By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
By a stricter definition — largely electronic, vocal-free, unmelodic, undanceable improvisations containing elements of feedback, drone, extreme reverb and other effects, static, and abrupt collagelike editing — Noise has experienced surprisingly regular resurgences, such as the one currently happening in and around L.A., with venues like Il Corral and The Smell drawing crowds and events like Long Beach’s Soundwalk (October 6-7, www.soundwalk.org) drawing international attention. Two newly issued recordings provide complementary templates for aurally exploring the local contemporary Noise scene. L.A. Noisescape, a single CD from Sandor Finta’s Bastardised microlabel, offers 36 tracks by 36 recording artists (and an eloquent liner rant by Weekly contributor David Cotner that jumps right into the deep end).
The disc kicks off with a blast of old-school Noise — grinding, unrelenting, overdriven electronic howls reminiscent of the cartoonishly aggro late-’80s Japanese scene. Over the course of the following masterfully programmed 75 minutes, there are plenty of unexpected moments of serenity, beginning with the primitive overtones of Albert Ortega’s “Owls” and cropping up repeatedly when you least expect it. Once you get used to the genre’s surprisingly rich vocabulary of difficult listening tropes, you begin perceiving a much more variegated spectrum of structural and compositional strategies at play, and it becomes apparent that there is much more going on than some endgame escalation of parental-annoyance music.
Noise, in fact, is one of the last vestiges of noncommercial bohemian avant-gardism, and, I would argue, the torchbearer of the musical traditions of free jazz (Ornette, Ayler, late Coltrane) and experimental “classical” music (Stockhausen, Cage, Kagel), which, by the mid-’70s dawn of Noise, had been swallowed by commercialism and academic/orchestral prissiness, respectively. Grandiose, perhaps — but consider California, the recent 10-LP (as in vinyl) box set co-issued by L.A. labels Groundfault and Troniks along with veteran Lowell, MA, clearing-house RRR: works by 20 essential Golden State Noise artists, one per side, packaged in a monolithic black box with only the title word stenciled across its cover. Containing several of the same artists (the insanely prolific John Wiese; GX Jupitter-Larsen, formerly AKA Haters; the lovely and talented Amps for Christ) as the Bastardised set, California makes even less claim to being comprehensive, or even representative (I’d have liked to have heard something from Michael Gendreau of Crawling With Tarts fame, or some of Steve Roden’s always remarkable material).
But with no liner notes and barely any identifying information, California isn’t making any claims whatsoever, apart from the declaration of substantiality that the package itself embodies. And with such complex, rewarding works as the Skaters’ murkily filtered exotica, Open City’s elegant chamber noise, Joe Colley’s prankish structuralism, and a vintage Solid Eye KXLU radio session full of warbly tape loops and layered samples, it’s a declaration that walks the walk. And even if it doesn’t propel anyone into the limelight (Spastic Colon at Disney Hall!), it doesn’t matter. Noise has nothing to prove, and — like all authentic human expressions — will keep feeding back on itself and evolving — whether or not anyone is listening.?
OVERLOOK: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America With the Center for Land Use Interpretation | Edited by MATTHEW COOLIDGE and SARAH SIMONS | Metropolis Books/D.A.P. | 272 pages | $35 paperback
NO HOLIDAY: 80 Places You Don’t Want to Visit | By MARTIN COHEN | The Disinformation Company | 208 pages | $17 paperback
L.A. NOISESCAPE | Various artists | Bastardised | www.bastardised.com
CALIFORNIA | Various artists | Groundfault/Troniks/RRR | www.californianoise.com