30 August 2009

Is There A Noise Continuum?

Simon Reynolds has been talking about a hardcore continuum in recent months. I have been more or less a lapsed electronica/dance music fan since the early noughties, except perhaps for stuff released by the Basic Channel axis, Raster-Noton label and the minimal noise-tronica terrorist, Pan Sonic. But reflecting on the development of Noise and related releases that one can vaguely classified under the broad umbrella of Noise (as posited by David Keenan's Noise primer in the Wire, Tochnit Aleph's mailorder catalogue,etc.), Noise as a genre seems to slowly unravel its provenance, roots and cross-disciplinary germination from as far afield as concrete poetry and electronic compositions in the modern classical mode, when more and more Noise-niks reveal their likes, influences and recommendations in the various rags, blogs, interviews and what-have-you in today's ultra-linked up world.

The Futurists, dada-ists and Surrealists might have provided the initial license to make some glorious noise in their various manifestos, actions and even some recordings, but they mainly gave the Noise-niks the philosophy, rationale and basis. Musically, of course it's a minefield to tread: from Lou Reed's iconoclastic "Metal Machine Music" to Throbbing Gristle to Whitehouse, from John Cage to Musique Concrete to Free Jazz, it all depends on whose entry point we are looking at and talking about. Of course, most of these currents, subcurrents and streams might or might not have actually mingled, mixed and produced the wide plethora of sub-genres of Noise today. But the main question is, what does Noise mean in today's world? With the floodgates of re-issues opened since the advent of CDs in the late 1980s, the digging of "seminal", "classic", "genre-defining" albums and lost works from the past just seem to overwhelm us month after month.

What I am attempting here is to propose, like what Reynolds has done for electronica, a continuum for Noise. I do not of course have the know-all to claim my view as the be-all end-all but perhaps as another source of point of reference, I hope will serve to discern the murk of electronic detritus, junk-shop clanks and high frequency jabs to our ears.

I do not intend to say that there is ever a first album which started it all but at anytime there would be a few visionaries crazy enough to release on plastic something audacious to shock and enthrall those who were listening out there.

Destroy All Monsters

A truly seminal band of misfits and art-damaged freaks from the mid-West of the US of A, DAM, has been making some noise literally for a few gloriously years under the radar. Like Masami Akita of Merzbow, whose initial impetus to make noise was that most of his favourite rock acts did not go beyond the ecstatic-inducing distortion of the electric guitars in their solos or jams, Mike Kelley (a renown artist in his own right, whose most famous art move to rock fans can be seen on Sonic Youth's album cover for the Dirty album/CD), Jim Shaw, Niagara and Cary Loren formed DAM in 1973 to rebel against the bland "rock" aristocracy of the day but also to infuse some of the more head-scratching ideas from the 20th century art world into the realm of "rock" or what they deemed as rock.

More Noise-rock than noise, DAM is the missing link between the world of found sounds, readymade scraps and sound shreds and traditional band set-up. It is almost like John Cage meeting MC5 in a lavatory and deciding to do a spirited rendition of Sun Ra's "Space Is The Place" using whatever they can pick up in the vicinity. But what a joyous, inspiring din! Listening back to the 3 CD box set (recently re-issued again), I cant help marvel at how ahead the band was in the midst of the disco-country rock-prog rock-fusion jazz stuffed 1970s. And of course its no surprise that the current heirs to Noise in the USA, Wolf Eyes, came from the same site of incubation, Ann Arbor!

To find out more about them, go to DAM.

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