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Winner of the 2014 British Forum for Ethnomusicology Book Prize


From the Back Cover

Noise, an underground music made through an amalgam of feedback, distortion, and electronic effects, first emerged as a genre in the 1980s, circulating on cassette tapes traded between fans in Japan, Europe, and North America. With its cultivated obscurity, ear-shattering sound, and over-the-top performances, Noise has captured the imagination of a small but passionate transnational audience.

For its scattered listeners, Noise always seems to be new and to come from somewhere else: in North America, it was called "Japanoise." But does Noise really belong to Japan? Is it even music at all? And why has Noise become such a compelling metaphor for the complexities of globalization and participatory media at the turn of the millennium?

In Japanoise, David Novak draws on more than a decade of research in Japan and the United States to trace the "cultural feedback" that generates and sustains Noise. He provides a rich ethnographic account of live performances, the circulation of recordings, and the lives and creative practices of musicians and listeners. He explores the technologies of Noise and the productive distortions of its networks. Capturing the textures of feedback—its sonic and cultural layers and vibrations—Novak describes musical circulation through sound and listening, recording and performance, international exchange, and the social interpretations of media.

"David Novak goes inside the Noise scene and presents an astounding perspective: historically astute, inspired, and completely shell-shocked."
    —Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth

"Edgy, compelling, and sharply insightful, this is the definitive book on 'Japanoise.' Drawing on his personal involvement in Noise scenes across two continents and over two decades, David Novak takes readers into the experience of Noise: its production and performance through apparati of wires, pedals, amplifiers, and tape loops, through its intensity on the stage and in one's ears and body."
    —Anne Allison, author of Precarious Japan

"This is a striking book: theoretically exciting, aesthetically intriguing, and well crafted. Japanoise is an extreme case study of modern musical subjectivity that demonstrates how core cultural ideas are formed on the fringe. David Novak's treatment of circulation as embedded in the creative process will shift the debate in ethnomusicology, popular music studies, and global media studies."
    —Louise Meintjes, author of Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio


"Brilliantly researched... a striking and original contribution."
    —Japan Forum

"Novak’s writing is engaging and vivid, drawing the reader into a rare world of sound and circulation... an excellent example for students learning about how to do ethnography in multiple virtual, physical, and conceptual worlds."
   —Reviews in Anthropology

"Japanoise is an important book, both as an ethnomusicological study and as a reflection on theories of culture drawn from musical practice... Circulation, here, is a useful - even powerful -- explanatory tool for understanding how culture is constructed."
   —Ethnomusicology Forum

"We are taken on a historical and geographical journey to trace the development of Noise from avant-garde audio art in North America, which travels to Japan, and then back again, and yet again to Japan - creating the grandest metaphor for a feedback loop of style, technology, and creativity.”
    —American Ethnologist

"Novak’s mesmerizing writing style achieves the impressive (almost magical, it seemed to me) feat of depicting the art without confining it to narrative. Indeed, the manner in which Novak’s beautifully fragmented depictions of heterogeneous ethnographic “scenes” tie together in a cohesive sort of chaos seemed intended to evoke Noise itself."
    —Journal of Asian Studies

“While Japanoise gives a fantastically detailed account of Noise’s history and evolution, it is also interesting to see it framed as a true representative of what has come to be known as ‘Cool Japan.’ As the government promotes sugary sweet pop acts that cause toothaches abroad, the grassroots noise scene (OK, it might be causing earaches) is making real progress in keeping Japan cool.”
   —Japan Times

"Japanoise is an extraordinary book that requires something else, a different kind of engagement, a different kind of listening, a different kind of writing... an accessible tone that is unwaveringly rigorous... an impressive amount of fine-grained ethnographic research and archival work... an intensive application of how to engage with a slippery subject."
   —Current Musicology

"Through the delicacy and care with which he attends to noise, to its makers and its auditors, Novak shows us how to listen anew and to hear previously unreckoned constellations of sounds."   

"Novak's monograph teems with insights... the concept of feedback emphasizes the conversation of forces and their interrelatedness, throwing Japanese popular music past historical conundrums of Amerika and Nippon into new configurations."

"A remarkable display of scholarly integrity, Japanoise is grounded in deep commitment to the aesthetic drive of an expressive culture, locally grounded intellectual insights, and theoretical interventions with broad interdisciplinary won’t be long before we start to hear the amplified echoes of Novak’s analytical insights, resonating in the feedback loops of future scholarship."
    —Pacific Affairs

"Novak succeeds in giving a new depth of understanding to a particular global audio phenomenon, treating that subject with respect, allowing his interviewees to co-create knowledge with him as a researcher, and creating new theoretical insights…[Japanoise] comes across as thoughtful, community-centered, fun, and beautiful."

“While Noise has never needed nor asked for legitimacy (or 'an explanation'), this is the first serious ethnographic and theoretical rumination on noise culture that I’ve come across. Novak depicts the artists’ tools and formal tendencies toward feedback as a spot-on metaphor for the circulation of culture between North America & Asia that has been continuing since the latter half of the 20th century.”  

“Novak’s contribution to sound studies is to encourage us to deal with the fragmented complexity of sonic environments and contexts, especially those where noise plays a crucial part. . . . What sets Novak’s book apart . . . is how his ethnographic approach allows him to approach Noise music from both the macro-perspective of its historical context and the micro-lens of his personal relationship to it.”
    —Sounding Out! 

"Novak’s commitment to listen to the sounds live, despite the risks to his own hearing, make for a lot of engaging field reports."

"Novak posits that Japanoise rose to a position of global significance through its interaction with, and acceptance by, an American audience. Knots of appreciators on both sides of the Pacific consumed each other's expectations and reflected back their own fractured interpretations... within that chaotic clash, even now, there lives extraordinary possibility." 

"A new theory of culture in the global age.”
    —The Duke Reader

About the Author

David Novak is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara. More info.


Purchase Japanoise

Japanese Translation
(Suiseisha, 2019)

Tower Records

Limited Malaysian Edition
(Repulsive Regurgitation, 2018)

(150 Copies, sold out)