Sunday, May 5, 2013

Noise Annoys

OK, kids, it's Deep Kafka time - or maybe the John Cage/Pauline Oliveros hour of deep listening.

When scientists pondering the likelihood of extraterrestrial life talk about the conditions for carbon-based life forms, some sci-fi buff in the crowd usually will pipe up, "Why assume carbon?  Why not silicon-based life forms?  Why life based on matter made up of known elements?  Why not replicating energy fields?"

I often feel this way in discussions of music and audio creative arts.  Why assume any baseline rules at all for what constitutes music?  Is the solving of a mathematical equation a type of music? (Remember that in pre-Copernican days, the ratio of orbits assumed in an Earth-centered universe created an orbital-resonance inaudible hum that was called "music of the spheres.")  Even if we grant that music is based on the mathematical manipulation of sound waves, what about waves of too high or low a frequency for human hearing?  Is melody required?  Is a scale with a specific number of steps?  Must there be a recognizable rhythm, or harmonics with a certain predictable ordering?

It's a good time to ask these questions, as the noise artists of the 1990s are beginning to gain new mainstream respect, in the same way the wildest of free-jazz pioneers of the 1950s gained new respect in the 1970s.  Jeff Fuccillo has digitized the back catalog of the legendary Union Pole Tapes and offered MP3s for sale.  Several collections of Harry Pussy 1990s recordings have come to light.  The No Neck Blues Band has put its entire catalog on iTunes.  And many will probably despise these offerings, or find them terrifying.  That is precisely the point.  When Pauline Oliveros discussed her Deep Listening concept with Bill Forman of Colorado Springs Independent prior to a recent UCCS concert, she suggested people should find pieces of music that disturbed them, and listen to those pieces over and over and over.

This self-description of No Neck at the time of the iTunes release indicates the creative sparks being released through the mainstreaming of noise: 
 2013 marks 20 years of activity for the No-Neck Blues Band (NNCK), New York City’s premier altruistic free-music cabal. During this time, NNCK have released 40 plus LPs, CDs, singles, and cassettes, documenting a Fin de vingtième siècle sound that incorporates the contradiction of spirit and self, the risk of fear, and the gestalt of ritual combination. They have been compared to Sun Ra, AMM, The Godz, Amon Düül, Yahowa 13, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and The Quicksilver Messenger Service, and have toured and/or collaborated with John Fahey, Träd Gräs Och Stenar, Embryo, Circle X, Royal Trux, Harry Pussy, and the Sun City Girls. Yet despite all of this, the group remains enigmatic, contested, and largely unknown. Their “hiding in plain sight” anonymity and emphasis on encryption and obfuscation has rendered their place in history unclear, no doubt quite deliberately; though now exclusively for DESTIJL we see something of a change in strategy. In a move at once antithetical to their perceived “stance” and seemingly faux-nostalgic, NNCK has released their entire back catalog digitally, along with detailed descriptions of each release as well as an oral history of sorts comprised of quotes from co-conspirators, allies, and friends of the band, with stories of rooftops, ritual objects, fascist bombings, and more. This mother lode of sound and lore also comes peppered with links to previously unseen NNCK videos + related links.)

Now, I fully expect (and would encourage) fans of different types of visual or audio arts to bluntly state that they found a certain work remarkable, or to pass by with a wave of the hand, saying "Not my cup of tea." But the person who claps hands decisively over ears and leaves the room yelling, "That's not music, that's noise!" is only displaying gross stupidity.  And they should be roundly denounced for being so stupid.  On a more mainstream level, the music fan who might love classical or bluegrass or classic rock, but allows as how they can't stand country or hip-hop, should be exposed as being no fan of music at all.  The way to engage in Pauline Oliveros's form of Deep Listening is to throw all assumptions away.  Let your appreciation of audio arts proceed without any rules or guideposts.  Let it flow, whether its audio, extra-audio, or orbital hum.  And particularly if it seems at first listen to be excruciating noise.  You just might learn something.

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