Monday, 25 February 2013

Who’s Afraid of Noise?

Writing in the liner notes to the Bruce’s Fingers album “Foom! Foom!” by Hession, Wilkinson and Fell, saxophonist Alan Wilkinson describes his emotions on watching Archie Shepp, “Just the sight of Shepp’s head expanding and sweat pouring out of his head when he’s just going foom! foom! at the bottom of the horn makes me burn with excitement”. That degree of exhilaration may have been experienced by anyone who has stood in front of a stage whilst Peter Brotzmann has performed or watched open mouthed as Merzbow has filled a venue with shards of white noise. Whilst recently waiting in the school playground to collect my daughter I played, for the first time, through my headphones, the album “Cuts” by Merzbow, Mats Gustaffson and Balasz Pandi. The noise coming through the headphones evoked a feeling of wanting to burst into tears and shout out loud at the same moment (thankfully, the other parents will testify, I restrained). What other form of sound/music can convey those emotions to the fore so quickly? I have experienced similar emotions at other live events that have involved noise and/or improvised music, an almost visceral and feral sensation, potentially embarrassing to the passer-by  but music that is obviously cutting through convention and acceptance and striking right to the heart of the listener.

To many people, their first, and only, encounter with noise as a form of art may have been the Lou Reed album “Metal Machine Music” which has been dissected on numerous occasions since its’ release. “Sonic violence” it may be to some, but it could also be responsible, partly, for allowing us to listen to noise as music and alter the way we take sound in. It is obvious to most individuals that music can and will evoke a range of emotion depending upon context, experience and quality, and noise as music can do the same for the willing participant. Noise as music, for this individual, can be experienced through total immersion in the occasion, to allow the sound to wash through the consciousness without distraction. Sound of this tenacity may not be fully appreciated as background music, and demand the listener gives their full attention. It may also be thought of as unwise to drop a few Einsturzende Neubauten tunes at an elderly relative’s party. Clearly this experience is not universal and there are many who believe that music should have an arrangement and be based on locally accepted foundations. Music is, after all, different things to different people, but the passion and the excitement it instils can be shared.