Lasse Marhaug: It’s not the end of the world
Quasi Pop Records (2007)
I recently went with a friend of mine to see HTRK play a live show. They were supporting Mika Vainio, whom I was also excited to see. My friend has only a little experience with the world of noise and experimental music, and while she bravely dealt with Vainio’s incredible onslaught of electronic debauchery, she turned to me at one point and asked, “When would you actually listen to this ‘music’?” I was embarrassed to say that I often listen to noise as a way to help me sleep. I can happily listen to noise records while I’m working, too. I find it has an amazing capacity for helping me distill my thoughts. I can reach a zen like focus when ‘music’ lacks form, lyrics and melody.
Why am I talking about this and not Lasse Marhaug? Because her question got me thinking about how quiet the noise scene has been of late. Pardon the pun. Even Merzbow isn’t releasing his usual amount of material. Many artists are using their abstract techniques to warp more conventional genres. Marhaug’s work with the Cellist Okkyung Lee being one example. Even Mika Vainio’s recent records have pursued dub-infused creepiness rather than the jagged explosions of sound he played live the other night. So, I’ve found myself digging into the past for my noise fixes. And currently I’m dabbling in It’s Not the End of the World.
Originally released on CDr in 2006, I picked up a second hand copy of this 2007 reissue for a few of bucks at Ditch Records in Victoria B.C during a work trip to Canada last month. It’s a perfect example of how exciting noise was nearly ten years ago. For a while I thought that perhaps I’d outgrown the genre, that I’d grown accustomed to its sound and now it was just another musical genre. But listening to records like It’s not the End of the World I realise that’s not entirely the case. The artists themselves might be more interested in pushing their boundaries these days – with success, I might add – but I still find these early records exciting. Vibrant. Weird and alive.
Marhaug is uber playful on this record. The tracks are short and prone to ADD unlike the focused walls of noise he has released on later records like The Quiet North. He flits about from Merzbow-ian swirls, to feedback drenched chaos akin to Prurient, to the menacing chugg of Kevin Drumm. The strongest moments come when he seizes on an idea and rides it into a repetitive rhythm that eventually starts to sound almost like a melody, or riff.
There’s a restless humour on this record, nicely reflected in the Dada influenced cover that features a collaged cow with a trombone for a head. Marhaug is acutely aware of the noise scene’s origins, and the exciting role that chance plays when slamming disparate sounds into each other. Dada’s interest in chaos and irrationality are ever present in the world of noise. And, I’m sure for many people the idea of listening to this record, and actually enjoying it might seem a tad irrational. And that’s totally OK.
Lasse Marhaug: The Shape of Rock to Come
Smalltown Supersound (2004)
About two weeks ago I saw Lasse tear the roof off the Northcote Social Club while he was in Australia. Smashing up salvaged metal, stamping on pedals, manipulating tapes in an old silver walkman, rocking back and forth on his stool like a mental patient before eventually standing up and running around his table of equipment, raising his arms and screaming at the molten lava exploding out of the PA. Lasse confidently built up a blizzard of fried sine waves and damaged scree, bringing smiles to the faces of every nut case around him. So hypnotic was his cacophony that at some point I suddenly realised I was swaying to some imaginary beat, like I was at a rock show. My guts were churning. I felt disoriented after the show (I was sober!). It was fucking awesome.
Lasse is the master of giving form to noise. He has an innate sense of atmosphere, dynamics and drama that perhaps comes from his work creating ‘sound’ for theatre projects and contemporary art projects. Everything in his noise has its place, nothing is wasted. He makes abstraction that’s both terrible and beautiful. If you can’t find the opportunity to see him do this in person than I strongly recommend finding a copy of his classic album, The Shape of Rock to Come.
You won’t find a noise record capable of drawing you in the way this one does. It kicks of with a stifled thrum and then manoeuvres its way through a diverse sound world; factory floor crunch, upper register scuzz, loop-de-loops of Black Metal haze, sand blasted drums, rotted electronica and straight up walls of imploding noise. What’s most fascinating about The Shape of Rock to Come is Lasse’s ability to shift between these elements with subtlety and grace, like some DJ seamlessly blending beats and melodies. There’s none of Merzbow’s sharp turns on here, and any sudden surprises that Marhaug does throw in are cooly calculated. All part of the Master plan.
In interviews Lasse talks about the beauty he sees within noise, and it’s that attitude which has made him one of my favourite noise artists, if not my all time favourite. The conceptual deconstruction of ‘music’ takes second place to the magic and unknown within abstract sound and the places it can take you. It’s a grand statement to name an album after Ornette Coleman’s ground breaking free-jazz classic, but Lasse can back it up. This is a fucking great record.
Lasse Marhaug: The Great Silence
I’ve done a lot of travelling for work in the last few weeks, including some long haul flights. While cramped up in my seat on one occasion, desperately trying to get to sleep, I had The Great Silence blasting in my ears. Huge swirls of primordial static skittering through my head while shifting into and out of recognisable shape. And when the noise stopped, well, I nearly didn’t register that the record had ended. In fact I was consumed by the sound of whirring jet engines, the rattle of the cabin, the hiss of cool air streaming out of tiny air con outlets, the irregular blast of in-flight toilets shooting shit and piss into the bowels of the aircraft, the rumble of turbulence. Suddenly I didn’t need my ipod. I forgot about my stinging calves and aching back and lost myself in the sound that surrounded me and it was fucking awesome.