Punk/Noise Panel 4A

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.

Published by Gustav Thomas

Claws & Tongues was started in order to provide a visible yet fluid platform with which to try out ideas for writings by Gustav Thomas that may or may not lead elsewhere, as in articles, chapters, essays, papers zines or books. Gustav Thomas is my real name in so far as it comprises the two middle names included on my birth certificate, which, as a bona fide part of my ‘real’ name makes it only a half-alias. I’m not ashamed, especially, of what one would normally consider my ‘real name,’ but I don’t intend to use it on this blog or announce it here, in this ‘about’ text, or anywhere else on this blog. That’s not because I wish to keep it somehow hidden or secret – to find out what my framing monikers are would be very easy since I’ve never sought to keep them separate from Gustav Thomas. Rather it’s because that ‘real’ name is the one that teachers, headmasters, employers, medical receptionists, the Inland Revenue, medical staff, authorities of any kind, and so on, and on, has been so thoroughly used by, and thus inextricably tied to, such institutional protocols, that it leaves me, as an individual who, like any individual has the capacity to access their own agency, very little space or scope for developing the potential power and effectiveness of that agency. Gustav Thomas happens to also be my facebook name and as a musician I also chose it (actually the first time I used it) as the pseudonym I use whenever I produced 8-bit Techno on a Gameboy (I haven’t ruled out extending that use to any beat-based project should I pursue any in the future, in preference to either Virginia Pipe or Copydex, the latter being, for obvious reasons, a strictly plunderphonic collage vehicle, anyway). Gustav Thomas also conveniently encapsulates my two ethnic provenances as half Slovene and half Welsh; they are also the first names of both my grandfathers, one a fairly well known (in his time) Slovene writer, novelist and educationalist, the other a WW2 colonel among officers who led the Normandy landings, for whatever significance that, or any other part of their own rich histories, can have, here, or in anything else that I do. Above all, I have started this blog because in my professional life, which is academic, I have made the decision, officially, to have my research assessed (by the various state bodies that do that, through the RAE, REF etc.) as much through my thinking and writing as through my art practice, which it has been exclusively so far. The kind of writing I intend to do is the kind of writing I’ve always done, over the past 15 years mostly on internal departmental blogs meant as teaching support, and will almost completely draw on things I’ve been thinking and saying within an academic context during that time. My first extended pieces, then (those that are 10,000 words or more), are being extracted from my brain as a matter of almost pathological necessity, freeing up space before I can move on and at least learn new ideas, if not make them and articulate them formally. Given the context, and my stage in life (a 50-year-old whose two kids have left home), I fully intend not to start teaching myself to write in a recognizably formal-academic style; nor do I intend for my writing to be considered as such, albeit there are inevitable traces of academia in what I’m writing due to my having earned my living as an academic for – already - too long. Instead my intention is to improve, develop and extend the style I already have which will have probably begun somewhere in early childhood when I first scrawled some short stories with the vague idea that I wanted to be a ‘writer’ and, above all which has evolved through at least three decades of learning, loving to know about, talking about, and teaching about music, art and the ideas, impulses and inherent discourses that inhabit and surround them. I am aware that I have a propensity to criticize certain other artists and commentators harshly, often with extreme formulations, in a manner easily identifiable as arrogance or some such self-interested tendency. I’m not sure exactly where that emerged from; it could be the years of being fully committed (because I knew it was right) to a mode of expressive practice that operates very consciously, and critically, beyond the reductive ring-fencing of ordained culture, what most people think of as Music and Art - Culture; it may well be, though, that I learned such an approach from certain writers I’ve read over the years – it’s in Dostoyevsky, Bukowski and DeLillo in ways I can see in my own mannerisms, but also in someone like Ben Watson/Out To Lunch, whose writing on music and ideas not only had a big impact on me but certainly also encouraged me to be bold and direct about what I knew needed saying, not least because – and this is central to everything – the way in which music, popular music, popular arts and cultures are dealt with on the day-to-day ordinary level, as in what people consume, accept and ingest, how/why they do it, manages to circumscribe completely the immeasurable seriousness regarding how politically and ideologically penetrating all art is (and was always meant to be), but especially (and this is embarrassingly tautological in a way that’s generally ignored) that which is thrust upon a people at great expense by its state and the (almost entirely) corporate (read: oligarchal) interests the State serves. I’ve been accused by colleagues of being too polemical and by Ben Watson as not being a polemicist at all, in both cases meant as identifying a weakness; I would say that to consider anything I write as polemical would be to negate any capacity it may have to say something useful – too much is being said and done by modern humanity that is unfathomably (self-)destructive. My drive in all this comes from a need not necessarily to oppose and take up the position on any opposite pole; rather I just feel that someone (as many someones as possible, starting anywhere at all, including just ‘me’) needs to be engaging in a tendency to question, starting with the very simple interruption, ‘Hang on a second… that can’t be right.’ There are tens of thousands of writers and artists already doing that very well, of course. This blog is merely a workshop from which to start making my own contribution more discernible and, just possibly, useful.

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