Some may recall in early daze of the old weird web, Usenet newsgroups. Wherein heaven knows I would argue how many angels could dance on one subtle (but "*real* and *important*") difference of my stated view/outlook and another's. Nowadays, the shaky incompleteness of my knowledge and outlook seems to be an occasion for joy. Hey, someone may know something I don't. Or see the same things differently. Such differences could be good and constructive. Not tearing down, building onto. And such a person knowing, seeing could be you.
(Um, IDIC. LLAP. May the Force be with you. Fill in whatever inclusive and appreciative expression suits you best here.)
In accordance with the *better* angels of the Usenet and the old weird web, speak up as to what info need be added or emended and/or what views be yet unspoken. Perhaps in comments. Or in your post. Consensus building, yada etc. Whatever works.
Again with the notes -- just something written when someone was unwise enough to ask. Barely a beginning, no way near an end. Incomplete is the word. Not to exclude not harsh on anyone.
Noise is a very big diffuse genre. A sort of sound, a sort of music. Amateur, fairly democratic art.
Like "love" or "god" or "freedom", it means different things to different people.
And has roots all over. In various art movements (some now a hundred years old), like Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus (happenings), Minimalism, Expressionism (German/Abstract/otherwise), outsider art, Art Brut, Arte Povera, performance art, underground film, etc etc and so on. In various musics and composers (Modern Classical and otherwise), like the work of John Cage, David Tudor, Bebe and Louis Barron, Steve Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, Delia Darbyshire, Alvin Lucier, Laurie Anderson, Nicolas Collins, plus the many exponents of garage rock, punk DIY/cassette culture, hip hop turntablism/plunderphonics/ sampling, circuit bending (and,um,"reusing"/reapplying) toys and consumer electronics, digital glitching and/or computer coding -- the list goes on and on--each person finds her or his own "bill of lading" and goes from there.
So, operationally, amateurs (those who do it for love) who play and/or perform better than I do make all sorts of things all sorts of ways.
I don't do outings as fan or participant -- getting to do this online is a fun treat. And like quilting bees, ham radio meets and sundry other open mic events, most of those gathered are the participants. Not sure about how many onlooking fans there are. A niche interest, activity. (Like so many things, really.)
As one annoyed compat said, my smelly rented room was my studio. One cassette to another. Noise, some singing of songs, etc.
Nowadays, computing power and memory get cheaper. Physical space, owned or rented, living and/or working, gets more pricey, gives new and poignant meaning to "prohibitively expensive".
For a while, as an accident of circumstance, I lived in a whole house. And when my then spouse was out, I'd goof around, mostly with larger noises and some musicalish things. And record.
I'm no performer, great muso. Those who are will want to get a performance. Focus, if not dead quiet (strictly speaking) is handy to capture that. The more live and room defined and dynamic the performance, the more that real space and quiet are super handy.
Close micing and direct recording can obviate some of that, but for a lute player not so into the beady sound of a piezo mic'd soundboard/bridge/whatnot, there'll be no air there. No room. And if on or near a noisy street/neighbor/whatever, good luck with getting and keeping that sweet fresh take with feeling.
All that and the psycho-ergonomics of not wearing too many hats at once will bring the lute player and the death metal band alike to a studio with soundproofing, engineers, and mics and mic stands and preamps and such. Ever read Tape Op magazine? There you go, check it out or Mix etc. and come back. Lots can be done by folks who know their own specific tasks and don't try to do it all alone.
But sorry, not that person. Ever.
Read all that stuff but really could not be the true blue anything. Jack of all, master of none, etc.
So in that solitary control addiction necessary to create "Grunt Grunt Pig"_and_(albeit much much later) "On The Fall Line", I have worked mostly in adapted home space. Some were very provisionally adapted ("oh, hey, no one's around") or in an extra room set up to record ("oh, hey, no one's around").
Getting older and playing with a muso/writer/performer friend who was getting into Phil Ochs, Jacques Attali and life without a PA set up, I was never really in love with loud. Apocrypha #1 -- when I quit a low-volume-ishno PA band, one fellow more or less remarked "how you gonna find someone plays that weird so quietly?" A. #2 -- Later when hearing a perfectly functional Merzbow CD at low volume (how else?) it sounded as if the speakers were being clawed out from the inside. My words then and now were "loud at any volume".
