August 29, 2005

Noise and sonic anamorphosis


Yes, I have to concur entirely with I.T. about the drabness of last night's Noise non-event at the Red Rose in Finsbury Park. Sutcliffe Jugend were like a pantomime without the make-up, Tomkins barking such inanities as 'I --- question --- your --- right ---- to ----- exist!' (big deal, squire, I question my own right to exist) over a generic Noisetrack presided over by a gum-chewing bouncer-type. Some of the rabble were all too ready to be roused (and not a few of the gentlemen around the front of the stage looked like they had popped in on the way to maiming a prostitute in a layby) but, really, this was tepid fare, disengaging and underwhelming. It was more Oi than Noise, a rather flat rifling through the soiled underwear of yesterday's transgressions. What SJ showed, in fact, is how powerful Whitehouse are; how not just anyone can do it, that it's not just a matter of spitting invective over a feedback scree. It has to get under your skin, it has to disturb, not merely assault. If it doesn't, the organism merely closes up on itself, numbs out the excess stimuli, and the result is ennui. So it was with most of the rest of the bill, who turned out the Noise equivalents of twelve-bar blues: howling feedback (check), total lack of rhythm (check). It's tedious to say that generic Noise is as genre-bound as boyband chartpop - almost as tedious as it is to listen to this stuff. But that doesn't stop it being true. The chief argument for Noise would be that it opens up sonic channels that 'music' closes down or off, but that case is immediately invalidated if the same few sounds are trotted out ad infinitum. This kind of Noise, like a great deal of Sonic Art, doesn't break out of the tyranny of music because it remains in a negative relation to it - it defines itself by assiduously purging any so-called 'musical' elements. The austerity is admirable but the effect of this hair-shirted self-punishment is too often not the revelation of a new affective range, but a dutiful boredom.


Part of the reason that Jessica Rylan's short set towered above everything else is that she isn't afraid to include 'musical' elements in her Noise constructions; untreated, as she performed them on Tuesday's 'warm-up' event at the Foundry, her songs sounded cutesy-kooky, like a primary school Mary Margaret O'Hara. But fed through her self-constructed effects boxes and synthesizers the songs are transformed into eerie plaints, desiring machine stammers, ghost chatter, geek ectoplasm. The machines sublimate the raw material of the songs, the two together producing something that isn't present in either on their own. One song sounded like Suicide channeling the voice of a murdered child; another like 'I Feel Love' re-recorded for Eraserhead. There's something not a million miles away from Ariel Pink in the way that Rylan conjures the beguiling illusion of a sonic object that would be perfect if only you could hear it more clearly. Yet the 'perfection' is an effect (a special effect, you might say) of the blurring and distorting techniques themselves, like a kind of sonic anamorphosis. Rylan's methodology is ample proof that DIY need not mean lo-fi lack of ambition. Her noise pieces are one response to the sublimity-destroying effect of digital culture's excessive (and oppressive) high resolution clarity. Listening to the tracks on her CD, New Secret, is unsettling in the way that Sutcliffe Jugend never could be - there's a disturbing intimacy in these faux-naif recordings, the suggestion of an abused child singing nursery rhymes in the dark, or a poltergeist-exorcism broadcast on a clapped-out radio... feints and implications.... doodles and shadows ....

So, anyway, Infinite Thought spoke to Jessica today, look out for the interview soon...


Martin of Beyond the Implode RIP gives his view (this before he threatened to tried to precipitate his own apocalypse by singing Spurs songs deep in the heart of Arsenal territory, at least as risky an enterprise as wearing a swastika on Seven Sisters Road....)

Posted by mark at August 29, 2005 03:05 AM | TrackBack