Good Friday noise.
by Dave Skipper
In most of my articles in this blog I focus on the one hand on the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings and context and meaning of noise, and on the other hand I attempt to describe in words the experience of listening to and making noise music.
Conspicuous by their absence in the bulk of the articles on this blog are sound clips and audio samples of noise and noise music. A strange decision, perhaps, given the subject matter?
The article series Noise Figures will consider the writings and perspectives of different noise artists and so that will accordingly incorporate some listings and/or links to samplings of their recorded output. And then the series Noise Interviews will do likewise in the context of interviews I will be conducting with noise artists.
In this series (Listen Here!) I share other specific pieces of music (usually my own) that will help give some audio bearings to the world of noise music that I inhabit. As the day of publishing this article is the Christian celebration of Good Friday (the day Jesus died), that is the theme for this article’s composition.
A unique project
In early 2014, I was invited to contribute to a music album project, maybe the first of its kind: a religious-themed album that brought together artists united by both our Christian faith and our passion for noise and experimental sound art. Four artists spanning ambient, drone, experimental, and harsh noise. It was a thrill for me to participate, and I look forward to similar future projects.
This was the remit we were given by the project mastermind, British ambient/drone artist Chris Marsh:
“As it’s Easter, I thought it would be interesting to work around the concept of The Torn Veil; that moment in time and space when Christ died and the temple curtain tore from top to bottom. I’ve always found it so visceral, fascinating, and above all a brilliant testimony to a God who cannot and will not be contained in any way, including religion.”
The album title is thus That Moment, The Curtain.
The vast majority of the music I make has no specific theme or content or representation in mind. I work almost completely in the realm of the abstract in that regard, although I do have some general themes or motivations that undergird my music-making. [Note: see my article on Symbolism and Noise for a more detailed explanation of my views on noise as abstraction]
So this project was an unusual and exciting challenge for me. I will describe my thoughts and process for creating my piece below, before linking to the track so that you can listen to it understanding what it means. But first a few comments on the topic of Jesus’ brutal death.
What is good about Good Friday?
Why is the violent and bloody crucifixion of Jesus Christ right at the heart of Christianity? Why do we celebrate (and yes even rejoice!) in the agony that he suffered as he hung on that cross?
The prophet Isaiah spoke these words about Jesus over 700 years before Jesus came to earth:
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
(from the Bible – Isaiah 53:4-5)
Here is one of the descriptions of the moment of Christ’s death in Mark’s account of the gospel [‘gospel’ means ‘good news’]:
“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)… With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’”
(from the Bible – Mark 15:33-34, 37-39)
The apostle Paul in one place summarises what Christ’s death means in these words:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(from the Bible – 2 Corinthians 5:21)
The cross wasn’t just physically painful for Jesus, as it was for any criminal subjected to crucifixion. The crux of the matter is that he received the full force of God’s holy and righteous wrath against all wickedness and sin. He experienced literal hell (separation from God) in our place, so that his own ethical perfection and unblemished righteousness can be credited to our own account before God.
As shocking and offensive as the cross is, it is the perfect and astonishing meeting of God’s love, mercy, and grace with his holiness, purity, and justice.
These words may raise more questions for you than they answer, but this is where my faith resides.
Maximum Metaphysical Discontinuity
So the question I faced in putting that moment of the temple curtain tearing to music was how can I possibly capture even a glimpse of the feeling and weight and severity of what Jesus underwent on the cross?
I spent a few weeks pondering how I would convey and structure the piece. I then rehearsed and recorded my noise-making modular synth gear for the raw material I would use. Then I chopped and layered and edited the best parts to create the finished composition.
I ended up exploring three parts, named in the track as:
These parts represent:
i) the minutes before Jesus died: the crushing and destructive brutality of harsh noise increasing in intensity over his continuing then stuttering then diminishing pulse/heartbeat/breath;
ii) that moment of separation from his Father: the soul-crushing despair and empty isolation of utter silence;
iii) the conquest over sin achieved in his death: the paradoxical triumph and mind-blowing liberation of it all demonstrated in the momentum and weight of noise in serious battle mode juxtaposed with the joy found in the freedom of expression that noise provides.
On this latter point, the following verses from the Bible are striking:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
(from the Bible – Colossians 2:13-15)
What is the meaning of the title? That God himself in his 3 persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) could be severed within his eternal glory and perfection and power – that is the maximum possible discontinuity in all of eternity (past to future), period. Nothing can come close to the severity and apparent impossibility of that moment when God the Father turned his face away from his eternal Son, Jesus Christ.
Finally, here are my album liner notes for the track which summarise how I was thinking about the track as a whole:
The Eternal Godhead,
Three-in-One and One-in-Three.
This Momentary Torment
Yields Eternal Peace.
Noise and its close relative silence are uniquely placed sonically as enactments of the extreme, and nothing in the whole of eternity is as extreme as the total separation within God himself in that moment on the cross. If this had not truly happened then it would be blasphemous to even conceive it.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, cried out the eternal Son of God. As extreme as this is in all its mystery, horror and wonder, so extreme is his love for me that compelled him to embrace such suffering. Now it is finished, the once-for-all effective sacrifice for my sin is complete.
To ponder and express Jesus’ death via noise and silence is merely one way of attempting to grasp at these incomprehensible, transcendent truths.
In his death is the death of death, the precursor to unending, abundant resurrection life, shared with him.
[note: the article series Noise. Life. Death. will go further into contemplating how the very nature and characteristics of noise reflect, reveal, and shed light on these deep matters of eternity, death, power, resurrection, and more.]
I hope you can find 37 minutes of your time to put on some headphones, sit back, close your eyes, and absorb this album in full without distraction. I believe it’s well worth the trouble (well I would say that wouldn’t I!), and I urge you not to listen through your smartphone or laptop without headphones – don’t miss out on the details and frequencies!
Here is the whole album:
If you don’t have time for the whole thing, then please listen to my track, Maximum Metaphysical Discontinuity (clocking in at 10 minutes 35 seconds), again essential with headphones. Don’t stop at the silence in the middle – that is a crucial part of the composition, as intimated above.
The old saying goes that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and it’s not lost on me that there is maybe a dash of irony in me writing so many words on this blog about noise, i.e. noise that is meant to be listened to. Hopefully this series will go part way to being an antidote to that. Hopefully my track Maximum Metaphysical Discontinuity was loud enough in your ears to amplify the meaning of the words that inspired me to create it!
If you still have a few minutes left to spare, you might enjoy this track I made for an church event one Easter a few years back. It’s from before my noise days hence it won’t get a whole article of its own! It even has my wife’s violin playing on it. But it’s thematically related to this article as it was a sonic exploration of the leadup to Christ’s death as he was whipped and spat on before his crucifixion. The piece is called Scourging at the Pillar… Flesh Cries Out:
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!