30 September 2009
Noise as agent of freedom? As agent of change and hope? As agent of Civil Rights even? The angry but sometimes sometimes joyous and often spiritual noise of the free jazz brigades from the late 1950s onwards basically politicised Noise forever in popular music. Whereas the talk of Noise in academic classical and modern compositional circles had started long before that but the common person was often kept out of the loop of such intense debates and out of hearing of these works by the various avantgarde composers from Varese to Cage to Xenakis. Jazz on the other hand, before the onslaught of Rock N Roll from the 1950s and 1960s onwards, was the voice of Pop or symbols of popular culture then.
The debate of whether the Noise in free jazz or fire music or the New Thing as it has been variously and divisively called by both fans and detractors pushed jazz as a music form out of the popular music circuit by the beginning of the 1970s is inconclusive. But the Noise it entails definitely resonates till today. The power of progenitors like Albert Ayler's march like tunes turned wild improvisation of the highest level has not only make many jazz musicians to re-think their approach to the art form (whether they were supporters of it or not it caused many to either become more staunch in what they do or to try to go "out" in their playing).
As a result of going "out" many free jazz musicians employed non-tonal based moves and thus inviting many critics to called the new sound emerging 'noise' which in some cases they do sound like shards of pointed non-chords and non-notes coming at you. The Europeans heard landmark free jazz albums like Albert Ayler's 'Spiritual Unity' and were inspired to make an equivalent album in the form of 'Machine Gun' and many other European free jazz greats on the musician-run FMP Records in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Long before Hiphop, free jazz was the original 'Black Noise' which put forward the notion of Black empowerment and limitless artistic expression. A noise of righteous anger in the face of the struggle for Civil Rights and Black Rights and a resolute staking of ground for Black consciousness and non-White contaminated music. A music which rejects the idea of Black music as entertainment, minstrelsy and joke to the Whites, thus continuing and further developing what the Black Be-boppers first started out to achieve.
To find out more about Albert Ayler, go to Ayler.
While William S Burroughs was plotting and cutting up texts in Paris, France, another iconic but yet lesser known figure was trying to revolutionise poetry from its two-dimensional staid cul-de-sac in France as well - Henri Chopin. Just like Burroughs, he was enthralled with the possibility of making poetry alive and more tactile once again since the heydays of dada by harnessing the seemingly boundless electrified potential of tape recorders. Poetry as sound, poetry as audio painting.
What Burroughs was doing in novel and prose, Chopin was pushing the boundaries with poetry albeit without the paranoid infected and conspiracy-loaded mindset of the Burroughsian worldview. Chopin was interested in the exploration of the grain of voice, the manipulation of the timbre of vocal utterance, the vibration of the larynx, the texture of throat emission, and of course the accompanying hiss and gasps of the medium of the art form, the recorder by liberating using the record, pause, stop and play buttons of the tool to often startling effect.
Chopin basically pioneered the breaking down the artificial markers between music and language by proposing in his various experiments of the corporealisation of poetry as an art form and as a medium of expression. He viewed poetry as quinessentially a form of energy which we should actively tap and re-channel to greater efficiency and efficacy.
To many he was also a figurehead of the various strains of mid-twentieth century avantgarde movements which spanned across post dada, lettrists, fluxus, etc in his editiorship of the sound/poetry magazine OU from the 1960s to the 1970s which featured works from Burroughs and Brion Gysin to Bob Cobbing, from Raoul Hausmann to Ake Hodell and many more which have been excellently compiled and released as a deluxe boxset by Alga Marghen a few years back.
A true visionary who believed in the transformative power of language as human sound as noise as art. Today his influence can be felt in many noisicians who are exploring the interface between electronic tools, the human voice and noise.
Go to Chopin to find out more.
Someone out there actually did a review on every single CD on the "The Noise" box set which I raved about recently. Go to The Noise to read about it.
