Noise music has an indeterminate quality, a quality that defies common conceptions of sonic reproduction. By striving for a level of volume, intensity, and texture that veers toward decay, noise music challenges the listener — especially the listener to recorded noise music — to locate the proper listening environment. When a sound is intended to signal a destructive force, how can its “proper” reproduction be gauged. This live performance by the Scotland-based musician Deadwood, aka Adam Baker, has the unique ability to sound like it is shredding your speaker even when played at a very low volume. If noise music played quietly is a form of ambient music, that is not to say that the sound cannot still do damage.
I’ve regularly said that a multi-floor pachinko parlor in Tokyo is by far the loudest, most aggressive sound I have experienced in person, and I’ve said that as someone who has seen Metallica, Danzig, Fugazi, Slayer, Godflesh, and Napalm Death live in concert, just to name a few bands famed for their volume. The closest I’ve come to the pachinko parlor intensity was probably a Dinosaur Jr. show that was so loud people walked out of the concert hall, though the lack of enthusiasm may also have been because Nirvana was the opening act on that tour, and Nirvana, then still on the rise, was the portrait of a tough act to follow. In any case, as mentioned here recently, Seth S. Horowitz, author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind, is currently in Japan and making binaural field recordings of what he witnesses. His latest item from that information-gathering trip is a pachinko parlor, which he tweeted about earlier this evening:
His description of the track, six minutes of white noise so dense with treacly pop music, mechanical fury, and crowd chatter is as follows: “In-ear binaural recording of a soundwalk through 3 floors of the Maruan Pachinko Tower in Shibuya, Tokyo at 11 AM. WARNING: Incredibly LOUD. Use low volume to listen.”
Lou Reed, cofounder, singer, and songwriter of the Velvet Underground, passed away today at the age of 71. He was a key figure in the pre-punk era of rock’n’roll, which stripped artifice in favor of rudimentary chord progressions and urban narrative. But because contradictions are at the heart of culture, Reed and his band also provided an important bridge between the worlds of rock’n’roll and contemporary art.
Much has been made of Reed having said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” The comment is often referenced in favor of rock music that has an distinct disinterest in melodic, harmonic, and structural complexity. But one chord, at least in the metaphoric sense, also provided the foundation of some of Reed’s least rock-like recordings, music that aspired to an ambient state: his 1975 noise classic, Metal Machine Music, and his 2007 collection of contemplative soundscapes, Hudson River Wind Meditations.
The latter is a collection of meditative recordings — white noise in contrast with Metal Machine Music’s white heat — that he composed for his own tai chi practice:
The former is one of the most debated albums by a major rock musician. Many see it as a prank, an album of sonic violence that goes beyond merely challenging the ears of its audience. Such dismissal doesn’t explain why Reed returned to the music decades later, or how industrial rock, free improvisation, and noise music made good on the once isolated manifesto. That said, the perception of it as a prank assists in setting Metal Machine Music alongside John Cage’s 4’33”, another perennially reviled work: a wall of impenetrable sound to match Cage’s transparent silence:
¶ Deaf Gaming: Interesting anecdote from a recent gamasutra.com piece on the late video game creator Kenji Eno, written by Brandon Sheffield. The “Eno” in this is, of course, Kenji (not Brian), and the Saturn is the Sega game console from the mid-1990s:
“For his next game, Sega wanted to make it an exclusive — whatever it was. Eno had recently met with some sight-impaired folks who liked to play action games, and he asked himself, “What if you made a game that the blind and the sighted could play equally?” So he created the game Real Sound, which is an audio-only retail game, and made Sega promise that if he made the game exclusive to them, they would donate 1,000 Saturns to blind people, and he would supply 1,000 copies of the game. Again, this was an unusual idea for 1996, but he felt the stagnancy of the industry, and went to great lengths to shake it up.”
Surround Sound: The Tank is a 60’ x 30′ vessel — a “rusted steel water tank” in the words of its caretaker, Bruce Odland, who has made use of its inherent 40-second reverb since 1976. He’s set up a kickstarter.com campaign to ensure its future use:
The campaign ends March 31, 2013. More on the project at kickstarter.com. (Thanks for the tip go to Joshua Izenberg, whose filmSlomo just won the Documentary Short prize among the Short Film Jury Awards at the 2013 SXSW festival. Jeremiah Moore, the sound designer on Slomo, is apparently also involved in this Tank project.)
¶ Electretymologies: There’s a hair’s-breadth matter of word choice in today’s “playlist” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times. In a single column he reviews six records. For Suuns’ Images du Futur he mentions “the repeating synthesizer tones of early electro.” For How to Destroy Angels’ Welcome Oblivion he mentions both “dank electronic sounds” and how “the electronics mostly give way to the acoustic.” And for Draco Rosa’s Vida he mentions “dipping into new wave, Caribbean styles, electronica and, at the end, hard-rock blasts.” The emphasis is mine. Those are four distinct terms, all variations on a core root prefix, all used in close proximity: electro, electronic, electronics, and electronica.
¶ Twang Bar Theory: This is pretty great. Over at youtube.com, Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival back in 2011, discussing the “history and future of guitar noise”:
¶ Docusound Platform: Promotional video for the site docusound.org, “a platform for producing and distributing audio documentaries”:
¶ Sonifying Auckland: Sound designer Tim Prebble, along with filmmaker Denise Batchelor, is a 2013 artist in residence of the Auckland regional parks system. Details at scoop.co.nz. Here is description from the announcement: “He’ll record local native birdcalls, slow the recordings to allow notation and then ‘play with this as the DNA of music’, embellishing and orchestrating it. On completion, his music will be played at a local venue and a CD, tentatively called The Bird Song Preludes, will be available after his residency.” More from Prebble at musicofsound.co.nz.
¶ Celluloid Heroes: The first of two parts of a documentary about Celluloid Records, over at youtube.com, featuring among others Bill Laswell, DXT (formerly Grand Mixer DST), and label founder Jean Karakos:
¶ Re-scanning: Great interview at thequietus.com with Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, about his range of activities. He goes project by project, talking about his early work with the technology from which he took his name (“The scanner was connected directly into a tape deck the whole time. This was ’91, ’92, this was anticipating an idea of the internet, there was no access to this kind of networked world that we’re so comfortable with today. These voices and accessing them suddenly took you into a very private place that you could never otherwise be in.”), collaborating with filmmaker Derek Jarman and artist Mike Kelley, and “re-soundtrack[ing]” the final two minutes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and much more.
¶ In Brief: There’s a 30-part audio documentary titled Noise: A Human History being presented starting tomorrow, March 18, on BBC 4 by David Hendy of the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex: bbc.co.uk (via bl.uk). ¶ The palmsounds.net provides a brief overview of a talk Rob Thomas (of Reality Jockey) gave in London about mobile music. ¶ In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is a new book containing interviews with artists whose work employs field recordings. Among those are Andrea Polli, Christina Kubisch, Francisco López, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jez Riley French, and Lasse-Marc Riek. (Thanks for the tip, John Kannenberg.) ¶ “Why Do People Use ‘Nope’ Even Though ‘No’ Is Shorter?” (at slate.com, via Quora). The short version is that “no” may have half as many letters but the hard stop at the end of “nope” arguably makes it more succinct. The author, Marc Ettlinger, has other theories as well, including an informative bit on “sound symbolism.” ¶ Robert Henke, aka Monolake, is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area as a visiting instructor at CCRMA, the computer music department at Stanford University. In a warm-welcome gesture, the department made the page announcing his course look just like a page from Henke’s own monolake.de website. ¶ That White House petition to make unlocking cellphones legal, mentioned here recently, has gained President Obama’s support. ¶ The 62nd Disquiet Junto project had 44 participants, each making music from three sine waves. ¶ Here’s a recording of Steve Reich’s “Radio Rewrite,” his new adaptation of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Everything in Its Right Place”: youtube.com. (Note, it’s audio only. Found via the indispensable rgable.typepad.com.)
The latest from the excellent Chicago-based broadcast/podcast Radius may be its most quiet yet. “Recording the Spirit Level” is Dan Tapper’s excursion into “very low frequency”” (VLF) signals. As the site explains:
These signals are generated through electromagnetic fluctuations, or changes in magnetic signals produced naturally by the ionosphere, including lightning strikes and the Aurora Borealis. Collected using a homemade loop inductor, the raw magnetic sounds collide with interference produced by man-made technology to illustrate the relationship between humanity and the natural world.
The result is more akin to the soundscape of remote pond life than to an industrial grid, or perhaps more to the point a shallow pond near a single whirring electrical post. It’s all light glitching, amphibious burps, amid a low-level hum of nuanced communications effluvia.
The great things about listening to Radius, which is organized by Jeff Kolar, is the way each project provides a different aspect of the myriad ways that radio signals can provide the starting point, rather than merely a means to transmit, artistic practice.
• May 13, 2015: Last spring-semester class meeting of the 15-week course that I teach on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'll next teach it in spring 2016.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.