Category Archives: Noise

Prurient: Cocaine Daughter


Prurient: Cocaine Daughter
Hospital Productions (2015)

I am in love with this old school Noise cassette right now.

Noise nerds will be familiar with Dominick Fernow and his Prurient project. Newbies should imagine a pale geeky kid in America’s midwest making ears bleed with only his voice, an amp and a microphone. He moves to NYC where he adds creepy synths and industrial drums to his mix, before settling in LA to produce a unique hybrid of goth, new wave and harsh noise. Dave and I talk about him a lot on the Antidote Podcast. Fernow has myriad fantastic side projects, too.

Cocaine Daughter was recorded back in 2011, in a Kansas City hotel. Its gritty textures paint a picture of Fernow alone in a dingy room at 3am still wearing his leather jacket, surrounded by pedals, wires and digital paraphernalia while paying tribute to Merzbow, Whitehouse and Cabaret Voltaire.

The emphasis is on dark waves of sound that swell towards synth driven miasma. Fernow expertly combines white hot static with sci-fi whirs, metallic clangour and walls of digital abrasion. It’s like your head inside a jet engine, immense layers of sound sucked through a gash in the hull and spat into your ears. Analogue tape and computers smash together and crumble into the void.

The overall vibe is gothic in nature, largely due to the damaged keyboards that constantly shift speeds and whine like klaxons in the murk. Occasionally some semblance of melody picks itself up out of the rubble to stop Cocaine Daughter from boiling over into aggression – this is no Harsh Wall Noise recording. Instead, the tension simmers in your speakers, thickening the air and hazing your vision. There’s none of Fernow’s spoken-word-slash-tortured vocals or industrial drumming on here, which is unusual for a Prurient release.

When this was recorded in 2011 the noise scene had peaked. The sun was setting on its entrails. Cocaine Daughter is a glorious reminder of how thrilling the sound was, and hopefully a reminder of what it could be again. I miss these sorts of Noise recordings, when things felt dangerous, anarchic and nihilistic. I’m having lots of fun listening to it.

The greatest thing about ‘Noise’ is that it’s void of meaning. Sure, much has been written about anti-capitalism and anti-authoritarian stances in relation to Noise, but the reality is you can project whatever you want to on it. Adolescent weirdos see it as aggressive; nerds try and force social politics on to it; but I’ve always appreciated the purity of its ‘nothingness’. It’s just white hot static that smudges all thought from your mind. If you’re willing to give in, you can have a transcendent experience.

Cocaine Daughter was released in a run of 150 copies. I hope for your sake Fernow reissues it sometime soon.

Lasse Marhaug: It’s not the End of the World

Lasse_Marhaug_It's_not_the_End_of_the_WorldLasse 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.

Jar Moff: Financial Glam


Jar Moff: Financial Glam
Pan (2013)

I loved Commercial Mouth, Jar Moff’s first release on PAN. We chatted about it on The Antidote where David wasn’t so keen, but goddam I think it’s a fun record. Financial Glam is even better and I can’t believe it’s taken me a full year to write about it.

Greek born Jar Moff trades in a style of abstract ‘sampledalica’ championed by the likes of John Weise, but his aesthetic also shares a musicality with artists like Jason Hammer. Composition is significant to Jar Moff, and the result is a sound collage that feels smooth and purposeful, never disparate. The point isn’t to come up with shocking juxtapositions. Instead he arranges unusual combinations of sound into dynamic shapes that morph around eachother. This record feels like it has strong narrative, and based on the title it’s easy view the work as a response to the economic desolation of his homeland.

Financial Glam lifts off with a gentle, electronic pulse like a subdued Wolf Eyes jam. Swathes of gnarled synths and strings begin eating away at the perimeter. Electronic clatter slowly takes over and we’re off on a Willy Wonka ride into a sonic jungle. Jar Moff’s knack for composition is what keeps this melting pot of samples from blending into a muddy, brown soup. He builds a forward momentum rather than slamming you with whiplash inducing dramatic turns. Moff’s collection of sounds rise and fall in smooth complexity; often dischordant but never jarring.

In fact, the over all effect is similar to a free jazz improvisation, potentially enhanced by Moff’s tendency toward fractured saxaphones and other reed-fuelled debris. Combined, all the disparate elements feel like part of a greater whole, and the snippets of ‘real’ instruments breathe life into what could easily be an electronic shit-sammy (at times, you can literally hear the muscians taking a breath before firing off a brass blast).

The B side is a more musical trip. A damaged guitar groans in despair over an off kilter drum beat, while an arrangement of out-of-key synths hovers around in the background. Eventually Moff introduces a more desolate arrangement of samples including irrationally triggered drum pads, something that sounds like a hammer drill, an annoying buzz, cheap feedback, spastic high hats and other musique concrete effects. hold on to your hats, kids.

This record should be a stomach churning, motion sick trip, but Financial Glam never feels like a road to nowehere. Everyone should take this ride.

