Pure and simple.
by Dave Skipper
You just love the sounds, the energy, the experience that noise provides. As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste – and your taste just happens to include noise!
Black days, blacker nights, blackened soul interring.
Grey skies, grey zones, grey matter blurring.
White noise, right noise, delightful noises purring.
The darkness has lifted and given way to mirth!
Audio treasure, listen at leisure, pleasure truly stirring.
Synesthesia, anaesthesia, sonic seizures occuring.
Noise past measure, audio Escher, senses all still learning.
The ecstasy of noise: an encounter of great worth!
Bring the noise! Sing the noise! Wring the noise – banzai!
Fling those sounds! Ping those sounds! Wing those sounds – up high!
Sting the sadness, cling to gladness, thing of madness – byebye!
Receive the gift of noise as your fresh joy comes to birth!
Contact mic in hand, assorted electronics and effectors laid out on the table, guitar amps turned up high. We’re ready to go! Squeals of feedback slice and jolt as the contact mic finds itself clasped and unclasped, swayed, raised, or frozen at strategic points in space in front of the Jazz Chorus, that ubiquitous amp of every Tokyo live house and rehearsal studio.
Slowly, slowly more sounds interject. Muddy rumblings, still punctuated and coated by those crystalline feedback screeches, excite the crowd – the accentuation of primal bass frequencies a staple in any noisician’s toolbox.
More sounds emerge. Stabs of harsh noise, bubbly synth squelches, a whole plethora of noises signalling the opening of the gates to a menagerie from some fourth-dimensional alien planet.
As the momentum gradually ramps up and the layers of sound open up and condense, heads start to bob and bodies start to sway to some hidden pulse detectable only to a sixth sense. The noisician duo, one tall, the other short, mirror the listeners in their movements. It’s not a dance, but it’s the closest thing to a dance that walls of noise can summon.
Still the momentum rises. You think they will reach peak density, maximum volume, a zenith of excitement, but there is always further to go. Level up! Some fists pump the air, the occasional knowing glances between onlookers betraying grins and bright eyes. No, not onlookers. Participants. Partakers of this joyful ritual of noise.
Finally, after a half-hour that feels like just a few minutes, it all comes to a stop. The timing is perfect. No sound outstayed its welcome, yet everyone is left fully satisfied with a complete performance. Masterful. Wonderful. Invigorating. Quite simply joyous – everyone agrees and there is no denying it.
What I have just described is the ever-uplifting, never-disappointing live experience of the Incapacitants, undisputed legends of noise. The genesis of the name lies in the original intention that render audiences incapacitated, overwhelmed by the noise as if by a benign weapon. Arguably they actually accomplish the opposite by tapping into a different side of noise that actually animates rather than incapacitates.
With a career spanning more than three-and-a-half decades, no other artist in all noisedom so consistently brings a smile to the face of all who encounter them.
How can noise bring such joy? Why can it be so fun? What is the secret to finding unbounded pleasure in such raucous chaos?!?
Many of the desires for noise that I am considering in this article series could be simply summed up under this one: enjoyment. Most of the time no further analysis or philosophising is necessary. We who love noise just love it! The energy, the freedom, the pure sensation. The surprises, the personalities, the sounds. Above all else, the sounds.
This is the beauty and simplicity of enjoying anything good in life: art, food, music, friends, sport, hobbies… everyone has their own preferences and propensities.
I would say there is nothing inherent in noise that makes it especially pleasurable over and above any other forms of music. It’s obviously a very subjective thing. For me personally, I love the non-violent aggression of noise. The crunchy textures just make me happy and alive! The adrenaline is definitely one part of it. I sometimes say that noise music is my extreme sport, as I have no interest or desire whatsoever to engage in skydiving, snowboarding, or the like.
We can surely say that one man’s (or woman’s or child’s or animal’s or alien’s) noise is another’s music, and vice versa.
Aside from listening pleasures, there is a whole other of dimension of satisfaction to be found in the actual process of making noise. For me this involves the creation and sudden emergence of sounds out of my setup at the flick of a switch or the twist of a knob: those strange sounds, aggressive sounds, insane sounds that I didn’t anticipate. Noise-making is a bottomless well of discovery that is just, well, fun!
