Mind Flare Media MFM008, 2012, CD & DD album, 1hr 15m 23s
$10 (CD) $6 (DD)
Noise, and the way it is employed in music, invites a whole array of speculations on the coherence and incoherence of communicative acts, and of the relationship between the meaningful and the meaningless, the carrier signal and the message, the form and the content. The word ‘noise’ is frequently used to label irrelevance, the continual influx of sensory stimulation of no direct value to the receiver, or scientific data of no importance to the experimental result, for example. In music, it is impossible to make a clear distinction between the medium and the message, and we must assume that everything we hear in a recording or performance is an aspect of its meaning: what it sounds like is what it means.
The history of musical technology has been a story of the pursuit of purity, a holy grail we finally achieved (arguably) with synthesizers, and discovered to be extremely tedious. Those acoustic waypoints at which we most closely approached the sine wave are another story however: the violin sounds so good because its pure, keening tone is embellished with the rasp and scrape of the bow, like a human being singing from a body of hair, gut and wood; similarly, the piano’s purity, clarity and even decay is initiated with a violent thud, and accompanied by the hollow ambience of the wooden box in which the string vibrates. It’s the noise that makes the sound into music; even writing harmony parts for pure sine wave tones exploits the noise that comes from the interference between the notes, and melody exploits the implication of that noise. If the pure note is similarity, then noise is difference.
At the other extreme, obviously, pure noise is as empty and as meaningless as a sine. That’s where Kylie Minoise starts this album: ‘Xxxeroxxx Ov Sicksicksick Shoxxx!’ does have some identifiable rhythmic markers, and there are layers to the noise, but essentially, it’s so distorted as to be formless. The manipulation of a-formal sound is an established methodology in modern music, but that’s not what this is about: the listener emerges suddenly out of that soup of timbral granularity into ‘Psychodelic Stunt Academy!’, a beat that is constructed from multiple distorted elements, but which has been contextualised so effectively that its textures sound as safe as an 808. From that beginning, we are led back towards a more pervasive distortion, and away again, and back again, multiple times. That’s why it’s important to listen to this album as an album; it follows a trajectory, like a psychoacoustic Vomit Comet, that enables (or even trains) its listeners to hear noise as musical texture, not as extraneous or erroneous.
The tracks on Die Yuppie Scum! Love Quest Ov Sick Shock Disco Destroyer! do not conform to the tight idiomatic constraints of powernoise, but there is a high proportion of dance- or stomp-worthy rhythm; this is music that obviously springs from a coherent intellectual position, but it is very much addressed to the listening body. That it is addressed to it in terms which the average listener will find transgressive, and that still hits the ears of the confirmed noise fan in a radically different way from more timbrally conventional music, is a token of that bodily address. The beats (which are often pretty funky) invite movement, the cyclical self-hypnosis of the dancefloor, and the textures invite submission, a cessation of the compulsion to interpret, and an abandonment of the self to the psychoactive currents of the music’s physiological impact.
The ‘ov’ in the title, and song titles such as ‘Great Celestial Truth Equals Perfect State Of Non Self Bliss!’ are an unequivocal indication that Kylie Minoise subscribes to Genesis P. Orridge’s theories of transcendence through the disruption of linguistic-conceptual concensus. The album art is full of noise as well, from its garish colours to its pixellation and its refusal of conventional notions of ‘correct’ graphic design, and the song titles, all of which end in an exclamation mark, reference the shock and outrage of the tabloid headline, which is a classic example of noise in the sense of irrelevant linguistic input. This album is a well crafted tool, a tin-opener designed to pry open our mental defenses and force sound into our bodies. It might seem perverse to compare this to the placidity of ambient music, but it invites immersion and abandon in the same way; and although its surface textures might seem to offer a rather more angry and aggressive experience, that’s just a culturally conditioned response to noise. Embrace this, and (something I obviously had to finish the review before I could do) let it switch off your bullshit circuits.