Originally published in PLEASURE 2013
Illustration by Noel Freibert
Defending harsh motherfuckers
“There can be no silence up in the mountains since their very contours roar.” - Jean Baudrillard, America
That Skin Graft can open his attaché case, which he also uses to bribe municipal politicians (seen walking out of Cleveland City Hall with impunity, shades, pissed) and unleash a horrible storm of sound, part bleak Cleveland ventilator hum, part Alvin Lucier “North American Time Capsule,” part Batmobile with party plates, in the amount of time it takes most synth jammers to open their case and set up the two-tiered keyboard stand is case alone for the style.
But its gotta be deeper than that.
Villainous Skin Graft entertains his audience in short surgical-strike fashion, a kind of slab monument in sound, that’s there and then isn’t, written in a horrible language so frustrating and grating, yet so familiar and graspable (I mean what’s confusing about an ugly, loud sound, really?). Meanwhile we still must sit through the rattling, unmoving 4-note arpeggiations, endless, uncoloured and somehow coming from $4000 of rare, museum grade equipment. That somehow the music has been reduced to pornography for knob-topped-circuit-heap fetishists is all-telling. Why be creative when you can show up at the gig with the set from a goddamn Pertwee-era episode of Doctor Who and Deep Stroke Nine it? And it isn’t even capable of polyphony.
And after its brief, pilot-shade wearing moment in the spotlight, the noise has returned to being the hated music. Despised in the underground as much as above ground. Good thing too, because collaging images of dead hookers onto images of concentration camps was getting a weeee bit lame. But the men have been separated from the boys and those left standing for the most part are worth paying attention to. The new breed is far more artistic, patient and elegant than the old herd. Of course at the recent VOV rally, when the harsh acts played everyone buggered off to their tents. But these stood out above the rest; displaying a remarkable tonal palette, tight compositional forms (like a 70’s western), a distinct lack of male posturing and a non-glacial, non-WALLS approach. We are left with some competent sound thinkers, and of course no one is listening.
But what lies at heart here is what is so natural about noise music: this weird paradox in which what seems sooo abstract is actually not at all. Because what occurs more naturally than noise... if you’ve got ears? This is especially true in an age where the very essence of communication, the signal to noise ratio, has been inverted. Where the 20th century was spent ridding the signal of noise (as in the concept of fidelity, being based on the French word “fidel” meaning faithful, as in “a faithful reproduction” which is itself the basis of analogy. I digress...), the 21st century is marked by the almost futile attempt to find signal, any signal at all puuuuuhleeeeeeeaze, in a large screen of noise. The blues took its rhythmic cues for its boogies, boogaloos, swings etc. from the sound of trains cutting north from south, the first real machine beat. The futurists, the all-hailed godfathers of making noise qua music, composed by ringing fire alarms, blowing massive homemade speakers, running pulleys back and forth and generally making a goddamn racket; composing with what, at the time, were the unwanted sounds. Noise now--using guitar pedals shaker boxes, boss samplers, tapes--makes much the same use of its immediate, natural surroundings: The 21st century racket, omnipresent ventilation hum, modulated traffic wash, blownout screen light, PDA staccato so many loud scrapped motherfuckers in your face, information flowing to and fro within which there is no orientation. What’s more, the music that so boldly claims to actually represent this very reality does so by making elevator music, which of course is a failure in so many senses, the first being that it does NOT acknowledge the din, the shuddering, traumatic quality of our everyday existence.
What’s even more noble--beyond noise music’s amazing ability to mimic--is harsh noise music’s amazing propensity to evoke catharsis in the listener. In fact, this is noise’s cheapest trick, making one feel like they’ve just been baptized in a gauze sea. Only the most bench-warming, C+ noise jammer can’t somehow reach this cathartic g-spot with their music. Again with reference to the VOV rally, a staunch guard remains... deftly crafting, by mimicking the screen of noise that surrounds everything, noise that isn’t often even sound--like billboards, gaudy fashions, crass architecture, political campaign rattle and so forth--a cathartic experience that’s worthy of the name, proper and sufficient.
Noise music at its roots, Luigi Russolo and his futurists, library burning, ridding the present of the past, typically antisocial, aimed at the very modern project of representing the city and its aural landscape... Italian dandies standing around a giant homemade speaker, in tweed, spectacles and pocket watches, big ol’ crumdusters, obsessed with wreckage.
Meanwhile I find most new restaurants repugnant. The sign of a good restaurant is that there is a table in the back reserved for the family that runs the place. Why fetishize this clean, surgical, flat surfaced eating place? And I want to support local business, especially the young ones. But these new restaurants with perfectly arranged food in perfectly arranged spaces are more offensive than a b&w image of a dead hooker collaged on a PE tape. The shrieking dissonance of these places is more noise than the howling kits of all the noise-types combined.
The 2012 July 4th San Diego Fireworks Display was the greatest Stockhausen piece ever performed. Also they are a work of architectural beauty... and it was the HARSHEST NOISE-SET EVER PERFORMED. Totally spectacular!
Evan Lipson and I ate at Cuisine Szechuan last night, some legit, street-level Szechuan dining in downtown Montreal. Later that night Shapiro and I reheated the leftovers. The dishes were pig-ear in pickled Szechuan chilis, and Eggplant in chili-garlic sauce. This meal, going in, explosively coming out, was the goddamn harshest noise set of the year (after San Diego fireworks display, ‘natch). And of course there was a table at the back reserved for the family running the place.
Kevin Drumm gave Elliott two personalized noise tapes. Each one unique. We drove around Lakewood punching these tapes in. There was no way to distinguish Drumm’s tapes from the car-radio tuned to a dead channel. But really... not in some facetious, cheap analogy kind of way, but in genuine likeness.
When the U toured in Europe, Damage and I pulled an all-nighter to drive from Barcelona to Azkoitia in the Basque hills. We were pulling in radio from North Africa. At one point we found a station broadcasting recordings of a huge crowd clapping. Just 300 people clapping. It never stopped. At one point we drove under a bridge lit up in eerie neon decoration. When we passed under the bridge the frequency of the clapping sound swan-dived to a focal zero-point and then flourished open again as we emerged. It sounded like a Newton tape.
Here’s the family sitting at the table in the back of the restaurant. She’s smoking, he’s drinking a glass of tap water watching a TV that hangs on the wall, their daughter, sweet looking, is serving you, working for free.
If this Newton tape is a restaurant and these swan-diving frequencies that sound like 300 people clapping are the legit eggplant dish then, inevitably, Newton is the family sitting at the back, he smoking, she watching football on the TV, fresh-faced daughter serving you.
But it gets deeper still. Cuz if you think about it... You’re the fresh faced daughter serving Newton whose jams are the family sitting at the back; me smoking watching football and SHE? She’s writing this very business you’re reading right now.
So if the rugged few still mangling noise out the box fulfill Aristotle’s definition of... uhm... quality tragedy, mustn’t it then be worthy of our attention now? I mean, lets face it there, Lindsay Buckingham, you sat through a lot of it circa 2007 and suddenly... NO INTEREST.