Unwanted Sounds

Noise is normally described as ‘unwanted sound’. But noise sounds can be very interesting too.

Making Use of Unwanted Sounds

Normally we differentiate between noise and music. However, if any sound can be used to make a piece of sound-based music, then why not embrace noise and use it as the main ingredient in pieces?

As we discovered when exploring pitch, most sounds are actually on a continuum between noise and pure pitch.



All sounds from the natural world will contain some form of noise.

As composers, artists and musicians continued to explore sounds, they soon realised that to ignore noise sounds meant to miss out on some exciting possibilities.

Why should we ignore or reject noise sounds just because they are different?

P1-1 (Noise Excerpt)

A glitchy track made of many different noiseglitch, feedback and other ‘unwanted’ sounds – by Andrew Hill.

Where Do Noise Sounds Come From?

Some of the most common noise sounds are glitches, feedback, and hiss.

Noise sounds are often generated through a faulty connection, error or by a malfunction. But we can also create them deliberately.


Activity – Noise from a Faulty Connection

You can create a ‘faulty connection’ noise sound by plugging and un-plugging your headphones.

Put the headphones on, then un-plug the jack from the socket. As the jack plug moves out of the socket, you should head a short crackling glitch sound.

Push the plug back into the socket and you should hear another short glitch sound. These glitch sounds are cause by the contacts on the plug moving against the contacts in the socket.

When the plug is half in we make a connection, but a faulty or bad one. The noise comes from this fault.

Headphone Glitch Sound

Here is a recording of the type of glitches that you might hear from a plug and socket.


Fact – Glitch Sounds

Glitch sounds are created because of the way that electricity can very quickly turn on and off.

Sounds produced in this way have the most sudden start and finish. This makes them almost unique, because it would be impossible for such sounds to occur naturally outside of an electronic system.


Activity – Noise from a Feedback

Feedback occurs when you create a signal loop that feeds back into itself. This loop continually adds to itself, amplifying any details into a wonderful screeching cacophony.

Feedback Sound

This is a recording of electrical feedback. As the input controls (volume) and equaliser (tone) are changed, the feedback sound evolves.

Create Your Own Feedback Loop

!!!TAKE CARE!!! Feedback can be very loud.

It is very simple to create a feedback loop. You simply connect the output into the input.

This can be done by pointing a microphone at a loudspeaker (as in the picture above), or by plugging the output cable from a device, back into the the input of that same device.

You can use any device with an amplifier.

If we connect cables, then we won’t be able to hear the loop (because it will be entirely inside the electronic system). To hear it we need to split the loop and send some of it to a loudspeaker, so that we can hear the sound we are creating.

If you have a small mixing desk, you can create a few of these simple loops and the sound quickly becomes more and more complex as the different loops interact.



Electric guitars are also famous for their feedback. They use a combination of electrical and physical means.

The guitar makes a sound and the amplifier boosts it.

This causes the strings on the guitar to vibrate and so more sound is sent to be amplified by the amplifier.

The more sound that is amplified, the more the strings vibrate… and so the cycle goes on.

Guitar Feedback


Quiet Noise?

Not all noise sounds need to be loud.

Noise sounds are often associated with loudness because as ‘unwanted sounds’ we often wish they were quieter.

But, if we think of noise sounds as being those with a noisy texture, then it becomes clear to see that we can have noise sounds at any volume.

Rickshaw by Dushume

This sounds quite different, doesn’t it? Can you hear the different colours? The different pitches? The rhythms? Listen to it again and try to explore this world of sound.

What Is Noise? What Is Music?

Many people argue about noise music. It is very hard to define. What is noise? What is music?

We can use noises to make music, they often sound interesting, unique and exciting.