Anyway, forget me and mine. Brit sci fi writer Brian Aldiss had it all covered in a short story decades back, "Supertoys Last All Summer Long". Kubrick wanted to make a movie of it. Later on, Spielberg did (A.I.). Movie's groovy, but really the story does more and beats out the Matrix and what not in terms of "hey, who/what/where the f*ck are we?". Um. Hard enough to say then. Before the empty swimming pools of occupied Singapore returned to haunt JG Ballard (again, jack of all, no expert here), Aldiss had our kind living in the virtual vistas wherein any and all are up for questioning. As for answers, well.
In this small corner of human concern, making and sometimes recording noise, the virtual vistas open on Bandcamp and YouTube and beyond. The old weird web is subject to ongoing monetization, but even the basic intro versions of the newly priced virtual has way more casual server room than the globe has affordable and useable real estate.
Not one to do more than to imply stuff for others to use to draw their own (hopefully useful) conclusions, I'll leave at that. Head space, processor and memory space, is all that's growing.
[EC founder Hal McGee does this in spades. Bandcamp releases, yes. Also, the Apartment Music, other non standard noise venuation (a real word? Well, now . . . Spelling variable.) As adapted real space events, for sure. Putting space as is to more varied purpose. Plus later, along the lines of this essay, sharing as video presentations, online releases. Again, not the expert here nor inclined to play one on the Internet.]
Were I more than a crypto-Mormon (drinking water, but not coffee, soda, tea--very matter of factly, for no particular reason), I'd applaud this continuing frontier expansion. Leave it to a late middle aged, nominally middle class 'Merican white guy to find such space. But creators of noise and other such who make/save/share in digital formats can be of any and all kinds. As a Trek addicted type person, I will have to invoke that Vulcanism -- IDIC -- Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. As an Electronic Cottage contributor, will simply say this space is your space [mine, ours -- What Would Woody Guthrie Do?].
To end on a goofy, long, if related tech note.
In the age of analog and cassettes as the cheap option with which to record, for music and sound recording (as in field recording, getting samples, etc.), the noise floor was something to get over and above of. By the time of better field recorders and cheaper and more portable digital recording etc, aside from going over digital zero and whether one had the patience or wherewithal for greater than 16 bit depth recordings to give more resolution and headroom, it was the sounds of the world, the competing sounds, that became the noise floor. The field recordist who promoted the "one square inch of silence" idea was fighting the ubiquitous sounds of jets flying over, etc.
The other side of this issue is someone like John Cage, who'd go in the woods mushroom hunting, but lived in Manhattan and sought a more open ended and Zen like rapport with all the sounds around.
Granted as human listeners with ears and minds, we don't function like any kind of recording device I know. We can focus on one thing we want to hear (say a bird song) and push aside, to some degree at least, some other thing we don't (maybe dogs barking). The choices vary, but we do this so routinely that a recording with any gizmo can be odd to hear in playback. "What? There're dogs barking? [Birds tweeting? My coat sleeves rustling?]" Indeed, the aforementioned field recordist mentions in a documentary how still one must be to record. (Gordon Hempton. Funny to think of former Cabaret Voltaire member, Chris Watson, as another such quiet stalker of sound.)
I don't build, I combine. Stuff abounds. Stuff I have. Suggest likewise for you, any and all. If you got this stuff, stuff like it and the interest, give it a try.
Standard CMA Boilerplate -- don't blame me if things blow up, break, vaporize the universe, your brain, first born, whoever, whatnot. Enjoy responsibly.
So, a combination of goofy onhand gizmos to make fuzzy fake theremin sounds --notably get three radios that operate on AM band, put them near each other, only use the sound of one, tune them to cause the audible radio to oscillate/whistle etc., try moving/tuning radios in relation to each other to alter pitch/volume, also use hand proximity to tuning dials to alter pitch. Walkmen, any not so new radios with tuning & volume dials, thumb wheel controls, are good candidates for this. Explore. Mix & match.
