A personal note.
by Dave Skipper
I remember a nightmare I had as a child.
In my dream I walked into my parents’ bedroom. I saw my Mum sitting on the side of the bed as I came in, which means she was on Dad’s side of the bed. She didn’t turn to me or acknowledge me as I entered. She was staring into the distance, through the wall. Her head was slightly to one side, a small detail but it immediately shifted my feelings in a very bad way. It was as if she was neither alive nor dead. Naturally it was exceedingly disturbing, creepy, and like something out of a genuinely frightening horror film (of which I hadn’t watched any).
I tried shouting to Mum to get her to look at me, or at least to move, but to my dismay no sound came out of my mouth at all and I couldn’t attract her attention. In desperation I tried to scream, but to no avail. To make matters worse, I knew that I was dreaming, so my attempts to rouse Mum quickly turned into a wish to simply get her to help wake me up. But as that was clearly proving futile my screams then became an effort to wake myself up. I had to get free from the terror! But I was trapped. I simply couldn’t make any sound, yet I knew that was my only option.
I can’t remember how the nightmare ended, but I guess I managed to wake myself up eventually. You know how nightmares are – it’s the subtle details that aren’t quite right coupled with danger or being trapped that elevate the fear disproportionately.
(I should point out that this truly was no more than ‘just a bad dream’ as it bears zero resemblance to my relationship with my Mum or to any childhood experience. And the dream didn’t cause me any concern or bother afterwards, I just happen to have always been able to remember it very vividly. Some dreams (usually the bad kind) do just stick in the memory don’t they?)
The noise within
“I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.”
(↑ from the Bible – Psalm 38:13-14)
At times there is a terrible conflict in the depths of my mind and my heart. It provokes hideous torrents of silent screams within me. I feel like an explosion waiting to happen. It’s a frightful noise that takes an ominously soundless form, rippling and thrashing and bursting my soul. The intensity is overwhelming, yet at the same time somehow I find myself needing it and clinging to it.
Do you feel the noise within yourself too? Anguish is the property of all who are tortured by the darkness. Whatever form it takes, regardless of how deep it goes, it is a common human condition that we are often reluctant to admit to.
Whence comes this noise within? Is it the noise of my own soul, distorted and blackened by sin? Is it the noise of the devil, tempting and lying and tearing me down? Is it the noise of the world, distracting, foreboding, clouding my mind? Is it the noise of circumstance, bringing stress, depression, dread? Is it the noise of God, revealing, condemning, looking away?
“Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.”
(↑ from the Bible – Psalm 38:3-4)
How to deal with this noise within? Wallow in the noise, like a junkie trapped in their addiction and needing the damnable next hit? Deny the noise and laugh at its fake power? Drown out the noise by some other noise, any other noise? Take the bull by the horns and make alternative noise, life-affirming noise? Combat the noise with the pursuit of silence? Or look away from the noise within and see it as it has truly become: swallowed by the holy God-Man, hanging there on a tree as he became the curse – my curse – in that blessed moment…
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”
(↑ from the Bible – Galatians 3:13a)
How to channel, recycle, redeem the noise? Be honest in reflecting the full gamut of inner statuses: conflict and frustration, confidence and peace, pain and fear, delight and wonder. Make new noise in celebration of creative newness and the gift of life. Meditate on the goodness and power of God’s noise manifest throughout the created order: fire and wind and water and earth and creature. In a word, shift from what I call negative noise to positive noise.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
(↑ from the Bible – Romans 12:1a)
If noise is unwanted sound, then among the contenders for the greatest noise in humanity’s ears are such words as these from the Bible:
“…whoever rejects the Son [of God, Jesus Christ] will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
(↑ from the Bible – John 3:36b)
The noise of God’s wrath: undesired, unasked for, unpleasant, offensive. This is noise that we want to shun, ignore, deny, and run away from. The wrath of a holy and just God against the rebellion and sin of all human hearts. The noise of God’s wrath: deserved, fair, measured, absolute.
As for me – boy have I ever amassed a debt of guilt – you would be shocked at the things I have thought and said and done. And an endless list of things that may not shock at all but that each warrant the wrath of God, each and every one of them. I am a serial breaker of God’s perfect law.
“I will punish you as your deeds deserve,
declares the Lord.
I will kindle a fire in your forests
that will consume everything around you.”
(↑ from the Bible – Jeremiah 21:14)
The Gospel according to noise
But I missed off the first half of the Bible verse above. Here it is, and it’s good news!
“Whoever believes in the Son [of God, Jesus Christ] has eternal life…”
(↑ from the Bible – John 3:36a)
Am I noise to God – filthy, despicable, unwanted? I sure should be, for I can see the natural evil and darkness and selfishness lurking in the corners of my being. But in his astounding mercy he turns me around. He turns me around so far that not only can I rest in the knowledge that has done and will do everything necessary to silence the hateful noise within, but that far beyond that I may even become a sweet, sweet sound in his ears… this is the good news of the Gospel, for Gospel means good news!
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”
(↑ from the Bible – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
(↑ from the Bible – Romans 5:8-9)
“You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger…
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.”
(↑ from the Bible – Psalm 85:3,9-13)
Jesus is Lord. He is the source of all positive noise. And all negative noise has a destiny of destruction in him, either taken away already in his body on the cross or awaiting the final judgment of all things when he comes again at the end of history.
More and more and more
[This is a short poem I wrote in May 2017]
Intentions shot down
Curse this self-blindness
The intense thrashing pain
The horrific punishment due
The full wrath of hell
Borne in full kindness
Cleansed through and through
New flesh still raw
Air purer than pure
Heavy is the atmosphere
Stain’s outline imbued with reverence
‘Til joy surfaces in tears
It will be more and more and more
(If you enjoyed this poem, you can read more of my poems here.)
Noise is not just an analogy of my own spiritual journey. My purpose in writing on this blog is to think through thoroughly how my Christian beliefs affect (or should affect) my understanding and perception of noise (primarily sonic noise, but in principle any form of noise however the term is used), as well as my motivation and approach to creating noise music. Along the way there are many angles and tangents to explore. Some of these avenues are more theoretical or speculative than others. Not a few topics have a remit far broader than mere noise music, as I grapple with what noise is and what noise means.
Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith. As his light overcomes the darkness, so in the same way joyful and constructive noise replaces despairing and destructive noise. This is my motivation, my desire, my purpose, my goal: to see more and more the glory and wonder of Jesus Christ in all things, and as one small part of that I endeavour to open up the potential of noise to play its role in displaying his glory.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.”
(↑ from the Bible – Jude 1:24-25)
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.