“[W]hy not do pieces more accessible, more traditional and more ‘musical’?”

It’s been a number of years I posted (warning: explicit language) Joe Roemer’s (of Macronympha) to my harshnoise blog.  It had been circulating around emails, listserves, and the net in online forums (when those were the primary online social networks after listserves) and I wanted it to be posted in a more “public” space.

(you might want to turn the sound down a bit before listening to the youtube video below)

The title of the my post is from the opening to Roemer’s manifesto–a quote in context follows (for those who ddin’t follow the link above:

So many people have asked me lately , “Why noise?” What do I like about it and why do I choose to perform/record it? Obviously, some snobbish elitist will comment, “You all are talented musicians … So why not do pieces more accessible, more traditional and more ‘musical’.” I piss on all of your heads and ask you, “Why not just jump out the goddamn window right now? You’re going to die anyway.” Fools.

The above typifies the attitudes of many noise artists. Another thing to note is that most of the folks doing noise aren’t academically trained (in other words, non-academic experimental musicians) in music–they’re often “regular” Joes who very often don’t care for (to put it mildly) any kind of pop music aesthetic.

It’s interesting to note that the reaction to commercialized pop music happened on a relatively global scale.  Early Industrial Music, Power-Electronics, and Harsh Noise all emerged in the late 70s to early 80s–just as pop music finally came into its own as a global phenomenon with the rise of major music labels.

Similar in some ways to the response of Punk and Metal to Rock, Noise music has, however, defied commercialization to a large extent (you’re not going to see and Merzbow hits on the top pop charts or winning Grammys). The release of recordings and live performances constantly reinforces this anti-pop aesthetic by incorporating taboo subjects as song titles (or even as band names) and appropriating semi-legal or illegal and taboo imagery for album releases.

Macronympha/Hogra 7″ Split Vinyl – Limited to 100 releases by blackseed records

There’s also an element of danger in the genre as I mentioned in a previous post:

I remember reading about early infamous Hanatarash shows and how Yamatsuka Eye (who would later collaborate with John Zorn on his game pieces) had driven a bulldozer (actually a backhoe) through the venue only to be tackled by bouncers/security before throwing his molotov cocktails. Eye was had also cut a dead cat in half with a machete during a performance and nearly sawed his leg off with a power saw during another (yes, some noise artists also used power tools as instruments).

Since I’ve gotten back into the Experimental underground scene the past few years (I was much more heavily active in it in the late 90s and early 00s) I’ve seen that it’s grown and diversified in ways I never would have imagined during my years of hiatus. I’ve been amazed at the variety of the hundreds of acts I’ve performed with or seen over the past couple of years and have been especially excited that the Louisville scene now sports a few dozen acts and a handful of venues which regular featured this music.

This, of course, reiterates my point that the simple dichotomy of Pop vs Classical is tired, and not of much use.  When you factor in the fact that the same economic problems are shared by large Classical and large Pop organizations then you realize that structurally speaking, Classical and Pop aren’t nearly as different as the endless debates about Classical Music Decline would have us believe and as soon as you start to look at musical genres which problematize markets (e.g. the Non-Academic Experimental Music), or exist well outside of mainstream American markets (Ethnic and World musics).

There’s a whole world of music out there, and most people talk and argue about it from within their little bubbles.

One comment

  1. […] The big reason I’ve wanted to do this research is because some of the narrative of the Classical Music Crisis depends on the idea that Classical Music isn’t relevant like Pop Music purportedly is. Setting aside the fragmentation issue I often write about here, there’s just the shear number of local musicians which play for crowds so small that would be the envy of some of the most iconoclastic noise musicians. […]


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