Roly Porter: Life Cycle Of A Massive Star

Roly Porter_Lifecycle of a Massive StarRoly Porter: Lifecycle of a Massive Star
Subtext (2013)

This year I’ve listened to more great music than I’ve been able to write or think about.  Perhaps it’s my involvement in the Antidote Podcast, perhaps 2013 has been a great year for weirdo music, more likely it’s a combination of both. This Roly Porter record is one of those gems that almost slipped me by.

It starts off slowly, rising from the murk in a swirl of synths. It’s like the soundtrack to a thousand alien spacecraft descending on earth while its population stands mesmerised in disbelief. From there we wander through fragments of deconstructed Jungle and Rave references, calling to mind Lee Gamble’s sonic experiments. Rhythm is eschewed for ambience penetrated by blasts of noise and sonic shrapnel. The entire monster moves at the pace of Doom but the feeling is one of meloncholic catharsis rather than crushing defeat.

If there’s a noise scene at the moment it’s dug it’s way back underground (probably hibernating for a revival helmed by a new cast of misfits), and instead we get artists like Porter applying the aesthetics of noise to an electronic world with closer ties to rave culture and chill out rooms. Pete Swanson, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and a large chunk of Pan’s amazing catalogue are pursuing similar interests. Roly Porter is another fantastic example of this shift. Don’t let Life Cycle Of A Massive Star pass you by.

Rashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I

Rashad BeckerRashad Becker: Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
Pan (2013)

Over on The Antidote Podcast, Dave and I have recently found ourselves pondering the definition of Noise, spurred on by a mesmerising record by icelandic Sound Artist Bjarni Gunnarsson. This has coincided with a book I’m reading at the moment called Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation which suggests that Noise music as a genre is defined by loud, relentless and ‘harsh’ slabs of sound.

I’m not sure I agree, because the first thing anyone who isn’t familiar with this sort of ‘music’ would think upon hearing Rashad Becker’s positively weird record, is that it was noise. And you know what? They’d be right. IT might not be harsh or loud but there is nothing recognisable on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I. It’s synthetic and bizarrely composed. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into except a fluctuating molasses of micro tones. Melody? Natch. Rhythm? Depends how many drugs you’ve consumed. Is it loud and relentless? Nope, but it’s definitely noise.

Imagine the cut n’ paste nature of John Weise, but slowed wayyyy down and based on non-sensical sounds rather than field recordings and samples. Throw in a pinch of the gloopy bleeps favoured by the likes of Black Dice and you’ll get a vague idea of the soup that Rashad Becker has cooked here. When I listen to this record I find myself thinking of soft, soapy bubbles floating around and then quietly bursting. Every track on this record is composed from little bubbles of sound, each one individually pulling itself free from the whole and spinning off into it’s own orbit where Rashad manipulates them until they disintegrate. Sometimes they fizz out into black holes of delay; sometimes they pop and splutter into nothingness; sometimes they gently fade away…..

Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I isn’t an easy listen. It’s up there with the truly abstract Rene Hell record also released on Pan this year. But Becker’s expertise as a sound engineer makes this a nerdgasmic experience for fans of the experimental. Since the late nineties, Becker has developed a fine reputation as a recording engineer, having racked up credits on something like 1200 Electronic, Dance and Experimental records. His experience shines through on Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I; every individual sound is unbelievably crisp and clear, existing in its own little dimension. Even the space between each ‘note’ shines in a way that only a professional can master. The precision adds to the curious nature of this strange little record without dipping into academia. Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I might not be loud but it’s definitely not ambient. It might not be harsh, but it’s definitely Noise. A beautiful noise.

Lasse Marhaug: The Shape of Rock to Come

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.

Burial Hex: Book of Delusions

Burial Hex: Book of Delusions (reissue)
Cold Spring (2012)

It kinda concerns me when I want to describe a record that I really like as Gothic. Thankfully I’m not talking eyeliner, capes and teased hair. No.

Originally released on vinyl, and now re-issued on cd with additional tracks from an earlier split with Zola Jesus, there’s something distinctly Gothic in the sense of art history and architecture about Book of Delusions. It’s in the choirs and violins that drift through the record. Its cavernous sound, as if it was recorded in a giant, 12th Century Church. Decaying altar pieces and frescoes come to life. Shards of dusty light sear though stone rose windows.

My only other experience with Burial Hex has been the four track drone epic, Initiations which I quite liked at the time, but fuck me this is so much better. The tracks on Book of Delusions are noisy but song-like in structure, at one point even slipping into a Public Image Ltd style jam. They’re painful and cathartic. Like Prurient with less synths. Main man Clay Ruby does some seriously anguished howling throughout on this record, which somehow merges nicely with the choirs and strings. The occasional drum beat, glacially paced and doom ridden, heightens the drama and adds to the gigantic sound.

Is this what Burial Hex sounds like on on other releases? Someone please confirm. Book of Delusions is almost a prefect storm of horror noise, drone and post-post rock. Most recommended.

