Monday, December 21, 2020


I tend to seek out or remain open for moments of bliss when I'm at a show. This can come inside of a highly anticipated moment—a favorite song, say—or it can come as a surprise—in a new song, or in a gesture a band member makes onstage or someone makes right in front of you. The feeling in those moments is a kind of communal sonic saturation that's difficult replicate anywhere else.

Andi Coulter gets that, too, as she considers proto No Wave, a movement I never warmed to. She writes interestingly about noise in rock and roll in her provocative new 33 1/3 book about Suicide's debut album. Alan Vega and Marty Rev's confrontational lo-fi punk sound buried blues changes and pop desires deep beneath feedback-drenched ambient electronica. They were wildly avante, ahead of the curve even in 1970s downtown Manhattan, and hugely influential. "Suicide’s goal was to create communication," Coulter writes. "Noise for them is not merely a shock tactic, but engagement."
Noise is often categorized as the distraction, the production of sound that we actively seek to avoid. Noise is an unwanted sound. Today, there is no shortage of think pieces warning us of the dangers of constant noise as we become an ever-more distracted culture. 
She adds, "Though it may sound counterintuitive, the same mindfulness that silence brings is exactly what listeners experience when engaging with Suicide’s noise. In an extreme noise show an audience becomes momentarily transfixed in the experience. If the sound is so punishing that all one can think about is relieving the pain, this leads to a kind of ever-presentness within the sound." Instead of music as escape—Suicide were known to lock the doors of a venue to trap the audience inside—this type of music "specifically offers no back door to alleviation."

What a killer hook, righteous riff, or heart-sending change in change under stage lights can do for me, industrial atonal noise can do for others. "There is something alluring about being sonically overwhelmed," Coulter observes. "Without the fear of real danger, experiencing the potentiality of fear allows us to rethink the limits of possibility."
Suicide’s danger was self-contained, and as such, they shattered both musical expectations and social boundaries. Before a note was played, audiences would be negatively primed seeing a “band” consisting of only two members and no guitar. Couple this with a sonic onslaught of distortion and sprinkle in a caged-animal frontman who decides the division between stage and spectator is irrelevant. It is the perfect storm for contained chaos.
This kind of live experience creates "an impersonal intimacy—one that allows for a potentiality in powerlessness." Noise music doesn't shock so much as it "allows for a deeper understanding of one another as individuals." 

Turn it up, if you're so inclined.

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