (voices) attack many of the people I interact with on my job. Justin this is an interest theme, which can go in many directions. If only these poor souls I see could choose the background noise (voices), which afflicts them. I'd prefer a crisp trumpet solo from Miles over satanic whisperings anyday. I'd prefer a sparrow's afternoon song over the voice of a wrathful God commanding one to wage war on the world.

10:35 PM  
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