Okay, shorthand for three AM radio based theremin set up done. Will skip personal stories. Suffice it to say just having this stuff around is an implicit biography. What you have, keep, use is the same.
Tweaking ability such as is, acuity, is related to my life long & ongoing TV addiction, learning young in the messy, overbuilt analog world. Oldish radios that can interact, fail/succeed in these subtle ways, are a very late solid state hangover of that world into the present one. Digital control and encoding and other such are meant to sidestep and eradicate all that. To have any awareness or rapport with that old weird tangle is to be at least a bit old & weird & tangled oneself. So, hey, there's that.
Other stuff that can get you into more trouble, indicate an enduring, if anti-social, playfulness. FM band feedback.
If one happens to have an FM band mini transmitter (like those that used to abound as handy short range wireless signal gadgets--mine was a stray hand-me-down--or diy tweakers may yet find kits if so inclined, dunno), the transmission can be a multiple connection, to various radios etc. And one can loop the signal through an FM radio to create feedback. All sorts of happenstance factors can alter the response. Volume, tone, tuning controls, speakers,room tone/eq (if feedback loop is done open air) are all factors that too fun & performative to be considered entirely rationally. So it goes.
But remember the boilerplate. Ears,speakers, circuits, brain may never be the same. Or they may do just fine. Can't promise. But if curious, willing to find out, well
Something of what I wrote re my noise as my country and western. Well, what's recalled offhand. Forgot all the bullet points but mainly part social history, part memoir.
What I was long clueless about was the working class post WW2 diaspora of rural whites going for defense jobs. The stats, even the broad trends are beyond me. But Sunset Park somewhere in PA is some bit of country fan convergence for ex Southern formerly rural white folk.
Black Americans had some share of the same wartime/postwar boom. Many headed north to Chicago, Harlem NYC, etc to transplant recreate black music. Ergo R & B, Chicago electric blues, the growth and change of Jazz, gospel, soul--beat goes on. Union leader for sleeping car porters, A. Philip Rudolph bucked early wartime vigor in the US to demand war factory jobs for blacks and likely spurred on many trends and changes. Post Pearl Harbor, he had to say -- do this or we strike. Not easy (also credited for lobbying for 1948 desegregation of US armed forces). But that pesky world depression had been hanging on. Many people weren't doing so great beforehand.
Working class rural whites nudged north to war effort factories. The Monroe Brothers, Charlie and Bill et al,left Kentucky for jobs in Indiana. And brought along the music that would morph into Bluegrass. Transplanted, homesick workers like themselves were the audience.
Anyhow, in short, folks move, bring sounds of home, mutate same. Move, play, repeat.
The broad metaphor/comparison to wartime & postwar C&W that I saw was something like: "I came from one place to another. I remembered/brought along/strived to reenact X, and ended up creating Y."
I could dig deeper for my own memoir of noise to fill out details, but for now just looking to supply the rough scaffolding archetype of displacement/recollection/mutation as a common storyline for many. Maybe you. FWIW.
Please note, yes, facts may prove shaky. Maybe think "poetic license" and tell any analogous story of yours/close acquaintance.
I’m a bird, not an ornithologist. —Orson Welles (or more likely Saul Bellow, or very probably neither Abraham Lincoln nor Ada Lovelace, a rough quote at any rate)
Even as something of a rough memoir re noise making in the later 20th century/early 21st century, this is an uneven document.
Years ago, in better times personally, I did play at interviewing myself. Not as self promotion so much as self distraction (and okay, maybe a quest for aesthetic awareness), something to do with words and points of view somewhat converging and edging apart. Something one does in the wake of the Usenet newsgroups and in lieu of same. A dialogue and consensus of one.
In my younger middle years I was hoping to absorb so much. For some later and more perfect union of thought & deed. Short of that, mottoes and rules of thumb are good for a laugh.
One triad often quoted even now is: GOOD, FAST, CHEAP.
With the proviso: Pick any two.