Other noise artists have fun in other ways – for example being silly and over the top in sounds and performance just because they can, or as a form of tongue-in-cheek satire that deliberately contrasts serious art or commercialism in art, or to let off steam in an environment where no-one judges with preconceptions, rules, or expectations.
What could ever be wrong with having fun, so long as no-one gets hurt? King Solomon, the king of ancient Israel famed for his unsurpassed wisdom and riches, indulged in fantastic hedonistic excesses. As he pondered the apparent meaninglessness of life, Solomon justified his lifestyle as making no difference in the end:
“There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.”
(from the Bible – Ecclesiastes 8:14-15)
Jesus echoes these thoughts centuries later in a short story he told, but his story comes with a twist at the end:
“And Jesus told them this parable:
‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’”
(from the Bible – Luke 12:16-21)
Eat drink and be merry – the quintessential hedonist’s motto. But Jesus concluded that the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself is a dead end. He made explicit the declaration that God makes over a life lived primarily for selfish ends.
The danger in the pursuit of pleasure is that it can be a mask over more serious matters of life and death. It can be a position of denial, and a prioritising of the now over the future. Denial of pain, denial of reality, denial of responsibility. Enjoyment that is not in balance with the sacrifice that comes from pursuing love, service and responsibility – this bloated form of enjoyment in the end brings no joy at all.
Does this mean that God is against pleasure, as he is so often caricatured? Emphatically the reverse! Read on…
God doesn’t just allow pleasure in good things, he commands it! Even alcohol! Check out this law that God gave the ancient Israelites:
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
(from the Bible – Deuteronomy 14:22-29)
Anything you wish! Rejoice! Far from being a killjoy, God provides the very possibility of and grounds for joy in the first place. He blesses us with a bountiful creation that is bursting with colour and flavour and life and goodness. Here is one my favourite Bible verses on this theme:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
(from the Bible – James 1:17)
For me this is foundational to my enjoyment of noise: acknowledging that it is a good gift from God that he wants us to enjoy. But the pleasure is not the point, not the whole point, not the end point.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”
(from the Bible – Romans 4:17-18)
True joy, lasting joy, meaningful joy comes from the Holy Spirit of God. It comes from knowing the presence of God living in me. It comes from trusting in the righteousness of Christ, which means that his perfect life and death in my place wipes the slate clean of all my sin and weakness and selfishness. It comes from desiring to serve Christ above myself. It comes along with deep peace, safe in the knowledge that I am reconciled to God, coupled with a firm hope of eternal life after death.
In other words, the joy of knowing God enables me to enjoy eating, drinking, and being merry (and listening to and making noise music), without these gifts becoming all-consuming or empty.
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
(from the Bible – Psalm 16:11)
Eternal pleasures – that is God’s heart for what he wants us to experience. Any pleasures we find in this life are mere tasters, glimpses of the ecstasies that await anyone who is found in him. Why does God do this? Because it brings him pleasure and delight – and that is the most wonderful thing of all!
Noise music can and should be an expression of joy. Not always, and not only expressing joy (for the whole gamut of human emotion and experience needs place to be expressed), but at least sometimes. I am thankful for the Incapacitants for showing the way in how to make a joyful noise!
If there is any part of the Bible that unites Christian noise artists everywhere (all six of us, ahem!), it is probably this well-known phrase from Psalm 98: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” An affirmation of noise! A call to action! A purpose to noise-making! On the surface of it yes, but a word of caution. Just because the word ‘noise’ appears in some English translations of the Bible does not mean that the original languages convey the same meaning as our word for ‘noise’, let alone correlate to modern notions of ‘noise music’.
Over the coming years I will be investigating in detail the meanings and contexts of the original Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible related to sound and noise. In the meantime, however, for the purposes of this blog I am always quoting from the New International Version (NIV) for consistency. I am aware that relying on any single translation gives a colouration to the text that may overlook some nuances of the original languages. Indeed, the phrase translated in some versions as “make a joyful noise” is rendered in the NIV as, “Shout for joy.” Not quite the same, though shouting is often a noisy matter to be sure!
Nevertheless, I finish this article with the complete Psalm 98, which I think expresses beautifully the motivation of joy in making vigorous music to God. Although songs in community (made with voices and various instruments of the time) is clearly the original idea in view, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to extend the application to any form of artistic activity, so for me this encompasses noise music too.
“Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvellous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn –
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
“Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.”
(from the Bible – Psalm 98)
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!