The 11th annual Saint Petersburg Noise Fest (SPNF) took place on November 17th in Williams Park in Downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida. Organized by Rob SPIN and Mike Berchou, this is the 2nd year the fest took place in the park. Last year’s fest was a two-parter, with an afternoon show in the park and an evening show at a local bar. This year the fest took place exclusively in the park. Attending and performing in such an open environment is surreal to say the least. You’re not only interacting with your tribe, but with homeless people, families with young kids, strolling passersby, and any number of people casually walking through the park on a picture perfect afternoon. In other words, you are not necessarily (and most unlikely) playing to people who purposely gathered in the park for a noise gig. Of course, as I’ll mention later on, that opens you up to all sorts of unintended and impromptu scenarios, which to the experimental artist can often make for interesting results.
It should be noted this wasn’t some guerilla show with artists playing through battery-powered equipment, playing as fast as possible to get through as many sets as possible before getting chased away by cops. An enormous amphitheatre was rented out, which in and of itself is a pretty wild platform for experimental artists who are used to playing in cramped and (often) grimy quarters. Performers got to play under the cover of an enormous metal bandshell and through an actual P.A., which the organizers brought.
I arrived to the park uncharacteristically late. There was some other big event going on downtown, so parking was slim pickings. After some 20 minutes of perseverance a parking spot was scored. The show’s start time was 1PM, but things were moving pretty casually. A few acts had to cancel at the last minute, including Hal McGee (which was a huge bummer because he doesn’t travel out for shows very often). However, in the end, it was for the best as we were down to the wire towards the end of the show.
Mike Berchou performed first under his solo project: Oblongata. For those unfamiliar, Mike also performs with the Uh… one of the longest running noise acts in the Sun Coast, if not the state. Mike performed with a keyboard, and a mic'd mask that looked something akin to a stormtrooper’s helmet with a black hood. His set was very dense, kind of straddling the precipice where noise and ambient music intersect. It wasn’t really harsh, but noisy enough to not quite be ambient. It was very soundscapy.
I performed next, under my solo moniker Vasectomy Party, using some new gear I’ve acquired recently. I just received a noise box called a Tantrum, made by Gen Thalz from the Philippines (who I interviewed for Electronic Cottage a few months back). I thought SPNF would be a good of place as any to give it a test drive in a live setting and it did not disappoint. After my set, WAMPO (a local noise legend in my neck of the woods) complimented me on my set and asked that I join him next with fellow collaborators for a WAMPO and the Whores of Babylon set. How could I refuse?
WAMPO and the Whores of Babylon consisted of WAMPO on guitar, Rob Demperio (a local community radio DJ who hosts an experimental music program called Lumpy Tunes) on banjo, virtuoso saxophone player Jim Ivey and myself on electronics. It was a rollicking good time as the musicians of the quartet cranked out deconstructed versions of Zappa tunes and the like, while I provided an undercurrent of noisy gobbledigook. Everyone joined towards the end to provide an exceptionally raucous outro. It also happened to be Rob’s first live performance, who played a really mean banjo using a contact mic. I hope it was the first of many to come.
Another combo of talented performers played next. Vantage Planets (Scott Bazar and Joel Nobody) came all the way from the decimated panhandle of Florida to play a collaborative set including Adam Arritola (who I know from the drone project Gorgeous) and Jonas Van Den Bossche on dual drums and Jim Ivey providing the sax. It was an explosive set of free form, experimental jazz. From Joel Nobody’s improv guitar stylings, to Bazar’s rubbery bass guitar, to Van den Bossche’s and Arritola’s free form drumming, to Ivey’s frenetic saxophone playing; all players complemented each other’s contributions to create a furious mutation of sounds. As Vantage Planets played on they got an uninvited guest who joined them on stage. A young guy wearing a flowered shirt jumped on stage, aided by some liquid courage and the instigation from his friends. He didn’t really do much other than walk to the front of the stage with his arms in the air. The musicians took it in stride and, while surprised, didn’t really let it affect them too much. The fest organizers managed to eventually talk the guy off stage, while the mischievous WAMPO told his pals (who were egging him on off-stage) that Mike was a bad ass biker a wasn’t one to be fucked with. After the incident I was joking with Joel, asking him if the whole thing was staged. He laughed and said it almost seemed like an Andy Kaufman-esque prank.
Next up was Gainesville’s Ironing. Ironing, the long-running project of Andrew Chadwick, played a variety of turntables and a cassette player placed upon two ironing boards. Reggae records were layered and manipulated in a variety of ways, from placing broken records on top of playing records to picking up turntables as records were spinning. Cassettes and vinyl were speed up and slowed down and, what looked like an 80’s shelf stereo was dialed into various radio frequencies. Andrew even managed to balance a turntable on top of his head towards the end of his set. Fun times with sound collage you can dance to.
