Michiharu Sakurai Interview to Rudy Rucker For: “Noise” issue of [relax]. Tokyo.

Q: I think people feel more relieved in some disorderliness than being in perfect order. What lead people feel so? A: Complete order is lifeless, and we don’t feel safe in a lifeless environment. In a fanatically clean setting, you yourself feel like a piece of dirt which is perhaps going to be cleaned away. Put differently, noise is an aspect of chaos, and chaotic processes are what we as living organisms are made of. Q: Can the “noise” be discussed from the standpoint of the information ideology? What is the position of “noise” in the information ideology? A: In the theory of communication, noise is a corruption of a signal you want to send. Noise is like static and clicks in telephone conversation. Shannon’s Theorem says that you can overcome noise by repeating yourself a lot. In practice we expect people to not correctly receive everything we say, but it is too boring to repeat oneself word for word. Instead you tend to say the same thing again, but in a different way. And perhaps there is some certain kind of noise that makes one way of expressing yourself incomprehensible, but if you express yourself in a new way, then the new way finds a clear gap in the noise spectrum. In chaos theory, we distinguish between orderly, periodic processes from processes which appear random and noisy. The interesting thing is that certain kinds of deterministic equations can generate time sequences which superficially seem random even though they have a definite rule. The best kinds of chaotic processes will seem to spontaneously fluctuate between orderly and disorderly modes. The disorder appears when the process moves to a different region of its chaotic attractor, and then when the process settles onto a certain region of the attractor for awhile it seems somewhat orderly again. In understanding what I am saying about a chaotic process, you might think of the branch of a tree blowing in the wind, or of a piece of paper that you are waving with your hand. Sometimes the branch or paper will flutter regularly, but then it can slip into a different mode of oscillation (into a different part of its strange attractor) and oscillate in an unsteady fashion. In terms of noise and communication, I find it interesting that these words of mine are going to be translated into Japanese, and I will never in fact know what kind of understanding they are going to communicate to my esteemed Japanese readers. Something of my voice and message is preserved, but I have no way of knowing what this Japanese voice of mine sounds like. I hope it sounds like the Japanese voice my translators give me for my SF novels. Really I always say more or less the same thing. Q. People tend to find noises in artificial and technological objects, not in natural creatures. How do you see the relations between noises and artifacts? A: I would say that nature is also full of noises, such as the sound of rustling leaves or falling rain or chirping birds. Nature is essentially chaotic — it has underlying rules, but the working out of these rules produces patterns that are not simply predictable by a human brain. The really objectionable noises are indeed from technological objects. As I write this answer, for instance, my neighbor’s gardener is using a gasoline-powered leaf-blower to move small bits of dead leaves around this neighbor’s yard. I find this noise annoying. What is annoying about the sound of an engine is that the sound is not interestingly chaotic. The sound is just the same power spectrum over and over and over. Even if I change my focus of attention or think about things in a different, the engine keeps going, and eventually it wins back my attention. The bad kinds of noises are the ones that are not chaotic enough, but are instead very repetitive. These are the kinds of bad noises that machines are likely to make. Q: Generally, noises are considered something useless. What are positive elements of noises we should pay more attention? A: It is an interesting exercise when you are walking around to try and become fully aware of the sounds around you. If you ever happen to make a tape recording outside, you will be surprised at how many noises there are besides the sound of the voices you are perhaps trying to capture. Becoming aware of the full tapestry of noise around you is a good method to heighten your consciousness and make yourself feel more tightly woven into the undivided fabric of the One World. To get started with this awareness, it may help to close your eyes. Q: As seen in samplings in music and uses of ready-made products in artwork, contemporary arts are seemingly moving toward “application,” apart from the traditional idea of “creation.” What does this tendency reflect in terms of changes in people’s consciousness and thoughts? A: If you play a tune on the piano you are already in some sense sewing together samples of notes. But instead of pasting in a sound file for the note C, for instance, you are generating the sound file for the note C by pressing the piano key. On the other hand, a good pianist really is doing more than assembling a series of notes. There are in fact many different ways to play the note C and many different ways to segue it from the note before to the note after. The thing is, a piano is extremely responsive to very subtle muscular cues that a person can generate. If you are just pasting in a sound file for the note C, there are only going to be a limited menu of selections about what type of C note you want. The richness of human analog muscle expression goes far beyond any digitized program we yet have. I think it will continue to be true for a very long time that the subtleties of sounds or colors or phrasings are going to allow a much wider palette of possibilities than will any cut-and-paste computer collaging process. So I would say the process of “creation” rather than “assemblage” will continue to be the most essential form of artistic expression. On the other hand, in connection with the notion of noise, it is certainly true that a modern composer has the possibility to paste in a lot of interesting sound structures. But just pasting things together isn’t enough. It may superficially look like a complex work of art, but when you explore it more closely, it doesn’t hold up unless the artist has a really close involvement in the work at many levels.