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Tense and Release: Should Anyone Make Noise?

The second millennium burst through our dissociated society nearly two decades ago, and the world dashes with more force and more speed than ever before. Poorly lit billboards flash, smartphones incessantly beep and click and speak to their users, and an ever-present pressure to produce more, to consume more, to “do” more permeates every tear in the fabric of our global culture. We talk faster, we move faster, we process faster than any culture before us, but at what cost? Among greed, violence, socioeconomic and political unrest, and an overall sense of amnesia, this speed has driven its culture’s citizens to more pressure, anxiety, and repressed tension than they can take. People lash out at each other verbally and physically, both in person and on the digital world of the internet, further isolating themselves and building only more tension and destruction. It seems our world has reached a critical point, and the dam may burst at any moment.
​      The question arises, what can be done? Should anything be done? Some might argue a total social upheaval remains in dire need, an overthrowing of the current capitalist system that breeds inequality, destruction of the human spirit, and, ultimately, contempt and tension. Whether militant upheaval will provide a necessary fix to the state of humanity, for now, remains an unsolvable issue, and societies rarely collapse in a day. The work of positive change now falls to the individual, of which the state is “writ large”.
​      Noise music, sound art, and other forms of abstract expression can serve both curatively and prophylactically in dissolving this all-consuming tension birthed by a fast-paced global society in the wake of late-capitalism. Releasing this tension, the individual artist acts as a pinhole for the pressure to release itself, and as more join in the act of this artist’s work, the tumor shrinks. Still, what if more pin holes formed around this tumor? Could the swelling dissipate completely? The more people that engage in abstract art, particularly noise, as it attacks the more commercialized form of art, contemporary music, the more of these “pinholes” form. The whole society, affected by sound and by music on an emotional level, releases its tension. In short, everyone should make noise.
     “Why noise?” Noise slays the largest beast of commercialized art at its weakest point, and, unlike visual art, music and sound operate in the dimension of time, which inherently implies change. It’s no secret that conventional music became a propaganda tool long ago, focusing mass interest on superficial agendas; however, by turning music into free sound, the artist metaphorically frees their self, surrendering to primal emotion and expression, discovering the self-knowledge that tells us how to live.
     Furthermore, noise highlights the idea that “music” is everywhere, from the rustle of fall wind in the trees, to the thunderous roar of heavy machinery and industrialization. Anyone that can find this truth becomes an artist inadvertently. Anyone can turn the sound around them to a personal symphony in the same way a photographer views the world through their own lens. Tim Houston of Fuss comments that “everyone can create this. It is created all the time by everyone. All that is necessary in turning this expression from haphazard production into woven art is a broadening and softening of the senses. With attention and care comes the ability to steer random chaos into delightful infinity … In the same way that we can find music in a washing machine or the sounds of the ocean music is found in all sounds. Music is unavoidable. Music is. The same part of a person that is used to find melody in the buzzing of timers in a McDonalds can create melody with Noise and/or non-traditional sounds.” The artist most simply begins as the listener and then synthesizes input, with creation proving the free will of the individual as if some sort of “divine spark”. But how does one make noise? Nick Shatell, noise artist and musician recommends: “Scream and note the corresponding feeling that arises in your body. Throw some paint on the wall. Get a banjo and see what it sounds like when you pluck it or hit it or smash it.” Only the individual can answer the question of “how” personally. Everyone makes noise already, to do it as an art form just requires doing it deliberately.
​     Some argue that this sort of undertaking belongs only to a select few. Albany-based experimental sound artist Raw Land asserts that “it’s not for everyone. Some people aren’t made to create in that way.” Raw Land then concludes that if more people made noise, they would likely “find a way to stress out about it and/or preoccupy themselves with searching for a way to commodify it.” Though a dismal projection, this same thing happened with music in its conventional sense. However, with an inherent structure in contemporary music, this structure of the art can elicit its structured, product-based response. Noise, as a freeform, abstract amalgamation of sound, differs at base, inherently eliciting a response that cannot be turned into commodity.
   ​   Justin Von Strasburg, a musician with more than two decades of experience, entered into the world of noise in a project called “Japanese Mileage” in the early 2000s. Inspired by electronic and industrial music, Strasburg stresses a reductionist ethic in his work, utilizing glitch music and digital artifacts to make “small, crackly sounds.” His solo work of recent years further expands on these sounds, using only a snare drum that he “plays” nearly any way imaginable other than by striking with a drumstick. Known for strange interactive sets, Strasburg translated his drumming into this abstract, minimalist form, of which he reflects: “I could actually make weird sounds with an instrument I’ve been using for decades and make it sound like it isn’t a drum.”
     Many noise artists enter noise making through conventional music and find freedom in this way; however, Strasburg believes that while everyone can create noise in theory, “you have to have a certain mindset to do it right … Anyone can tune a television to a dead channel and call it a noise performance, but you have to have a certain understanding of why.” Noise requires more of the listener, as understanding the thought and the process provides the most fruitful listening experience. Unlike contemporary music, though, the true beholder of the beauty of noise is the noise-maker, as noise provides a completely individualist creative experience to which an audience simply matters not. Furthering the individualism of noise, Andy Czuba, a noise artist with no proper musical background but seven years of experience performing and hosting and promoting noise events, reassures: “I’ve been saying for years that anybody can make noise. Now, is it going to be good noise? I mean, it’s subjective.”
​      While noise making requires an ear for sounds and their places in time, a message to express, and means to do so to provide a palatable piece, ultimately, given that the perception of all art is subjective, if the artist can emote and thus fulfill themselves, the artist can be anyone. Anyone seeking this should make noise to transcend culture and gain self-knowledge. To prospective noise artists with no background in noise or music, Czuba recommends they “ask around. Go to a noise show; it might blow your mind. It might even send you on a path of spending too much money on weird little boxes but make you a lot of friends.”

written by Jesse James Kaufman


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