Whitey Alabastard performed next and I use “perform” very loosely. Whitey was beset with some technical problems from the get go. You could hear some harsh sounds peeking through, but it was short-lived, scarce minutes at best. Arm raised, after the shortest of short sets, and Whitey declared that he won noise fest. Afterwards, I asked him what happened and discovered that the P.A. was blown. While there were other amps on site, I think he wanted to make sure Clang Quartet, who drove from the Carolinas, had time to perform as we were pushing up against time.
The day’s final performance was by Clang Quartet, the Christian noise project of Scotty Irving. His performances are quite the spectacle to behold as he goes through a noise interpretation of the New Testament, rife with various props and costumes. Unfortunately, Clang Quartet was also plagued with some technical issues. Being the road warrior that he is, Scotty played an acoustic performance. While I’m sure it’s not the performance he intended, it nonetheless, was a treat to have the opportunity to see Clang Quartet play a stripped down, percussion set.
At the end of the day, the fest was far more relaxed and strangely more intimate, despite being in such a large and open space, than previous iterations. I’ve performed at every SPNF since the fifth installment and have seen the fest go through various permutations since then, from different venues to different organizers, from back to back marathon noise sets chugging on until the wee hours of morning, to a more chill affair such as today’s event. Each one was special in their own way and have provided me with no short supply of fond memories to draw from. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for SPNF 12.
Sterile Garden (Maine)
This past Monday I had the pleasure of attending (and performing) at a noise gig organized by Electronic Cottage contributor Dylan Houser. The show was in Ybor City at Tre Amici at the Bunker, a fantastic cafe and performance space that I’ve been to many of times (and have booked my own shows there in the past). I’ve often considered that it’s the cleanest venue I’ve ever performed at. They also make some good coffee and a damn fine sandwiches. I really appreciate the fact that they allow shows to take place in their space because I’m sure it can be deterrence for their regular customers to navigate through waves of piercing feedback to grab a latte.
I arrived at the venue about an hour early to grab a bite beforehand. One feature about the space around the venue that cannot be ignored is all of the free-roaming roosters and chickens, completely undisturbed by all the human activity. As many times as I’ve been to the Bunker, I still have to spend 5 seconds thinking to myself, “cool...a rooster just crossed my path.” As I entered the cafe most of the other performers were already working on getting their gear set up. I grabbed a vegan cuban sandwich and it was yummy.
Dylan Houser’s solo project kicked things off promptly at 7:20 PM. Dylan is probably best known performing under the moniker Hell Garbage (both solo and with collaborators), but is now performing more and more under the name Formaldehydra. Dylan used a butter knife on a contact mic’ed metal box run through a Zoom B2 bass multi effects pedal. Dylan see-sawed between undulating waves of piercing feedback to quieter moments of naked scraping metal. It was kind of amusing to see some regular folks walk in to this maelstrom of noise and quickly about face.
Penny Grune-Fae performed next. Off the top of my head, Penny utilized a looper, a drum pad, along with xylophone (I think) and few other boxes all played through a small tabletop amp. Penny really knows how to create atmospheres with her music and this evening was no different. There were noisy moments, eerie moments, and ambient moments all channeled through a dense sonic haze. It was very cinematic sounding, dare I say Lynchian at times.
I (Vasectomy Party) performed next. My anxiety was through the roof, so I decided to wear a mask as a coping mechanism. I used to wear a mask exclusively in the early days, but have gotten more comfortable performing over the years and haven’t needed it as much. I decided to go in a more creepy, atmospheric direction rather than the blown out harsh noise I’m usually (rightly or wrongly) associated with. I used a variety of loops (a construction site, vocal gurgles, and some layered pieces I made with my Language Master card reader), a Korg MS-20 mini, a black plague synth, and a Korg Monotribe. I was content with the results.
Deterritory from Gainesville brought a dancier flavor to the evening’s showcase. I got a strong early New Order vibe from their performance, but with a darker, damaged slant. I scoped some old keyboards, a Roland box, a cassette walkman, and a Sherman Filter Bank. Visuals projected during Deterritory’s set to add another dimension to the performance. I really look forward to hearing more from this project.
Sterile Garden from Maine gave the penultimate performance. I was already familiar with the project and was fortunate to catch them perform at 2015’s edition of the Denver Noise Fest. Right out the gates the crowd was greeted with pure sonic annihilation. Utilizing a sampler and a series of portable cassette players Sterile Garden added and subtracted layers, moving from crushing harsh noise, to blown out atmospherics, to periodic moments of calm (just to give us a brief respite to catch our breaths). While volume isn’t everything, being bombarded by those sounds and at maximum output was a cathartic experience for me. This was easily one of the best live performances I’ve seen this year.
