David Novak

Event Date: 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

David Novak

‘My work explores global culture and politics through the ethnography of popular music, particularly in Japan; I try to understand how the circulation of media becomes central to large-scale processes of social transformation. In this, my research connects ethnomusicology with anthropology of media, Japan studies and global studies, science and technology studies, as well as the growing interdisciplinary field of sound studies. Rather than contributing separately to these as separate intellectual contexts, I show how music and sound provide a unique way of listening to the changes of contemporary global culture. 

My most recent work has been on the social politics of music and sound in Japan after the 3.11.11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Each summer for the past 4 years I have conducted ethnographic research on antinuclear protests and festivals, particularly the Project Fukushima! festival in Fukushima City. I’m interested in how music, dance, and festival have become charged performance contexts for social activism, which allow public reflection and critique of Japan’s nuclear policy in a complex political environment.

The emerging development of sound as a research subject is another crucial through-line in my career. Reconsidering cultural concepts of noise through global circulations of sound recordings has helped my earlier work feed into the new field of sound studies, which inspired the publication of Keywords in Sound. I’m also a musician and sound engineer, and find that my work in the recording studio helps me understand how sound technologies have become so deeply imbricated into the fabric of contemporary music making and listening. In addition to circulating my research in print, I disseminate my research in alternative and multimedia contexts, including sound recordingspodcasts, and other digital publications

On campus, I am appointed as Affiliated Faculty in Anthropology, EALCS, and Film & Media Studies, and am on the board of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center and the journal of Sound Studies. I’m also the co-Director (with Greg Siegel in Film & Media Studies) of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music—a UCSB group of faculty and graduate students that organizes talks, workshops, and the annual Rock Docs film series.’ - Professor David Novak 

Related links to David Novak's research:

Review of Japanoise in the UCSB Current

Interview: 'New Books in East Asian Studies' with David Novak

Interview: 'David Novak on Noise, Fukushima, and More'

Podcast: David Novak, 'The Cultural Feedback of Noise'

Podcast: 'The Sounds of Japan's Antinuclear Movement'


David Novak’s recently published works:

Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation

Duke University Press, 2013

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.



Keywords in Sound (edited by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny)

Duke University Press, 2015

In twenty essays on subjects such as noise, acoustics, music, and silence, Keywords in Sound presents a definitive resource for sound studies, and a compelling argument for why studying sound matters. Each contributor details their keyword's intellectual history, outlines its role in cultural, social and political discourses, and suggests possibilities for further research. Keywords in Sound charts the philosophical debates and core problems in defining, classifying and conceptualizing sound, and sets new challenges for the development of sound studies.




David Novak is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with affiliations in Anthropology, Film and Media Studies, and East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies. His work deals with the globalization of popular music, remediation, protest culture, and social practices of listening. He is the author of Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Duke 2013), as well as recent essays and sound recordings in Public CultureCultural AnthropologySensory Studies, and The Wire. His current research focuses on the role of music, sound, and noise in the antinuclear movement in post-3.11 Japan. He is the founder of the Music and Sound Interest Group in the American Anthropological Association, and co-director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music.