As some tripolar continuum of choices and outcomes, one may land on any number of locations. Me, I fly rather close to FAST and CHEAP. The idea being that any good outcome will rely on time and/or money (it won’t be fast or, if so, not cheap). Fast and cheap will not be good. Good and fast won’t be cheap.
This was invoked often in recording forums, even when the barriers to entry were costlier, less varied and more involved than today. People in well equipped and maintained recording studios were living out the triad even if the very analog and pricey world they inhabited precluded fast or cheap (though in that context, those terms had probably different relative values). Proper inhabitants of that world would say plenty, I would read it. That qualifies me then & now as an erstwhile reader, not as one who lives the stories.
To lay some groundwork for a perfect future world in which I somehow prevailed artistically (not a world that ever came to be or ever will), I read about synthesis. There were some TAB books and other such in the library. Diagrams about the harmonic series and its relation to pulse waves, saw waves, etc.
Likewise, schematics and block diagrams.
Also, in decades past, an electrical engineer/classically inclined musician & composer Stephen L. Martin and other more disembodied, online sources schooled me within my considerable limits and somewhat lightened my overall ignorance. I built fuzzboxes from schematics, a very few oscillators and such. Within other recipes, I tried some circuit bending projects, mostly not too hard, with scrap materials, contact wires and mixed results.
In the wake of the Great Recession and other sea changes, large scale and personal and in between, I greatly slowed down my acquisition of thrift store stuff etc., much of which could seen as late middle Radio Shackstuff that happened to be floating around when I was. Old toys, old radios etc. Old as in 10 or so years old. Nothing too old.
Yes, also some older things, but they were less familiar, less useful. In the FAST column, one needs familiar things with familiar ways and means (like actual potentiometers for volume control—yes, even thumb wheels). The vintage was fancy but less handy than the merely unloved and recently obsolete. That there are waves of this obsolescence, and waves of us somehow also obsolete in our experiences, can be well demonstrated in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode, ["Kimmy Meets A Drunk Lady!"] wherein Titus Andromedon must dig through layers of landfill to acquire a storage rack for cassettes (note here for Cassette Culture folks).
Back to my limited story, fast and cheap included various mostly feedback loop usages of late 1970s to 1990s consumer electronics and other such stuff that closely resembles the same.
It would take some actual thought and worse still sharp recall of hazy and hastily done things for me to share in detail, but in the heyday, I called the many ad hoc, offhand, multiform constellations of these gizmos “set ups”. Or more agriculturally, with a nod towards Rauschenberg, “combines”.
The much earlier and more high toned inspirations for these set ups were the feedback matrices of David Tudor by way of Nicolas Collins (which can also be brought forward by no input mixer noisecraft, but I’m not as familiar with nor riffing on that parallel development), the lab rat circuit cybernetics of Bebe and Louis Barron and the ready made/Merz aesthetics of Duchamp and Schwitters. Other folks figure in, but those are the main ones.
In short I went from the harmonic series to the overtone series. And even then this was more seeing how the set ups would play out.
Brian Eno and other pop production soniticians also weigh in here in approach and attitude. But it was much cheaper and more low rent than that. In short, general notions were nothing before whatever happened in a specific situation, set up.
To save time, or remind myself later to continue name dropping let me say also: Laurie Anderson, Charles Amirkhanian, Pauline Oliveros, William Burroughs, John Giorno, Terry Riley, John McGeoch.
But I was continuing a stray element that was even in my early pop tune/goofy monologue work, a tendency toward feedback. (One handy question: Why build oscillators when you can live in them? Yes, time to namecheck Alvin Lucier, tho’ I knew feedback and was hard yoked to additive room tone well before I heard of the considerably more focused AL.) I was recording poorly, quickly, cheaply in open air between cassette players. Sometimes with a cheesy cardoid mic that I would use to create feedback. This also with shorter more resonant settings on a MXR flanger pedal and with a Ross compressor pedal that I used on everything. So there would be ringing and swoops of feedback even way back when.
Later I got tired of writing lesser songs when the earlier ones had gotten things right enough. So there was less “music” and “songwriting” and more sound. Till the set ups and the sound they made were the tracks. Usually together as drones, sets of events, mixed with panning and level controls to make an overall recording.
