Making music, at its most rudimentary level, is the process of giving shape to noise.
Sonic Youth has forged a distinctive niche in rock music for itself by keeping that principle in mind.
Formed in 1981, the New York City band began getting notice by the mid-'80s as a force on the burgeoning independent rock scene. It also received a tag--or epithet--to describe its approach: "noise band."
Founding guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo certainly were schooled in music-as-noise. Before starting Sonic Youth, they had played with underground composer Glenn Branca, who liked to create sound-slabs by massing multiple guitars. In Sonic Youth, Moore and Ranaldo resolved to avoid the conventions of rock guitar by experimenting with (purists might say abusing) their instruments: tuning them to dissonant harmonics or inserting foreign objects such as screwdrivers among the strings.
Gradually, along with bassist Kim Gordon (Moore's wife) and drummer Steve Shelley, the guitarists began to forge all the clangor they created into recognizable song-shapes. If noise was Sonic Youth's inspiration, it was a version of noise handed down by such esteemed '60s and '70s rock precursors as the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Television. Sonic Youth's guitars might roar and buzz and evoke a subway train hurtling into a black void. But instead of remaining in an uncharted void, their compositions moved purposefully and according to a comprehensible plan.