01 September 2010

Is There A Noise Continuum Part 15: Performing Noise, Noise Performs

This is another part from my Noise paper... focusing on the links between some of the performance art's aesthetics with the art of noise.

The connection between Noise and the world of performance art and sound art is an erratic one as some are clearly music precedents while others are more conceptual forebears: within the Fluxus and Fluxus related group of artists, Yoko Ono with John Lennon released albums which combined her experimental take on voice while pushing the form of rock to its limits and thus foretelling the coming of No Wave and Noise Rock; Yasunao Tone’s wounded CDs in the 1980s and 1990s are also creative re-thinks of abusing the format of the then new digital miracle music carrier, the CD, to make non-repetitive and unpredictable results in their noise/music production. Christian Marclay, who two generations later, made a name for himself with his use/abuse of the vinyl, and one can find Noise artists working in similar vein in the works of Industrial Records associate, Boy Rice/NON, and Japanese free jazz/improviser Otomo Yoshihide. All three of them explored, questioned and interpreted the medium in their own ways in their noise making.

Hermann Nitsch, the most established and recognized of all the Viennese Actionists today, was into Noise: his symphonies and his infamous Des Orgien Mysterien Theaters performances placed the cacophonous ‘musical’ accompaniments (Noise) in the foreground as one of the key elements of the re-enactment of the Dionysian rite. He and the other Actionists like Gunter Brus, Otto Muehl and Rudolf Schwarzkogler were pushing performance art using the body and rituals while highlighting certain atavistic and primordial symbols and signs in their various actions, which during the 1960s in Vienna and Europe attracted police interference, legal actions, smear campaigns from the press as well as applause and support from like-minded audiences and fellow travellers. Subsequent Noise artists are known to name-drop them or explain their Noise aesthetics and performative foundations based on the actions and words of this group of taboo breakers. Early Merzbow releases used words like ‘action’ as a form of acknowledgment to Masami Akita’s debt to them.

Other performance artists who were not so linked to Noise making and music became important influences on the later practitioners in their conceptual ideas and the execution of performances: Vito Acconci’s theory of the power field and his various performance pieces which aimed at interrogating the domains of public and private in the late 1960s and early 1970s were conceptual avant garde bullets which shattered the straitjacketed mindset of the public; Chris Burden’s Shoot Piece totally destroyed the middle class construct of life and art when he was injured when, during the performance, he was supposed to be grazed by a bullet fired by his collaborator from a distance but instead more than what was expected was blasted off his body.

Younger generations of performance artists traverse the invisible demarcation between art, music and life with ease after the 1960s and 1970s when the first generations of performance artists from both groups had successfully broken down the initial societal barriers: John Duncan’s Blind Date (he had sexual intercourse with a corpse, recorded and released the procedure and then he topped it off with a vasectomy) updated Acconci’s Seedbed (the artist situated himself below the exhibition space, out of sight of the visitors and masturbated according to his associational fantasy of the sounds and voices he heard through the floor board) and pushed it even further by wrapping it with ethical thorns to prick and question the audience about issues of moral standards and societal norms. Of course, he did not deny the fact that it was also a form of public psychoanalysis to interrogate his personal psyche and purge his demons in some of the works he enacted. Christof Migone, a Canadian artist though not as outwardly transgressive, also uses his body as ‘canvas’ for noise and sound making: from holding out his tongue as far as he could to the cracking and popping of the joints on the body. His art is more personal but never frivolous as he often throws open the assumptions of the body politics and its relation to modern-day existential struggle. Even the notorious Haters are performance artists par excellence, who revelled in the joyful and iconoclastic physical destruction of fetish objects to attempt to break down the modern human materialist consumerist thought processes as well as injecting a solid dose of vitriolic fun in their acts of smashing and drilling. The recordings these artists made, which interface the usually inviolable boundaries between previous non-contaminated fields, are precisely what Noise is all about - a transgression of conceptual, creative and even ethical spheres, and questioning issues which most take for granted.

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