24 September 2009

Suicidal Performance Ri(t/d)es: Is There A Noise Continuum? Part 7

One of the main reasons why popular music from the mid 20th century onwards was deemed as "noise" was partly due to its propensity to induce ear-aches: the rapid development of musical instruments powered by electricity, the emphasis on volume and its accompanying live dionysian context, and of course the socio-political implications of it all when you have swarms of teenagers and young adults going crazy over it. The starting point of noise is thus not so much the visionary actions of a singular artiste or group but more of a combination of teen-fuelled wilfulness, artistic adventurism and even plainly for the heck of it.

Enough has been told of the accidental discovery of feedback and distortion caused by placement of the guitars to the amplifiers and the wonder boxes of effects invented. All these took place basically from the 1940s to the early 1960s when popular music was seen as simply 'pop' noise and adolescent jouissance: from the bright surf guitar tones to fuzzy overload of the garage bands as well as studio experimentation with creating a wall of sound and pushing the quality of audio fidelity as well as novelty despite limited technological hardware available then. The self conscious "noise-making" came about when musicians started getting their minds fried by psychedelics but more crucially the sounds emanating from the records produced by the ecstatic free jazz/New Thing of the Afro-Americans, the studio wizardry of the musique concrete and electro-acoustic sororities and of course the visionary performances of rock icons like Jimi Hendrix.

However no matter how much the musicians wished to push noise to the foreground, the technological constraints of the late 1960s and 1970s coupled with the conservative mindset of the engineers, producers and studio techs to censor the sonic excesses of the recording process hindered most of the sonic dissonance of these bands from being documented on vinyl. The only venue left for them would be the live setting of a gig.

The amp overload of the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and the MC5 in the late 1960s are by now legendary to the point of canonical; the relatively softer but equally valid exploration of sonic outrage of the San Franciscan psychedelic bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, the abrasive primitivo- proto punk of the Deviants, Tomorrow and the Pink Fairies with the psych-noise of Syd-era Pink Floyd in the UK, and the kraut and kosmische ramblings from Germany of Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Guru Guru, were all signposts of such explorations and ventures back then. But all of them still remained rock in various degree at the end of the day. It would take the later self conscious art-influenced and inflected artistes to push their live forms into the noise-spheres in the 1970s.

The notorious confrontational live noise rituals of Suicide in the early 1970s presented to many that noise could be a way out of the rock and roll dead end, and even after they had turned more "rock" in the 1970s, their live gigs were vital documents of noise-as-ultimate-art-statement. The try-me-if-you-dare attitude of Alan Vega and Martin Rev took the rock-as-performance informed Iggy-estics together with the avant posturing of various confrontational schools of thought in modernist thought and present shows of no-compromise and emotional baiting display of such-fire life situations. Delirious to say the least. To make things worse, their resolutely non-rock presentation of a non-guitars-and-drums set up is just "noise" to the eyes and ears of most dudes who chanced upon them.

Of course, with a name like Suicide they were simply asking for it at the end of the day but, hey, who's blaming them? By the way their potent blend of Elvis style rock-a-billy shrieks and emotive tunes when charged with the in-yer-face shock-noise moves can sound cheesy at times but it is sure as hell noise to those ears man.

To find out more about these guys, go to Suicide.

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