24 September 2009
The all-emcompassing, all-engulfing, back-to-the-womb, all-senses-open and at the end of the day, glorious and transcendent blasts of noise from the man who is responsible for "popularising" noise in the 1990s and the noughties: is he a man or a myth? To understand Merzbow, a.k.a. Masami Akita,one need to comprehend the art of total art of the senses. From Bataille to the Surrealists, from free jazz to abstract expressionism, Merzbow is an elemental force of sheer relentless singular vision and focus to craft the ultimate kunstwerk of sonic overload, total tonal suspension in space-time and of course plenty of tinnitus thrown in as well.
Taking his name from dada-ist/Surrealist Kurt Schwitters' on-going art piece of junkyard heap art and material fetishism, Merzbow understands the source of sensual sublime to be posited just above our normal human senses. Obliteration of the senses meant the obliteration of the materialist realm. His noise goes for volume, power but as well as plenty of sensuality. Crafted and nuanced, most of his releases do not pander to the simple turn the volume knob beyond 11 and sustaining it till the attention of the creator fizzle out. His is sonic immersion tinted with intention and eroticism, an element in Noise which many do not see. Similar to the eros, noise is the annihilation of both human emotional and rational reception of one's surroundings and his Noise aims to achieve that. After all, he is an established writer on the art of Japanese bondage in Japan.
His first musical foray into music started in the late 1970s when he was disappointed by most rock musicians stopping at the noisy guitar solos and push the boundary of music and sound in his early output. His first works sounded like European Improv gone wrong, Prog Rock slithering sideway into uncharted territory. Then in the 1980s his sound consolidated to something closer to what most of his later fans are more familiar with: analog-based kling klang. The 1990s was a decade of expansion and refinement of his 1980s sound till the late 1990s when he embraced the digital interface of the laptop computer and to celebrate and say good-bye to his analog years the behemoth 50 CD box set, Merzbox was released on Australian label, Extreme to acclaim and attention.
Today, his output remains prolific, of more than 250 releases to date. Talk about the art of excess, few can equal let alone beat him at the game. Noise of the most glorious kind. Merzbow defines what Noise is all about in its relation to what being a human is than most so-called music out there. Truly art.
To find out more, go to Merz.
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.
22 September 2009
Industrial music for Industrial people? The corporate motto of the at-once revered and revolting collective, Industrial Records a.k.a. Throbbing Gristle, from the UK basically encapsulated the grimy, apocalyptical mindscape and psychogeography of the rusting West in the 1970s in the midst of the Oil Crisis, rampant inflation and high unemployment and tense social fission between the self righteous leftists and the right wing conservatives. The fallout of the optimism of first the 1950s and the hippy dippy 1960s burst the bubbles for the youth in the tumultuous decade. People were dodging the reality of the harsh conditions, evading the psychological and econo-social trauma of those ashen black years and basically seeking the seemingly non-existent light at the end of the tunnel in Britain, and to a certain extent, cosmopolitan America as well as New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy, and San Francisco was still huddling in a corner from the psychedelic backlash with Los Angeles simply churning out bland soundtracks, faux-heroics on the big screens and mega-rock stars to divert the attention of the people. Bleak times indeed.
Genesis P-Orridge entered the picture, armed with his rhetoric from the world of avant garde art movements and manifestoes, actions and pranks, the COUM Transimissions and later on Throbbing Gristle presented to the world a mirror: that we are all ugly assholes and come on, let us be honest about it, and of course our belief in the progress of the Western science-obsessed and technological enhanced society was nothing but a sham, a reversion, a de-evolution of the human kind. Setting the tone to this message was the sound of the industrial signifiers and signified in sound, image and word. A gesamtkunst-sham of the highest order to present Noise as a reminder, a Lacan-like ego-reflection of the self-deluding public.
By first riding on the humps of performance action-based art, mail art and other dada-inspired moves, COUM Transmissions reached its creative climax with the infamous exhibition, entitled 'Prostitution' and on the same night of its inaugural opening, P-Orridge introduced to the world, the Throbbing Gristle. The folding of one act signalled the commencement of another. Where art could not reach, music, as P-Orridge argued, would hopefully achieve. The rest as they always say, is history.
