Tag Archives: Noise

The Ghost: The Hole

The Ghost_The Hole

The Ghost: The Hole
Tombed Visions (2016)

I know next to nothing about The Ghost. I stumbled across a review in Tristian Bath’s consistently top-notch Spool’s Out column in The Quietus, which opened with a quote from Tombed Visions, the label that released this cassette: “This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is.”

New Queer improv? I’m in!

This 40 minute avant-jazz freak out ain’t for the faint hearted. It’s restless and abrasive, and even its quietest moments are angry as hell, which is perfectly justified against an opening monologue warning that homosexuals will destroy the fabric of society. The Hole was released pre-Trump, but listening to it now this piece of 1950s propaganda supporting a white, Christian, heterosexual patriarchy strikes home harder than ever. Its fear mongering message could be applied to any group bearing the label of ‘Other’ – black, muslim, female, the list goes on….

Perhaps my favourite thing about The Hole is that you rarely hear such abrasive, experimental music being made by Queer artists. The scrunching sax, collapsing drum kit and junkyard rubble are a far cry from the spandex and mirrorball cheese of most ‘gay’ music. There is absolutely nothing Camp about The Ghost, nothing sexual either. Even Harsh Wall Noise artist Richard Ramirez, perhaps The Ghost’s closest sonic relative, cultivates a Tom of Finland aesthetic drenched in cheap thrills.

I realise I’ve done little to describe the actual sound of this tape, and to be honest I’m not sure sound is the main point of this release, but as a sonic reference point The Hole calls to mind Sun Ra’s wildest freak outs minus the funk. I’m reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as well, but way, way heavier. The muscular Saxophone work of Mats Gustafsson is also present, without his sense of groove. The Ghost combine all of these references into violent cauldron of political revolt. And their protest is absolutely thrilling to listen to.

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Phirnis & Trium Circulorum: Solitary Shards Split

Phirnis & Trium Circulorum

Phirnis & Trium Circulorum: Solitary Shards Split
Trium Circulorum (2016)

While Trium Circulorum is a new name to me, I picked up this split cassette based on the involvement of Phirnis. Dave and I have chatted about this Austrian based artist on The Antidote a couple of times now. Previous releases have deftly combined musicality with abstraction and electronica, but his contribution to Solitary Shards is a glorious collage of noise eras past. A series of vignettes that can only be listened to as a whole. Trium Circulorum’s side is awesome too.

Phirnis opens up side A with some Merzbow crunch that exhales into a rhythmic pulse, and then blooms into a flock of birds settling into the trees at sunset. Further on we get the cavernous sound of delay drenched feedback echoing into nothingness. And, at the 19 minute mark an unencumbered head bursting wall of harsh noise that switches into a cracked and decayed transmission from somewhere beyond. He finishes with what sounds like a washing machine or dishwasher, something mechanical but watery, all distorted and frayed and fading out into tape hiss.

Phirnis mentioned to me on Twitter that he really wanted to explore some old school Noise on this release. That vibe definitely shines through. But he manages to do this without smashing your face in, as many records did in the hey days of Noise. His series of sound explorations are a playful homage to the scene as well as shitloads of fun for your ears.

On the flipside, Germany’s Trium Circulorum conjures up a serious dark ambient drone. He traps the listener deep in the bowels of some cave-like abandoned subway where air vibrates through rust riddled ducts, and unexplained things rattle and scatter in the shadows. Occasionally a pipe loses steam, a metallic clank skitters out of the gloom, a low vibration lurks around the corner. This is 30 minutes of blackened unease akin to Abruptum’s quieter moments, or even Burial Hex’s Initiations.

I think the rumours are true. There’s a ‘new’ noise scene burgeoning. It’s been 10 years since Wolf Eyes jumped the shark releasing two albums on Sub Pop and scoring a slot on Lollapalooza. It felt like things simmered down after that. Pete Swanson went mutant techno. Dominick Fernow poured acid over new wave. William Bennett began exploring African rhythms.

10 years isn’t a long time, but lately it feels like artists are revisiting the tropes of noise and exploring the sound with less emphasis on volume and abrasion. Solitary Shards is a fantastic example of this.

HEALTH: Death Magic

HEALTH_Death Magic

HEALTH: Death Magic
Loma Vista (2015)

I know this record came out in August last year, but when has this blog ever been up-to date with what’s going on?

I’ve been following these guys since stumbling across their 2007 debut album in the Aquarius Records newsletter. I finally saw them live this weekend and they absolutely slayed me. Not many bands can blow the lid off an afternoon festival slot but HEALTH did just that. What’s more, there was something nonchalant about the way they put every other act on the bill to shame. Brilliant.

