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The Joys of Noise

Distortion, hiss, scream, crunch, harsh, cacophony, loud, glitch. The words used to describe noise music do not inspire comfort. This translates over to the music itself.

This world of noise is a wide, weird, and wild one. Some leans toward performance art, some consists of a single crushing hour-long drone, some is a short fiery blast of chaos, some is made on homemade instruments, some produced by a dizzying setup of electronics and wires. To paint the genre broadly, it consists of assembled non-musical sounds, very foreign from our traditional musical experiences.

This complete abstraction of sound presents an emotional problem. At least with non-representative visual art, we can recognize shapes and colors that we have seen in other art and pick up emotional cues. With noise tho, we are hit with waves of sounds that are so far removed from our typical listening experiences that it can be hard to have any sort of reaction; there are no emotive cues to grab on to and make sense of. The listener may react with disgust, it being so alien to anything that the average person would enjoy. Noise could also be taken as audio violence. Loud, harsh, and unrelenting, it aggressively pummels your eardrums. This is often doubled down on in the album art, or the names of the artists and projects. Another reaction is a complete nihilism. One sub-genre, harsh noise wall, is described by one of its progenitors, Vomir, as "no ideas, no change, no development, no entertainment, no remorse". There is nothing to emotionally glean, there is no reaction to be had. It is sound removed of meaning.

But for me, noise represents complete freedom. It is the antithesis to the sterility of my conservatory education, and engages me on a deeply raw and immediate level. It has made me rethink my relationship to music.

It is a world of exploration. When I make my noise, I have little to no plan of what I’m going to do. I get set up, flip on the power switch, and see what comes out the speaker. Then I’ll turn a knob or push a button, listen to what that does. Maybe it inspires further inquiry, or maybe I’ll live with this sound for a while. Whatever the sonic environment may be, I’m curiously looking around every corner to hear what is there. Within many genres, this type of discursive exploration is a part of the creative process. For noise musicians, it is the performance/final product for the audience, who goes on this uncharted journey with the creator.

No-Input Mixer

It can be a humbling, ego-less practice. My preferred instrument is the No-Input Mixer, which basically creates many loops of feedback, that screech of a microphone too close to a speaker. Since this is something that no technology is designed to do, it is extremely unpredictable. Even the smallest adjustments can wildly change the sound. I am not truly in control. I am merely the servant of the gremlins inside the wires creating these wild sounds. Coming from a musical background that prizes precision and accurate recreations of established repertoire, this electronic chaos is very refreshing. It’s an almost Zen like practice. No-Input Mixer pioneer Toshimaru Nakamura said

“I find an equal relationship with [a] no-input mixing board…When I played the guitar, ‘I’ had to play the guitar. But with the mixing board, the machine would play me…[it] gives me this equal relationship between the music, including the space, the instrument, and me.”

Making noise is a radical anti-capitalist act. Unmarketable to a wide audience, it is an act of rebellion against a sonic culture that prizes cleanliness and organization. The door is open to anyone who desires to make it. Compared to other genres, where one might need years of training or large monetary investments in equipment to even begin, the noise aspirant requires only a few pieces of gear (the cheaper the better) and the willpower to set it up and turn it on. Music is mostly independently released, and physical releases are on inexpensive cassettes.

For as niche and intimidating as it may seem, I have found the noise community to be very welcoming. It’s a bunch of people who are looking to make something different. I’ve spent the last two years looking for something different. Coincidentally, I love being loud. It was inevitable.

(for the curious, you can listen to my music here)

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