A Good Noise Break

Why on earth would anyone like noise in, around, or even as part of their music? Does the sound of a factory or a construction site really have the same impact as purposeful music? Is noise music really just like those monolithic canvases of a single color (Of course you could paint like that, but why would you?)? To me, the use of noise in music is not fully about the sounds itself, but about how they’re used. My first exposure was listening to Psycho Candy by the Jesus & Mary Chain on the local college radio station. I loved the music, but I could swear there was something wrong with the stereo or the radio or something. There is no way that infernal hissing and feedback was really supposed to be on there. To prove my point (and to prove I am overly suggestible), I bought that album and played it all over the place and, sure enough, the noise was the same everywhere. To further prove that I am actually much more in-the-know (gullible?) than I ever could be, I’ve resolved to sample all the crazy noisy stuff I can find and LIKE it, even when my ears bleed. OK, not literally bleed, but make them want to bleed in order to visually display the sonic horrors inflicted on them.

I like noise. Not necessarily the random sounds of traffic and dogs and those too-pretty-for-words birds. I like noise that is created to be noise within the context of music. More or less.

After my J&MC experience, I found myself at a concert featuring Sonic Youth. Do you know what infernal things they were doing? They were torturing their poor instruments, stomping on, them, hitting them, and poking them in their private parts. It sounded like a herd of miserable cats using power tools in unnatural ways. Did they hate those instruments? Did they hate their audience? I did NOT get it, I didn’t like them, and I wanted to go home and cry over the instrumental abuse. Of course, I didn’t say that, because that would be like Emperor’s clothes were invisible. I stayed at the concert, too, because my childish tantrum would have been insufficiently ironic.

Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth (A:”Silver Rocket (live)”, B: “Slow Death” and “I Got a Right”)

Much later, I succumbed to peer pressure, bought a Sonic Youth album (Daydream Nation, because it was supposed to be so accessible) and figured out how the noise really works. Have you ever listened to that noise break in the middle of Silver Rocket? It starts with a perfectly good song that just falls apart into complete chaos. Then, out of nowhere it starts rebuilding itself, much like that horrible creature in one of the Spiderman movies. After the song puts itself back together (and rids itself of the horrible metaphor I foisted on it), it continues in glory until it runs into the wall, just in time for the next track to start. That’s what a noise break should do: act in impossible ways that require a demented writer to trivialize and anthropomorphize it to death. In this case, the noise break just concentrates a song’s worth of chaos and threats to explode and puts it in one dose rather than sprinkling it across the whole song (like J&MC). It lets you wonder about the song without giving you anything tangible to hold on to. It just works.

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