Jacques Attali: Noise and Power


Eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power. The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this apparatus. The symbolism of the Frozen Words, of the Tables of the Law, of recorded noise and eavesdropping-these are the dreams of political scientists and the fantasies of men in power: to listen, to memorize-this is the ability to interpret and control history, to manipulate the culture of a people, to channel its violence and hopes. Who among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern State
into a gigantic, monopolizing noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalized eavesdropping device. Eavesdropping on what? In order to silence whom?

The answer, clear and implacable, is given by the theorists of totalitarianism. They have all explained, indistinctly, that it is necessary to ban subversive noise because it betokens demands for cultural autonomy, support for differences or marginality: a concern for maintaining tonalism, the primacy of melody, a distrust of new languages, codes, or instruments, a refusal of the abnormal-these characteristics are common to all regimes of that nature. They are direct translations of the political importance of cultural repression and noise control.


The economic and political dynamics of the industrialized societies living under parliamentary democracy also lead power to invest art, and to invest in art, without necessarily theorizing its control, as is done under dictatorship. Everywhere we look, the monopolization of the broadcast of messages, the control
of noise, and the institutionalization of the silence of others assure the durability of power. Here, this channelization takes on a new, less violent, and more subtle form: laws of the political economy take the place of censorship laws. Music and the musician essentially become either objects of consumption like everything else, recuperators of subversion, or meaningless noise.

-Jacques Atalli Noise: The Political Economy of Music (pgs. 7-8)

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6 Responses to Jacques Attali: Noise and Power

  1. noir-realism says:

    Good stuff ( another thinker I need to check out)… by the way did you happen to watch the second part of the pbs documentary The United States of Secrets last night… you can see both on line at their site now… goes into details of the NSA scandal from the beginning, shows how even insiders were against the use of The Program against citizens from the beginning (i.e., even the actual developer of the application used against us resigned and tried to become a whistleblower along with 5 others, all lost families, jobs, lives to it). As well as the full story of Snowden… and, the tough part: Obama’s own administration has gone even further than Bush did in its widening dragnet of data and analysis… creating backdoors into many of the top level internet giants: Google, Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, et. al..

    I’d read bits and pieces of this tale in a few books, but nothing as in depth as the actual players themselves being interviewed: even the head of the NSA who implemented it and defends it…. lol


    • dmf says:

      I loved how frontline outed all those silicon-valley companies as being in the surveillance business, one-way-mirror-world indeed!

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