Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Listen to Non-Music

I first heard Merzbow because of MTV.

Somehow, probably from their relationship with Grand Royal, Atari Teenage Riot had a track, "Sick To Death," on an MTV compilation CD I picked up in a pawn shop. I had never heard anything quite like "Sick To Death" and I just loved it.

Arari Teenage Riot lead to Alec Empire which lead to the album Alec Empire Vs. Mersbow: Live CBGB's NYC 1998.

I had never heard of Mersbow. It turns out he is one of the best known noise artists in the world--the one people who don't know anything about noise music may be able to name.

Masami Akita, AKA Merzbow

Now, here is the thing about noise music. It is noise. No, really, it is. On the albums I own the average Merzbow song is based on a droning hissing sound. That is manipulated with filters and delays and combined with other sounds, but sans melody, harmony and rhythm. It is noise.

Let's just skip the discussion of whether or not this is music. There is a whole scene devoted to noise and even sub-genres of noise music [1][2][3]. Music or not, I'm obviously not alone in finding it intriguing.

When I listen to this stuff, Merzbow & John Wiese's collaboration, for example, I have found that it demands something very different from me as a listener. I listen very closely and thoughtfully. I become very conscious of my listening and my own responses. I can't listen to noise music passively. If it's on I either become very engaged or turn it off, not because I don't like it but because it is too distracting.

John Cage's famous composition, 4' 33"
is often understood as an exercise in listening. Cage himself wrote of the piece, "I have spent many pleasant hours in the woods conducting performances of my silent piece... for an audience of myself." Being silent, the piece directs the listener to the sounds of the environment which must be attended to differently than conventional music.

I find it both odd and beautiful that noise and silence demand the same thing of me.

1 comment:

guerrillarock said...

yeah kim has a very good article on active listening...

i definitely think that noise and microsound are sisters