This is the mostly recent thing. Done with tracks that were created by any means necessary/handy.
When there was space and quiet and isolation, there were feedback tracks etc created with physical world feedback loops in open air. Even then, other more electronic means were being taken on. Like circuit bent gear (Reed Ghazala of EC and beyond, Seaweed Factory website), feedback matrix (Nicolas Collins/David Tudor), pedals as oscillators (see above) and various odd bits of inductance (again with the Nicolas Collins). I had previous experience with this in my cassette-only analog days, but without pop songs/comic narratives (cue Anderson/Burroughs/Giorno, also Brother Dave Gardner/Richard Pryor/Rudy Ray Moore et al) at the center, the noise came forward.
Given all this prep time and such, one might argue, generously, that my noise is anything but fast. It took a lot of time and prompting from those before to arrive now. And so it is now. And noise.
There is more to say technically, but it may mean little or nothing to current practitioners who aren’t me. And very past tense even hereabouts. Technophilic nostalgia. Or consumer fetishism. Though hey, what fish swims out of water, what bird flies out of air?
Will leave the reader with one concrete example: the pause switch on old cassette recorders/remote off switch on old outboard cassette recorder microphones. This is the sort of old arcane detail that data mining soc. med. forums use to suss out one’s age and/or group affinity. “Do You Remember This?” (Or to quote a wise elder, George W. S. Trow, “Do you remember remembering the ‘50s?” Okay, now back to gizmos.)
Short of having a good hacking sense for varispeeding cassette (or open reel) tape decks, one can use the pause switch on a old portable cassette recorder in play mode as a remote power on/off switch. So if there’s a recorded tape to play with the play switch engaged, that tape will ramp up to full speed in play or down to full stop when using that switch to play/on or pause/off.
The most pop musical and audible use of that is in my Bengal Burlapera track, “Bobo”. A variety of stuff, including another recording of my voice and that of a flanged, squonking saxophone, is being ramped in and out of play in just that way. That playback was on what was even then a rather old RCA radio/cassette recorder my middle brother used to have. Not sure of the initial recording deck, but different playback decks have different ramp up/ramp down speeds and tapers and characteristics. (Handy, if cruel old dictum: What is different, sounds different. How different? Well, in a noisy mix . . . )
So if you hear a sax etc. smearing in and out of earshot on “Bobo”, that’s how that happened.
And. It can happen again, tho’ sure, there’s likely an app for that.
noise maker, aesthete at large, provisional poet,ex-songwriter
Began with cassette boombox, various other cassette recorders, Mattel drum machine, forgotten old instruments, cheap mic, cheap bass amp, sadly purloined phone bell, MXR flanger, Ross Compressor.
Migrated through noise and comic monologue into song and back to noise again. From the time of Bengal Burlap through Nobody Home (Charlottesville, Boston, circa 1985-1988) and The Loved Ones (Cambridge MA, circa 1993), sundry stretches of solo home recording of songs, to about now.
Sundry poems published, more recently in Little River 02 review and in the Domesticated Primate compilations, Rituals, June 2019 and Tidings, Dec. 2018.
ELECTRONIC COTTAGE is an international magazine where independent artists, musicians, writers and freethinkers share in-depth articles, essays, interviews, tech and gear reviews and tutorials, and much more. EC draws inspiration from the Cassette Culture Revolution of the 1980s, 90s and beyond; Mail Art, Small Press and Zines, Dada, Fluxus, Punk Rock, Hacking, Circuit Bending, Anarchy, and Noise. EC values inclusion, democracy, experimentation, independence and freedom of thought and expression, open-minded exchange, and Community.
The Electronic Cottage website is primarily an online magazine for the publication of lengthy and in-depth articles, essays, and interviews. For those of you who use Facebook I have created an Electronic Cottage Group, which is a casual social gathering place of the EC Community, where EC people can meet, share artwork and news of current projects and releases. The website and this EC Facebook Group are two separate but connected entities of the greater EC Community.