HEALTH started out as an anxious carpet bombing of the musical landscape, and evolved into a pop band seeking respite in the primal world of experimental music. Like a hormone ridden teen, HEALTH have to deface every pretty sound they make with something abrasive and dirty. On Death Magic they’ve perfected that tense stand off.

The production is uber polished, pristine and glistening like top 40 music. The drum tracks are huge and completely dry, totally ready for stadium arenas and Super Bowls. Every track throbs with synths that are crisp and sharp as blades. Danceable 4/4 beats abound.

And then, there’s the sudden blast beat attacks and inhuman shrieks; ambient background noise that blankets everything in dread and drama. Central to the mix is Jake Duzsik’s androgynous falsetto, calmly singing about bombs exploding, guns going off, and the inevitability of death. He delivers lines like, “We die. So what? We’re here. Let Go,” with a calm conviction that feels both perverse and comforting.

The morbid humour that underlies Death Magic‘s shiny racket is reflective of the band’s native Los Angeles. A glamorous, kale and quinoa surface that barely conceals a grimy underbelly filled with disastrous plastic surgery, prescription drugs, Brett Easton-Ellis and sex scandals. HEALTH are a candy coated arsenic pill. All vibrant colours hiding rats in the shadows.

Prurient: Cocaine Daughter

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.

Frank Bretschneider: Isolation

Frank_Bretschneider_Isolation

Frank Bretschneider: Isolation
LINE (2015)

Minimalist music demands patience and focus. There is no room for casual listening. It’s all or nothing. Submit and engage, or don’t bother at all. Isolation is the perfect name for a record that can only truly be enjoyed in solitude, isolated from your surroundings.

Slip on some headphones, press play and sink into Frank Bretschneider’s muffled world of microdrones and flocks of static. Follow him down under the water, where the reverb has been sucked out of all sound. A singular hum; a subtle bass vibration; a wisp of digital feedback. These tiny noises resonate in the very centre of your brain. There are no bearing points. They simply exist, vibrating gently, keeping you buoyant but senseless.

But this isn’t the extreme end of minimalism explored by the likes of Chicago veteran Kevin Drumm (check out his awe inspiring Trouble record released in 2014). Every so often Isolation’s facade cracks and reality snaps back into focus. Like the moment halfway through White Light when Bretschneider suddenly cuts off his sustained note and speckles of reverb ricochet off into space, opening up your entire sound world.

The dance between such subtle sounds plays tricks on your mind. At times you hear melody, faintly, over there in the corner amongst the space dust. But as quick as you notice, it’s gone again like chasing butterflies in a dream.

That’s how Bretschneider keeps your attention. He’s a tease. Sounds bloom into stains of hiss and static, then dry out into steamy tendrils of nothingness again. Repeated listens reveal that Isolation isn’t quite the minimalist work you might have originally thought.

Kevin Drumm: Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose

Kevin_Drumm_All_Hell_Breaks+LooseKevin Drumm: Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose.
Self Released (2014)

This guy can’t do much wrong at the moment. Following my last post, which suggested that noise had become familiar if not gentrified, I should probably highlight that Kevin Drumm is someone who continues to surprise and inspire with his sonic experiments. The dude has been crazy productive of late too. From the stunningly minimalist Trouble out on Editions Mego; to The Abyss, his seriously psychedelic and epic collaboration with Jason Lescalleet; to the atmospheric Wrong Intersection; to the abundance of self released stuff he’s posted on his Bandcamp of late. And there’s Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose, which might be self released and limited to only 60 physical copies (digital copies also available on his Bandcamp page) but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a collection of offcuts and experiments.

Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose contains everything we love about Mr. Drumm in an 80 minute double CD release. The greatest thing about Kevin has always been his versatility and willingness to experiment. that strength comes to the fore on this record. We get white noise Kevin on the opening track, a multi-layered wall of hiss and static, each surface shifting in volume to create a sonic quicksand. Later, on Panoramic Carnage, he spews up a maelstrom of synths that crackle like a Tesla Coil on heat. Social Interaction is 4 minutes and 20 seconds of droning dread, followed up by 22 minutes of sea-sickness inducing sub-bass vibration on Lower. Meanwhile, the Sinking Quarrel is a shimmering example of Drumm’s experiments in ‘quietness’, and Awful Deep comes off like some sort of misdirected field recording, where tape hiss devours any natural ambience.

Despite its length, the variety on Everything’s Going along as Usual and Then All Shit Breaks Loose means it never gets boring. There are plenty of noise ‘artists’ who could learn something from this. Do yourself a favour and give Kevin a few pennies for a copy of this stunning release.

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.