Alive, in control, invincible.
by Dave Skipper
Noise is very powerful. Through noise you can seemingly exert control over a captive audience. You can feel like the elements are at your fingertips. You feel as though you can do anything, and that nobody can stop you.
Noise shrapnel fills the room,
Splinters pierce the air:
No corner is left unscathed
In this dark underground lair.
Each listener is rooted to the spot
As noise carves through flesh’n’bone;
Transfixed in the moment, drinking it in,
Making the sounds their own.
Machines appear lifeless lying there,
But the noise tells a different tale:
Screeching, sputtering, shattering sounds
As their waveforms pummel and flail.
The noise-maker feels so alive, so alive;
Nothing can drag him down now!
As he shares his craft with the roomful of friends,
All feel invincible, but how?
Who truly wields these tools of power?
Who energises this space?
Hidden in the shadows of the humble soul
With confidence on his kind face…
I’m naturally rather shy and introverted. I often prefer to be by myself or to be hanging out with my family or a couple of friends. Moreover, I’ve always been quite self-conscious of myself. I feel uncomfortable in a room of strangers, and don’t like the attention of eyes looking at me. When I see someone I know in the distance, I don’t know where to look during the long approach, and I feel acutely aware of how I am walking! I think this partly stems from some experiences at school when I was about six or seven years old. I was teased because of my skinny legs and especially the bad eczema that I had behind my knees.
Scroll forward many years. When I started performing live music I was very nervous and still self-conscious. I worried a lot about how to make the performance perfect, knowing that it wouldn’t be. I worried a lot about what people would think. Would it be too loud or not loud enough? Would it be too static and boring, or too dynamic and disjointed?
One of the greatest personal benefits to me of being part of the noise scene in Tokyo has been the shift in my attitude to myself and to my live performances. After experiencing the power of noise music first-hand, and since growing in my own creative efforts at noise-making, I am now far more confident and relaxed when it comes to playing live. Indeed I love it so much and get a real buzz in pushing that noise through big PA systems! I am grateful for how noise music and noise culture has enabled me to develop as a musician and a person, and I love to experience that thrill of the power of noise at my fingertips!
The sheer dynamic force of noise when focussed and amplified in noise music is undeniable once you experience it fully (tinny laptop speakers do not suffice). The power of the music is very much a visceral encounter, impacting the whole person. This can be an empowering experience for both noise artist and listener alike. It is a feeling of inner confidence and outer vitality. It’s a wake-up call to living with gusto.
Creatively, the very nature of noise music in its boundless possibilities inspires the realisation that you can do anything sonically, limited only by the imagination. It directs the soul toward a posture of fearlessness. It releases you from the fear of what others think of you, so you can be your own person.
This empowerment might be shown and expressed through words and actions, or it might just be felt quietly inside. Either way the effect is tangible.
Noise is no respecter of persons: it doesn’t heed your background, your status, your influence, your possessions. In fact you might be powerless, even downtrodden, in other contexts. Noise music raises the ordinary to something special, and its power is accessible to anyone who wants to leap into it.
It’s easy to see the appeal of noise music as an empowering medium:
- The desire to feel able to do anything.
- The desire to rise above the opinions of other people.
- The desire to have an effect.
- The desire to have life surge up within you.
This is the desire for empowerment through noise.
Does all the above sound too good to be true? As with any desire, there are drawbacks and potential dangers.
‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’– but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
(from the Bible – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
Pursuing any desire out of selfish motivation leads to problems at some level, somewhere along the way:
- Feeling able to do anything can lead to arrogance and to looking down on other people. It can also be an exercise in denying reality!
- Not caring about what other people think can lead to being uncaring and insensitive. It can even result in doing harm, physically or emotionally.
- Wanting to impact other people can lead to a craving for adulation or a lust for power that seeks to dominate or manipulate.
[Side-note: an intriguing question to ask is where exactly the power and control is situated: is the noise in control of the noisician and listener? Or is the noisician in control of the noise? Does the power belong to the machines, the musician, the actual soundwaves, or a combination of all of these? Ponder these questions and it quickly gets into much deeper philosophical territory – beyond the scope of the current series. These questions and more will be considered more fully in the future series Noise. Life. Death.]
To balance out these dangers, how is the desire for empowerment best fulfilled? What is the ultimate source of power? How should that power be used? What is the true purpose of empowerment?
Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’
(from the Bible – Matthew 8:23-27)
The Bible teaches that the universe was created through and for Jesus. The sounds of storms are his creation. The noise of the winds and waves in tumult indicate potential danger to life and limb. In this incident Jesus calmly brings calm to the elements. No wonder his disciples were amazed! Here was no ordinary man; he has the power to create noise literally out of nothing, and then command it to cease at will! Jesus is the ultimate source of all power and of all noise. He has control like no-one else.
You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…
(from the Bible – Deuteronomy 8:17-18a)
The power to make noise comes from God. Don’t forget it!
But the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(from the Bible – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
This is one of the many paradoxes that the Bible describes. How do we experience the power of God? Through weakness that relies on him for our everything. This is the path to strength that endures. The power of Jesus Christ that created the wind and the waves can rest on the noise musician to create storms of sounds. This power that we can receive from him is not so that we can dominate or harm; it is a power that brings calm.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
(from the Bible – Galatians 3:28)
I said above that the power of noise does not discriminate, that it is is open to anyone. This is a reflection of the Biblical principle that God also makes no distinction based on background, status, wealth, or gender – everyone has the invitation and opportunity to come to him and receive his power. This is a powerful statement that every person has equal value.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
(from the Bible – 1 Peter 4:10-11)
Here at last we come to one of the greatest purposes for empowerment. Our strength comes from God so that we can serve each other. Noise is a gift, noise music is a gift, noise musicians are a gift. By sharing that gift, and enjoying the inbuilt power of noise, we can and should serve each other, enrich each other, love each other. And simply by recognising God as the source, our noise turns into praise, worshipping Jesus who has all glory and all power for all eternity. I want that kind of power, especially knowing the selfishness and apathy and darkness of my own heart.
The essence of being a Christian is for me to submit to Jesus Christ’s power in all things. It is to rely on his power for all things. It means not relying my own power, nor seeking other forms of external power, nor seeking or using any form of power for selfish or harmful ends.
For me the power of noise is a glimpse, a taster, of the power of God. Experiencing the power of noise energises me.
I want to desire the best kind of empowerment – not from within myself, not from the noise itself, but empowerment from above! That I can be positively empowered in the context of noise music – this is itself a gift from God. My desire is to be empowered in making noise for creativity, confidence, service, and purpose:
- Power to create (fulfilling the desire to feel able to do anything)
- Power to overcome fear (fulfilling the desire to rise above the opinions of other people)
- Power to serve (fulfilling the desire to have an effect)
- Power to live with purpose (fulfilling the desire to have life surge up within me)
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!