Friday, August 15, 2008

I Can't Hear The Noise Over Your Yelling

I got a Prurient CD at--of all places--my local library. I've been slowly trying to dip my little toe into the muggy green swamp that is noise music. I like noise when it's used to add texture and dissonance to melodic music, but I'm unsure if I can listen to nothing but shrieking feedback and static.

My friend Sam from high school used to brag about listening to Nurse With Wound's high pitched feedback on his Walkman--he said he found it calming, but maybe that had something to do with his ADD. At the time I thought he was nuts, but more and more I think I understand what he was talking about. If you listen to music looking to be endlessly surprised and inspired, sooner or later you realize the well has run dangerously dry. I find the more I listen to really poppy records (the most recent example being the Vampire Weekend album), the more they break down into their component parts. First I like the whole song, then just the chorus, then just the bridge. After a week or two, when a song off the album pops up in my iPod shuffle, I skip it, knowing its been basically emptied of all pleasure at this point.

Not so with noise music. There is nothing instantly pleasurable about what sounds like between-the-stations radio static played over a smoke alarm running low on batteries. The ear's first reaction is "Hey whoa, what the hell--get that away from me!" But stay awhile with the sound and you cross a threshold. Your ear starts to get acclimated to the strange, unpleasant noises coming out of your headphones. Your heart rate drops. You submit to the noise and calm travels throughout your body.

And Dominick Pernow, AKA Prurient, starts yelling.

I don't want yelling in my noise music. I live in a city and take public transportation, so I get my daily fill of yelling no problem. And if for some reason I don't, my kindly neighbors help out and scream at each other in the courtyard outside my apartment. I'm sure all that yelling is super cathartic for ol' Dominick but I suggest he invest in a pillow--it works wonders.

Also, as the above video illustrates, yelling your guts out looks and sounds ridiculous. I know noise fans would answer that with the retort that I must not really like noise music if I can't appreciate such displays, but I think too many of them are hung up on how extreme and "evil" noise is, which I think is missing the point entirely. Noise music shouldn't be a contest of who can sound the most fucked up, because, let's face it, that's an easy contest to win. At its best, noise challenges the ear to listen and appreciate sounds it usually cringes at.

That being said, a lot of the Prurient album was quite good. When Fernow isn't yelling, his music is hypnotic mix of drones and noise that soothes through repetition (this description describes 99% of drone music, but that's an issue for another post). So the lesson here is: Shhh...let the noise speak.