Originally Posted by Grea
Some classical boffins believed that drums were not a musical instrument but merely noise makers. At the time drums did have more of a sound effect role in classical rather than being intrinsically tied to the flow and structure of the music as they are in jazz and other modern music.
Nowadays, of course, noise-making can be a legitimate musical pastime. Duncan and I have talked about this stuff a bit and he pointed me to instances where noise is used in mainstream music and listeners (including me) barely even notice, apart from digging it.
People love to say "that's not music" about music that challenges their conservative and fearful world view, eg. Cage, Stockhausen, free jazz (some say it's not "jazz"). My Dad said it about The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
Duncan also put me on to the notion that what distinguishes music from non-music is intent. So music need not travel up and down the stave, nor even be capable of being written with conventional notation. If you intend to make music, then you're making music. Whether it's any good or not is another matter.
This is where things get interesting for me, as Grea said - we've discussed this at some length (usually in PMs) so I'll add my two Penneth and give some historical context.
With regard to the 'noise makers', yes. Fundamentally, percussion (obvious exceptions aside like the Piano and the Xylophone) are 'noisy' instruments. That is (if we're using technical descriptions) instruments that produce a wide-bandwidth sound with a relatively hard-to-define (or no) fundamental. In reality, although we can describe the pitch of our drums as 'low' or 'high' and sometimes even ascribe a fundamental note value, in general use drums are 'noisy' - particularly snare drums. Cymbals can be the same but that gets even more complicated, obviously.
This 'relegates' drums to rhythmic use in most orchestral situations.
One hundred years ago, a proto-Fascist movement in Italy called the 'Futurists' attempted to write a manifesto that would encompass a wide range of social movements. Within that movement, Luigi Russolo wrote a piece called 'The Art of Noises' in which he describes and categorises noises (inspired by the sounds of industrial machines) and attempts to increase the range of sounds available to performers:
Originally Posted by Some Mad Italian
This evolution toward noise-sound is only possible today. The ear of an eighteenth century man never could have withstood the discordant intensity of some of the chords produced by our orchestras (whose performers are three times as numerous); on the other hand our ears rejoice in it, for they are attuned to modern life, rich in all sorts of noises. But our ears far from being satisfied, keep asking for bigger acoustic sensations. However, musical sound is too restricted in the variety and the quality of its tones. The most complicated orchestra can be reduced to four or five categories of instruments with different sound tones: rubbed string instruments, pinched string instruments, metallic wind instruments, wooden wind instruments, and percussion instruments. Music marks time in this small circle and vainly tries to create a new vari- ety of tones. We must break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds.
Russolo proposed a series of noise-instruments that could reproduce some of the mechanical noises of his day and wrote (quite unsuccessful) music for them. Now these were bespoke, intentional noise compositions and although all of Russolo's instruments were eventually lost (combinations of a lack of care and the toils of the Second World War) the ideas stuck.
What Russolo ultimately did was raise awareness of what was already there
. He goes further by categorising and proposing but noise in music is by no means a new thing. If you listen to the envelope of a Violin, you hear the rosin in the bow against the string scraping. If you pick a guitar string, you hear the plectrum hit the string. These are all inherently 'noisy' sounds - you just accept them as part of your everyday listening because they've always been there, as a mechanical part of the instrument. These are almost always the first-motion point of sound generation (i.e. the 'attack' portion of the ADSR envelope) because that is the most mechanical part of sound generation and where we like to focus our technique in terms of playing (as drummers at least).
Noise is in everything we hear, say, do. It's there. The 'intention' part is interesting because if we're talking about 'Noise Music' - then there are a variety of definitions and meanings. 'Noise' usually refers to that which is unwanted - look at the idea of a 'noise floor' in sound engineering or photography - but by consciously constructing 'Noise', we introduce an inherent paradox or contradiction. That's where the field of 'intention' comes into music and that is a whole lot more complicated...
If anyone's interested, 'The Art of Noises' is available as a free PDF: