Friday, December 29, 2006

The Art Of Yesterday's Crash, Pt 1.


Some people find it hard to believe I like noise music. Not that there's anything about me to suggest I wouldn't like it; it's just that the very idea of liking noise music is alien to the people I know. In fact, the idea of 'noise music' seems oxymoronic, an impossible concept. I at least partially agree with that. In Give My Regards To Eighth Street, Morton Feldman's book of collected essays, he says that the possibilities of noise are far greater than the possibilities of music, constrained as it is into very certain shapes. Noise has the possibility, "when organised" to "have the impact and grandeur of Beethoven". Furthermore, noise is a much more difficult creature than music: it is a shot in the "demonic vastnesses" that surround the tightly cloistered world of music; but ultimately it gives a higher payback: the transcendent world of music, of pretty notes designed to please, can please anyone or leave them flat, but "Noise is something else... It bores like granite into granite. It is physical, very exciting."

You're damn fucking right it's exciting. The visceral thrill I get when listening to good noise is bizarre and, at its best, near-unbeatable. It's like punk music taken out to the furthest extreme (in fact, it really is: punk's ethic of deconstruction and assault is taken here to its reaches, removing even things like rhythm in search of pure shredding sound); it's like the morbid fascination that car crashes and serial killers have on people; it's that feeling of exotica, of pure transgressive, forbidden rush, like those weird fantasies people have of being raped by handsome strangers (yes, I have seen some weird films.) Artists like Prurient, Wolf Eyes and Magik Markers are making music that is finally going there, beyond even where Morton Feldman (who at least composed for classical instruments) went.
In his review of the Fun From None DVD - Chris Habib's film of the 2004 and 2005 No Fun festivals, the only noise festival on earth - in December's Plan B, Louis Pattison posits the theory that "noise is the key to a nation's id". He notes that "In Britain noise is about strange sexual perversions, the impulse to authoritarianism, and where the two intersect in themes of domination and control." This is compared to America, where it emerges from "a land of fortified homesteads, pioneer machismo and militant self-sufficiency: a nation of noise outlaws, walking forth from their mid-American compounds to deliver a shot of bad craziness into the national jugular."
Whilst the theory is nice, it doesn't really hold together, forgetting the huge degree of intersection between British and American noise, indeed the amount of similarity throughout the world-wide scene. Prurient's scouring whine-and-shred has its' roots in London's Whitehouse. The improvisations and "inverted guitar fetishism" of Magik Markers finds its' roots in British experimental music in the early 70s (which traces its roots back to American jazz, but we won't go into that). Indeed, all the roots of noise music seem to end in Britain. Or, more specifically, a disused factory in Hackney.
In the mid-70s, a performance art group called COUM Transmissions decided to create music to accompany their visual artworks. None of the members - Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson and Chris Carter - could play a note. They ended up making non-music in their rehearsal space/studio, known affectionately as the Death Factory, and began a record label known as Industrial Records. They released two studio albums - The Second Annual Report and DOA: The Third And Final Annual Report - along with a host of live records, under the name Throbbing Gristle.
This story is old, and everyone knows it. If you don't, read Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again. But the roots of noise music do not stop in the Death Factory. They go deeper than that. If noise is not a reflection of the national collective unconscious, it is the latest date on the timeline of a secret history that goes back further than most think.
***
To be continued in the New Year. Expect another, more cheery post, New Year's Day at the latest.

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