HarshNoiseWall & Its Discontents
The Boiler House
Lexi Turner (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY)
‘Ballet Shoes, Butchers Knives and Black Leather Gloves: Narrative of the Body in Harsh Noise Wall’
This paper seeks to investigate specifically the “harsh noise wall” movement and in particular the work of Richard Ramirez (Black Leather Jesus, Werewolf Jerusalem) and Sam McKinlay (The Rita), as a mode of investigation of the body’s experience of power, in scenarios of sexual fetishism, extreme violence, and the consistent imbrications of the two in horror – and especially giallo - films, whose titles and stills have historically adorned so many of their album covers.
The generally considered illegible nature of harsh noise, of course, establishes tensions of narratology – can these records really be said to be about a nything at all? What role does the a priori necessarily play in our reception of releases such as Confessions of a Sex Maniac and Thousands of Dead Gods? Should we view titles, liner notes and photographs as accompanying, yet separate pieces of art, designed to catalyse our exogenous projections onto the cacophonous blank canvas of feedback loops, or can we surmise an emotive, even narrative, ontology within the noise after all?
Noting the personal turn in Ramirez’ and McKinlay’s output, revealing and engaging with their own orientations and philias: the gay BDSM / leather scene in Ramirez’ work, and nylon / foot fetishism in McKinlay’s, we may begin to envisage harsh noise as an avenue of introspection and personal development on the part of the noise artist, surprisingly akin to the emotive trajectories associated with the figure of the singer-songwriter. Accordingly, whilst it may be true that “anyone can do it,” this paper wishes to deny the implication that “anyone else c ould do this.”
Peter J. Woods (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
‘Defining Noise-As-Gesture: Mapping the Politics of Abjected Sound Through Con-Dom and Moor Mother’
While multiple scholars have drawn connections between theories of noise and the abject, extant literature focusing on noise music often conflates conceptions of abjection with notions of transgression, shock value, and taboo breaking (see Thompson, 2017). This leads to an overemphasis on certain “extreme” genre tropes and discursive practices within noise music and its various subgenres (i.e power electronics) (Atton, 2011). In this paper, I address this issue by revisiting formative conceptions of the abject (Bataille, 1970; Kristeva, 1982) and reframing the noise/abject connection through these works. I begin with a critical literature review of both the abject and noise music, recentering the abject within the intentional use of noise in music (what I call noise-as-gesture) and considering the ethico-political considerations of abjection within this practice. Next, I utilize this newly defined understanding of noise-as-gesture, along with Foster’s (1996) critique of abject art, to analyze two different artists that rely on divergent conceptions of abjection: Con- Dom and Moor Mother. In doing so, I argue that the use of the abject-via-noise within all forms of music, including the noise music genre, holds the potential for a liberatory praxis but only if it creates space for the abject to speak instead of reinscribing the condition of abjection onto othered bodies. By returning to the source of the abject as a theoretical technology, this paper proposes a rich understanding of the ethics of noise within music (and noise music in particular) and produces a new set of theoretical tools for further analysis.
Michael Blenkarn (Newcastle University)
‘Anxiety Silenced: Harsh Noise Wall as a Means of Attenuating the Experience of Anxiety’
Harsh Noise Wall, described by Sam McKinlay of The Rita as the ‘powerful minimalist deconstruction of the harsh noise object’, offers one plausible endpoint for the mode of Harsh Noise driven by the creation of a positive feedback loop within an electronic system. As exemplified by a noisemaker like Vomir, it is the form that Harsh Noise takes when human intervention ceases, and the overwhelming sound occurring within the system is permitted to achieve a saturated homeostasis.
Reaching beyond the question of whether ‘anyone can do it’, HNW poses more pressing questions, such as ‘is anyone doing this?’ or ‘is anything being done?’ Some makers of Noise deride the form as the epitome of lazy, throwaway music; but it is this edge position in the field of practice that makes HNW amenable to some surprising applications.
My personal use of HNW is not to produce a musical object or experience, or as a vehicle for exploring ‘content’; it is a purely functional practice to attenuate the experience of unwelcome anxiety. This attenuation is possible because the unique combination of liveness, stasis and space encountered through HNW, embodies what Novak calls ‘a Noise that surrounds me and becomes my world’. I argue for the appreciation of HNW as a practical means of ameliorating the affective experience of anxiety, and support this argument with reference to Eysenck’s Four Factor Theory of Anxiety – a cognitive model based on the production of a positive feedback loop within a modular system of psychological processes.