To find out more about Industrial Records, go to IR.
Posted by Psychmetalfreak at 9/22/2009
17 September 2009
Chasing That Monday Blues Away: Nihilist Spasm Band's Proto-Noise Musings - Is There A Noise Continuum? Part 5
Feeling that Monday blues and not sure what to do to rid yourself of that dreaded feeling? Try picking up an instrument, find a few friends, locate a friendly venue and jam. This was what kick-started the non-career of the group of un-self-conscious folks in Canada way back in 1966 (The band was, however, formed earlier in 1965). The most distinctive sound of the band is the kazoo and of course the joyous noise-making which has been documented since 1967 and a year later, the band released their debut album, entitled "No Record" to almost universal neglect but over the years a few heads did chance upon it and picked it up...
The noise of NSB (their preferred acronym) is about a celebratory human communal activity of interaction, buddy-hood and all-round good-time vibe. Nothing about subverting the powers-to-be, no ambition beyond the need to express themselves in a small town in North America and most important of all, no thoughts about "making it" at the end of the day. The fact that they are now revered by many underground freaks and noise connoisseurs all over the world validated the non-vision of this collective: that more so than Punk, they are doing it themselves and doing it right.The fusion of jazz, primitive rock moves and folk-inflected improvisations of the NSB just sound so ahead of their times that put many current "hip" acts to shame with their measured and calculated manoeuvers.
Noise as freedom, as expression and as a resolutely non-careerist move (actually many amongst the group are professionals in their work life, e.g. one of them is a doctor)should give us the inspiration to do something about our life of merely consuming and consuming. In its own way, NSB's noise can be more subversive than the more self-ruminative musicians/music critics/fans as it taps into the basic human instinct to simply go out there to create.
Go to NSB to find out more about them.
Posted by Psychmetalfreak at 9/17/2009
14 September 2009
William S Burroughs
In the beginning it was the word. Language. Grammar. Alphabet. Letters. Syntax. All these give us meaning, provide a system, an operating one. Whoever controls the word controls the system, the society. So, what if we disrupt it by cutting it all up and throwing it back to the system?
William S Burroughs proposes a disruption of the word and thus a disruption of the powers-to-be's hegemony over us as the word has been the dominant tool of control over us since the word first appeared millenniums ago. The religious institutions and their holy texts, the political structures and their laws, the capitalists and their books and figures. Language is a virus, which we have been infected us for generations, used as a tool by Them on Us.
The society or the hegemonic superstructure basically values order over everything else: no disruption to the social order, and thus the powers-to-be could enjoy their dominance over us in peace. Noise, or a disruption of the word would mean to upset this peace, to question the legitimacy of the ruler over the ruled. Noise as revolutionary tool, as a spanner in the works, as a vehicle for possible change if not as the amoral conscience of the human society.
Noise is thus all about questioning, about going against the stipulated grain of the presribed dos and don'ts of one's behaviour. So what if all these are one big mistake? Burroughs shows us not so much the way but a glimpse of possibility out of the capitalist cul-de-sac and even though the capitalist behemoth has rapidly modified its form from a materialist greed and consumerist avalanche to a post-capitalist one of information control and overload of today, there is still a hope for going under or above. Resistance through the cut-ups, the disruption of the word.
Posted by Psychmetalfreak at 9/14/2009
01 September 2009
Noise can mean trangression of any sort as it defies conventions and norms. It breaks people up due to its ability to shock, to horrify and to provoke thus it is unwanted by the institutions, unknown to the people and unbecoming to the powers-to-be in most cases. However, once you experience it, and yes, it is not just an audio thing but it can be extended to include tactile, visual and even olfactory fields of senses, you wil not have a neutral reaction to it. You either shun it by walking away, turning it off, closing your eyes or simply pushing it far far away. It disrupts, it disturbs but most importantly it serves a few purposes: at its best, it forces one to think, to question and to react to it and hopefully from there, one can move on to look around us and start thinking more critically; at its worst, it satisfies, it fulfils and it satiates one desire for something other or different from their daily dredgery. In other words, Noise engages and even empowers.
