Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Drowned Out

"...but my silence is real. If I hid it from you, you would find it again a little farther on." -Maurice Blanchot

Noise music presents a bit of a quagmire for critics, because ascertaining its success or failure is both foolish and impossible- how would someone “succeed” or “fail” to make an album of noise? To get around this, criticism can appeal to the subcultures of noise-noise rock, harsh noise, strains of industrial music- making sense of the noise through its coarseness, how much it rocks, or how industriously it thuds along; it can can also say what the noise sounds like (if you like kung-fu punching sound effects, you’ll love this noise!). The presence of noise can represent unwelcome disorientation, as it seems to on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Psychocandy”, where pop hooks are undermined by shrieking feedback. But thinking or writing about unqualified noise itself seems too difficult- how could one’s opinions about noise be anything but totally subjective?

Maybe this subjective relation to noise could be overcome through political solidarity. Noise seems to gain political import when it works as a cultural revelation, as a sonic barrage through which the buzzing urgencies of consumer capitalism or the routinized horrors of war can be tenuously discerned. Music offers an aesthetic experience, “noise” simulates the experience of obliteration. Attempting to make listening to noise into an aesthetic experience involves attempting to make obliteration into a lived event- or attempting to reduce impersonal capitalism to personal experience. In a 2009 interview, the British philosopher Ray Brassier speaks on this issue, saying

“The suggestion that capitalism is somehow ‘like’ noise could easily be construed as some sort of dubiously Romantic aestheticization: capitalism as sublime, unintelligible phenomenon, etc...”

Merzbow (Photo via The Quietus)
So, politicizing noise in this way ends up being the ultimate in banality- noise being a product of capitalism that dubiously claims to encapsulate the violence inherent in its production. Rather than conceiving of noise as a reactionary non-genre, a rejection of genre identification, Brassier argues that noise ought be thought of as the obsolescence of genre- the impossibility of identification. Brassier cites the band To Live and Shave in L.A. as exemplifying this tendency. Their music consists of a melange of genres that are combined in a way that sounds akin to a malfunctioning synth artlessly generating new timbres- Brassier writes, “…each song indexes a sound-world whose density defies abbreviation.” This density precludes subcultural identification (noise pop, harsh noise etc.), there is too much information to process and therefore no normative aesthetic experience to be had. In a 1999 interview the Japanese noise-maker Merzbow echoes this disinterest in cultural identity, saying “Sometimes, I would like to kill the much too noisy Japanese by my own Noise. The effects of Japanese culture are too much noise everywhere. I want to make silence by my Noise.” Adhering to Brassier’s stipulation that noise isn’t analogous to capitalism, Merzbow’s Noise is a response to the cultural noise that surrounds him- not an attack on culture on behalf of alienated listeners, but a gesture towards the extinction of listening; it is inspired by a speculative post-apocalyptic silence. After every listener has been annihilated, all that will be left is Noise.

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