Metal Machine Music vs. the Harsh Noise Wall
Robert Boyle Lecture Theatre
Marko Djurdjic (York University, Toronto)
‘“My week beats your year”: On Listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music’
On a masochistic whim, I listened to Metal Machine Music.
In its entirety.
And upon hearing its cacophonous grind, I realized that there is nothing to ‘get’ about MMM. As ‘music’ alone, it is abrasive, relentless, Pentecostal. Taken with Lou Reed’s liner notes, however, it is repositioned as philosophy, an avant-doctrine awash in exquisite brutality.
Philosopher Henri Lefebvre claimed that exultations such as “‘Change life!’ ‘Change society!’” (or in this case, ‘Change music!’) mean nothing “without the production of an appropriate space” where these changes can occur. With MMM, Lou Reed envisioned a new ‘space’ for the listener, one borne out of uninhibited electronic noise. His transgressive work embodies “the dialectical relationship between ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’,” where Reed’s subjective belief in the work’s (i.e. his own) genius complements its objectively enigmatic and difficult content and form. Thus, MMM’s liner notes are integral to ‘understanding’ The Noise.
In this presentation, as the record’s four sides play simultaneously, I will confront Reed’s work through Lefebvre’s notion of the social production of space, in order to antagonize the hegemonic proclamations contained in the liner notes. Reed’s megalomaniacal words denote sociopolitical and religious aspirations, positioning the work as a manifesto that points “towards the space of a different (social) life and of a different mode of production” for both listeners, and music itself. Lou Reed loved MMM, and this dichotomy—between the self-aggrandizing liner notes and the alienating musical presentation—both defines the record, and is responsible for its continued relevance within pop culture.
Elvin Brandhi (Akademie der bildende Künste, Vienna)
Paul Hollins (University of Bolton & Leeds College of Music), Sean Albiez (Author and Independent Scholar) & Anthony Roocroft (University of Bolton) – ‘The Best Worst Noise Ever Made? (A Non Discursive, Discursive Experimental Performance Piece)’
In 1975 Lou Reed released his most controversial album, Metal Machine Music (MMM). Sonically described as ‘The tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator’ and ‘A night in a bus terminal’ (Rolling Stone 1975), the album that provided ‘an insight into the turbulent spirit of the age’. (Morley 2010).
More despised than admired when originally released it consisted of four individual tracks entitled MMM Parts 1-4 each of 16.02 duration with side four ending in a continuous loop of ‘locked groove’.
Since its release and subsequent early withdrawal from sale, the ‘composition” has continued to polarize opinion amongst scholars and critics. The recording described sarcastically as the ‘greatest album ever made in the history of the human eardrum’ (Bangs 1975) and ranked number 4 of “the 50 ‘worst records of all time’ (Q Magazine 2005), as a joke and as the seminal Noise album.
What was Reed’s intention with MMM ? Was the recording a dissident riposte to perceived record company subservience or an authentic work of creative genius ?
In this performance the authors will present Reed’s masterpiece in its entirety remixed into a palatable (?) 16.02 minute experience accompanied by a William S Burroughs inspired critique consisting of key words and phrases presented through ‘punk’ experimental performance.
In the spirit of the original it is anticipated that the performance will polarize opinion, that attendees may leave more confused than satisfied with the non- conclusive outcomes of the session !