Vallam finished the show with some ear-splitting results. Vallam utilized a drum machine, a Monotron delay, some pedals (a ring modulator and a distortion...I think), and a mini mixer, however it was the simple contact mic that stole the show. Vallam’s set began with some measured beats and some wobbly, delayed synth tones. As the set progressed, a contact mic was affixed to a metal slinky to make some bouncing, shimmering waves. However, it was taking that contact mic, moving it over to a metal folding chair and then hitting it with some sort of power tool that really brought some punishing sounds. It sounded reminiscent to a sustained electric charge and Vallam continued using various positioning of these tools to carry use to the set’s end.
After everything was said and done, I looked at my watch...9:40 PM. I love it, perfect old person show times. I would probably attend a lot more shows during the work week if they ended by 10:00. Thanks to Dylan and the Bunker for another memorable show...best of 2018?
Interview with Marlon Zoleta
Marlon Zoleta is a gear builder originally from Caloocan City, but now residing in Meycauayan Bulacan, Philippines. I have been following him over the past year on various social media outlets, fascinated by his various builds. Whether you play harsh noise or more tripped out experimental sounds, Marlon has something (or can make something) to compliment your rig.
In addition to his builds, Marlon always makes his own sounds under the moniker Gen Thalz. His own work blurs the lines between experimental noise and techno music. As someone who is ethnically filipino myself I’ve always been curious to find out about the experimental music scene in my mother’s homeland. Thanks to Marlon for this brief interview to enlighten me on his projects and some info on the filipino scene.
How did you get into gear building? A lot of the people I know in the noise scene first started out circuit-bending toys and cheap keyboards. Was also true for you?
For me it’s the other way around. I first built an Atari Punk Console with Baby 10 Step Sequencer on a breadboard then afterwards I learned how to circuit-bend with toys. I got into gear building because modular synths are so expensive. That’s why I pushed myself to learn some basic electronics to build something like that per se.
How do you decide what you want to build next?
Basically on what I really need and haven’t built yet.
Do you take requests for custom builds?
Yes! Actually most of the gear that I sell is a request from a friend/colleague first. They ask me if I can build something like this or that. Then if I think I can, I will add my own flavor, approach and style.
What builds do you currently have available and what does each one do?
HNW Machine - A noise box that is dedicated for hardcore harsh noise and wall. It can generate a thick, dirty texture for your gritty sound pleasure. It is very intuitive with its oscillators and noise generator section modulating each other in a feedback loop, yet sometimes untamable and unpredictable.
Tantrum - HNW Machine's little brother. Small, compact, and easy to control with its 7 gates of frustration switches and a big knob of toleration. No one can go wrong with its chaotic, glitchy, crackling noisy sound.
The Iterator - A simple effects pedal that iterates, repeats and crushes the incoming signal and breaks it with its stutter. It can also give you a wall of feedback, echo and reverberation.
Spring Noise Apparatus - It is an electroacoustic noise instrument that you can plug into any effects (best with The Iterator though) and shake the hell of destruction out of it.
Is there still a lot of experimentation to achieve certain sounds for a build or are you at a point where you know circuitry so well that it's only a matter of getting the right parts?
Part of me might say that I’m at a point that I know circuitry so well, for example, that if I want the oscillator to be low or high I already know what to use. However, most of the time, I’m still in experimentation because it can lead into something new or something I’ve never been done before.
Tell me about your own entryway into experimental and noise music?
It’s when I discovered Music Concrete and Radiophonic. I tried to imitate their method to develop new sound, but didn’t have proper equipment so I applied it using DAW. And my first experiment is the sound of my own piss in the morning, literally.
I realize that the Philippines is a big country and you only represent a very small corner of it, but what is the experimental/noise scene like in there? Are there many opportunities for live performances or at least a community of individuals who are into it? Are your customers primarily from outside of the Philippines or domestic?
It is growing and looks promising, so many potential sound/noise artists. I don’t know exactly the scene in other cities or provinces here, but here in Manila the Expert Trip Mental Music is a monthly event that gives live performance opportunities for all the sound/noise artists here. There is also the Noisebath PH, Pixel Collective, Green Papaya Art Project, HEResy (a collective of experimental women), and WSK Festival (yearly event for noise, sound art and experimental music) to name a few.
Marlon’s Gen Thalz project can be found here: on Bandcamp
For demos of his builds: YouTube
For ordering and inquiries: Facebook
Hal Harmon is a sloth-like creature who lives a sloth-like existence. He sometimes does sound art under Vasectomy Party, irregularly publishes the zine Dialtone Aggressor, and operates the record label Forever Escaping Boredom. Even more infrequently he performs and records with the collaborative projects: Nexus Monkey, Zone Tripper, and Glaive.