Noise and the Rosenthal Effect

For many artists, noise is considered as a very powerful source of inspiration: from the 20th century Italian pioneer of experimental music Luigi Russolo, until the Japanese artist Merzbow, “founder” of noise music. There’s always a controversial response to noise art, apparently the relation between pure noise and music disorients the audience; the most common reaction when someone listens to Aube (Japanese noise artist), for example, is “This is not music! It’s just random noises!” and then switches to something more melodic.

How did artists consider noise as potential for a new meaning? Why is it so hard to do?

In most cases noise is defined as a disturbance and people is aware of its dangers, such as sleeping disturbs, hearing loss, blood pressure irregularities, increase of stress, etc.; the presence of noise concerns humans, and most of the times noise occurs as an unwanted sound. One true fact is that the perception of noise can change depending on the context in which is heard. ‘If you like your neighbors their music is less noisy. If you dislike or fear them any sound they make is noise, encroaching on you through the walls or over the garden fence.’ (Voegelin, 2010, p 44)

Being defined as an unwanted/unmusical sound, noise automatically generates a Pygmalion effect that blocks people to understand it in a different way; this phenomenon, also called Rosenthal effect, is a psychological circumstance that occurs when expectations lead to enhance something, putting less attention on the rest. ‘Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.’ (Cage, 1939, p. 3)

One possible way to find another meaning in noise is to separate noise from the context it comes from and understand that the context is expressed in noise itself. Also humans appear to be more attracted to musical structures (such as pitch and rhythm) and it can be hard to appreciate the pure sound, free from any rule or convention.




  • Voegelin, S. (2010) Listening to Noise and SilenceTowards a Philosophy of Sound Art, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.


  • Cage, J. (1939) Silence: lectures and writings. London: Marion Boyars

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