John Weise: Seven of Wands

John Weise: Seven of Wands
Pan (2011)

Mr Weise is an amazingly diverse noise artist. From the scatter-shot madness of Soft Punk to the all out war of Black Magic Pond, from the skronk of his collaboration with Evan Parker to the subtle beauty of Circle Snare, the latter of which informs this record here Seven of Wands.

How did I miss this last year? Weise’s skill at knitting together seemingly arbitrary field recordings –  crackles, bumps, scrapes, miscellaneous percussion and other aural detritus – makes him a true sound artist. There’s something very conceptual about his approach to noise; by focusing on incidental sounds  he forces the listener to think about humans’ place in the natural order of things, how we interfere with and interact with our surroundings.

Whoa whoa whoa, let’s back up a bit here. Things are getting bit too deep.

Seven of Wands is a moody bastard which is what I love about it. Smearing his intricate tapestries with atonal drones and dissonant squeals Weise conjures an otherworldly atmosphere. The walls between dimensions are breaking down and time is turning in on itself. I find myself imagining inanimate objects taking on lives of their own and shuffling about the room, hovering above table tops and clanking back down again, knocking  into each other but never smashing, some other force in total control of their being. Weise builds these collages into a swarm but there’s never any real pay off, he taunts the listener, laughs at us.

This is masterful stuff. Thoughtful, engaging, haunting and sometimes funny. Just like the sleeve photo of Weise lying on the floor with a woman’s stiletto heel about to burst a balloon next to his head. I was stupid not to catch him live when he was out here late last year.

Black Leather Jesus: Smacked Red

Black Leather Jesus: Smacked Red
Steinklang (2011)

Harsh Wall Noise. The phrase itself is kind of non-sensical, like, how does a wall make noise? Oh……you mean walls of noise. People who love this niche tend to be very rigid about their opinions in forums and blogs, showing an inability to appreciate anything but Harsh Wall Noise in a way similar to crusty old metal heads who cant get over Metallica’s Master of Puppets (I frikkin’ love that record by the way).

Black Leather Jesus is one of many side projects helmed by Richard Ramirez who is himself an interesting proposition within this scene. Serial killer references aside he’s oft considered an early pioneer of America’s noise scene, fully committed to the DIY ethics of the genre’s earliest incarnations. He stands out for his commitment to subverting the noise scene’s tropes by replacing common horror related aesthetics with violent, queer S&M imagery. No fluffy handcuffs here people. He also runs his own fashion label called Richard Saenz.

So, what about Smacked Red? Well, in my mind the possibilities for noise are endless. Noise can’t have rules, because it’s very essence comes from existing outside the constraints of ‘music’. Anything can be noise. However on Smacked Red Black Leather Jesus have rejected these possibilities for five tracks of straight up mountains of well, noise. Sheer, barely climbable cliff faces of noise.

There are few variations in tone or dynamics and for me it’s all a bit…..meh. I’ve heard lots of records like this. Ten years ago it may have sounded subversive but today it sounds like a lot of other noise records out there. That said, you can hear that Smacked Red has been created by a bunch of experienced noise nerds (Ramirez collaborates with a rotating cast of terrorists under the Black Leather Jesus alias) – these walls are layered with feedback, digital scramble and decay in a way that every other bedroom noise-nik would unlikely manage. Track five, Explode a Load (lovely title!), is the standout for me with its powerful bottom end. However, if like me you’re looking for new realms in sound this is probably not the place to search for it. Fans of Ramirez and his oeuvre will likely love it.

Digging: Merzbow – Fantail

Merzbow: Fantail
Clu Clux Clam (2002)

Whenever my interest in Merzbow begins to wain, and I start to feel that after hearing the 50 odd Merzbow records I own that I’ve heard it all before, he comes along and surprises me.

Fantail fits into the easier-listening end of his spectrum. Not that it isn’t noisy, but it’s certainly not as harsh and aggressive as something like Pulse Demon or Venerology. Instead, we’re treated to a collection that’s based on damaged guitar playing and meditative throb.  Opening track Clouds is a complete corker that kicks off with what sounds like a blown-out bass guitar and then morphs into some doomy, Boris style drone before petering out in a haze of blips and blurps. Magnificent stuff. When Merzbow puts thought into his compositions he proves himself light years ahead of his contemporaries.

Overall, Fantail crosses a much broader palette of sounds than Mr Akita usually plays with.  Mountain is based on a series of higher pitched sounds, almost like running water, which dance with each other in an amazingly playful way. On Waterfall, he brings back the guitars for some more doomy drone accentuated with a ringing Black-Metal buzz, which he then destroys in an explosion of digital scree.

The distinction between each track on Fantail calls to mind Merzzow but Fantail isn’t as consistent a record. Caterpillar 2002 and the live track that closes the record, are pretty standard (although decent) Merzbow fare. Still, fans who prefer the lighter side of Merzbow, or people looking for an entry point into his massive catalogue will find plenty to like here.