Noise is never just about the aural reception and translation of it; it should be about an experience, a trip or a "show" even. Thus, in many instances, noise artists emphasise the importance of a total art presentation, approximating the gesamtkunstwerk but without the bourgeois or class connotation. Some of these artistes even stage events, festivals and commune based performances which may or may not involve fans, believers and friends in its presentation. And more often than not, it invites controversy and the law.
One of the godfathers of the modern noise-thetics, as well as one of four key proponents of the notorious Vienna Aktionists, Nitsch had during his heyday 30 years back for not just shocking the world with their artistic breakthroughs back in the 1960s and 1970s but having as much legal and societal transgressive asides thrown in for good measure too. He is in fact still very active, releasing records and performing. At first listen, his ritualistic music does not so much sound like the in-your-face noise blasts of today. His music however work on another level of disruption and dissonance: which is the inquisition and breakdown of religion, human ritual practice, bloodletting and animal sacrifice together with the experience of an other-worldly trance/ecstatic process of a more primordial and archetypal form. His music mixes marching band, animal sounds, human chants, religious litany, rock instrumentation and atmospheric noise from the performance into something truly transgressive and mind boggling. Noise as transcendance, but not so much to blast our ears and minds into oblivion but more of a partake of a communal rite, a one-mind and "self" shredding passage.
What he does was to give noise a meaning, a human one which when it works, touch base with who and what we are. Noise as elemental force, as a tool to awaken us out of this dreaded capitalist (now post-capitalist) stupor of pure helpless spectacle on our part.
To find out more about Nitsch, go to Nitsch.
Noise has always been the most illusive of all genres in terms of its meaning to the creators, its distributors and at the end of the line, its listeners. Devoid of melody and harmony and full of jarring notes, spiky tones and messy instrumentation of at times non-traditional types, noise emcompasses all and eschews none. As John Cage has mentioned, music that we know of is just organised noise around us. Thus, before the recent solidification of Noise as a recognisable genre or a "sellable" category, noise is what music is not basically. This implies that, anything as rock as punk rock, as arty as Fluxus sound pieces, as transgressive as early industrial, as serious as sound poetry are/were at one time or the other considered as, noise, in more often than not, derogatory light.
The problematic part about tracing the genealogy of noise, is that unlike most genres, noise does not start from a convenient popular culture starting point, like Elvis or Beatles or Duke Ellington or the serialists or Sex Pistols. As the definition of noise is already so full of contradictory accounts, differing perspectives and even geographical provenance which often obscure the awareness of one progenitor of noise from the other till recent years, Noise can at most be seen as a simultaneous slow simmering of tiny bursts of creativity, rebellion and up-yours-ness across the world. Many of them did not even consider themselves noise-niks in the first place. Freaks, junkshop heads, unclassifiable jazzbos, and anyone who has the penchant for discordance and dissonance in their audio soundtracks were the ones who made up the ranks of such breed of din makers.
Los Angeles Free Music Society
The LAFMS is such a collective which arguably forged the current aesthetics of noise based on the millieu which I have traced above. Irreverent, goofy, experimental for the sake of experimental and then some, junkheap derived exercises, audio insanity and fauvist basement rock stylings, are just some of the descriptors for these loosely collected weirdos and geeks. They started operation since the early 1970s, when the USA was having its most barren times musically speaking. Go to: LAFMS
A collective which more than anything else emphasizes the individuality of the constituents of this motley crew, it is more an association or union of noise-makers than a band of aesthletes working within a similar parameter. But what binds them together is their urge to re-draw the meaning of music, sound and noise using non-conventional instrumentation and musical principles.
Doo-dooettes, Smegma, Airway are some of the more "famous" outfits under the aegis of the LAFMS. Besides working alongside fellow travellers within the collective, many of them venture out to collaborate with contemporary art terrorists/artists like Wolf Eyes, Keiji Haino and David Toop for the past few decades. A continuum to speak of? Most probably as they are still on-going today.