Noise to Signal 
or why a soft signal can be loud

As a child, it must have been in Berlin, I made up a game in a moment of boredom. A game with a self imposed task that nearly every child is familiar with: “You can only tread on the paving stones, if you tread on one of the cracks between the slabs then you have lost and will be eaten up by a crocodile.” It is a little algorithm, a set of instructions for solving a problem. The problem is boredom, the algorithm recognises right and wrong, zero and one, paving stone or crack. The algorithm intensifies one’s experience of the present by organising the future. By completing the specified task I solve my problem: boredom. I relished the threat of the imagined punishment more than an imaginary reward, especially as I was certain that I would never be eaten by a crocodile, i.e. not receive a reward – after all I had thought it up myself. The algorithm extends a clearly delineated path into the future before me, which I only need to follow, laying out problems in front of me like the beads of a rosary. It organises the world of play in clear signals. If I become sick of the game I only need to jettison the structure, leap in the air and enjoy the moment of liberation from my self-created structure. – Recalling this childish, naive oscillation between self-imposed law and lawless freedom helps me to assert my autonomy, today, at a time when these algorithms have long since gained their independence and, seemingly godlike, establish facts and organise our future in the Internet.

It is still possible to recognise this emerging world as synthetic, resembling as it does the graphics in old computer games where the landscape rears up in front of us outlined in rough polygons, demanding considerable fantasy to transform the green triangles into hills and view them perspectively. – Today it is still possible to recognise advertising as advertising, but sometimes we have a feeling of déjà vu when we find precisely what we believe we are looking for. In the future we will only experience what we believe we desire. In the future an invisible hand will be extended to us from the invisible advertising banner, an eagerly awaited sign of promise in a moment of extreme receptivity.


This world is based on a new idea of truth, for which the statistical, harmonic mean suffices – a sufficient truth. In a parallel process personal experience becomes the logical result of a behavioural pattern, momentary experience becomes a predictable action, for example the purchase of a TV sofa, which ultimately serves the fulfilment of a personalised, constructed task: following orders rather than choosing. Capitalism will also come to an end as a result.

If one considers how comprehensively our movements are calculated in advance in order to organise them into an exploitable harmony then one is confronted with the idea that what is being composed here is a music of the spheres. Pythagoras, a European contemporary of Buddha, Lao-tse and Confucius and the founder of the mathematical analysis of music, used this term to describe an inaudible music of the cosmos. The accord of the heavenly bodies resonating in their orbits, revealed to us humans in the numerical world of music. Even the vocabulary of the constructors of this modern music of the spheres, the statisticians, programmers and advertising psychologists, is rich in musical terms. Noise, the harmonic mean, rhythm, signal and dynamic for example. Clearly they are using the same tools as those we employ as musicians and composers, albeit with a completely different motive.

For myself as a music maker this means that my music is bound to interact with this new world, whether I want it to or not, due to the fundamental structural affinities. As a consequence, composers now enjoy basic social prerequisites which the avant-garde of the last century could only dream of. Free of ideological ballast we can transpose and permute the numbers, design alternative algorithms, or with a joyful sense of destruction, noisily waste our youth, muddling the signal-to-noise ratio of the statisticians in participation mysthique. We musicians are the black swans of this new world, we hold the trump card – we can be very quiet, and still be heard.

Nicholas Bussmann


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