by Dave Skipper
If you’re already a noise aficionado then you don’t need to read this article, but you will doubtless identify with this summary:
Harsh noise fanatic’s version:
- Crank it up to 12.
- Your whole body is your ear.
- Don’t think.
- Revel in the pain.
- Gently bob your head in time to your own inner rhythm.
- Optional: Shake your fist in the air every now and then.
If you’re not a noise-head but you want to understand just a little bit from the inside why others of us are, then the following tips should help you in your quest:
- Use your ears. What I mean is, try not to filter your listening experience through your existing tastes, expectations, and experiences. As a new kind of listening experience, really concentrate on the sounds as your ear hears them.
- If possible, also use your whole body as a vibration receptacle. In other words, go to a live noise show if possible to experience the full weight and viscerality of extreme noise frequencies. This is a vital component for some practitioners/absorbers of noise music. Otherwise, try to imagine the noise coursing through your guts and bones.
- If using ear/headphones, the higher quality the better. To really appreciate noise it’s better to be able to discern the details across the fullest range of audio frequencies.
- Generally, crank it up for greater effect. There is actually a sub-genre called ‘quiet noise,’ but for the most part the power of noise requires a higher than usual volume. Don’t damage your hearing though – if your ears feel physical discomfort then turn it down (this obvious point is anathema for some noise artists, but I will not advise you to hurt yourself!)
- What are you doing while you listen? This may affect how beneficial the experience is for you. Lie down and close your eyes, or go out for a walk, or put it on in the background while cooking…
- Listen to the details.
- Listen to the dynamics.
- Listen out for contrasts.
- Listen to the textures.
- Listen to the layering.
- Listen to the bass frequencies, the mid frequencies, the high frequencies.
- Take note of the overall effect. Ask yourself questions: how does it make me feel? What do I like? Why? What do I dislike? Why?
- Follow the trajectory. Is the noise telling a story? Is it creating an atmosphere? Is it depicting a scene?
- Use your imagination. If this was a soundtrack to a film, where would it be set? What would be happening?
- Draw something. In response to considering the above questions, you may find it helpful to draw pictures or doodle patterns while you listen. (For an example of when I did this exercise with a group of non-noisers, check out the appendix at the bottom of my article Mutant Circuitry.)
- But. Don’t overthink it. Most noise is not meant to be taken too seriously. Despite the high quantity of thinking about noise that this whole blog exudes, I don’t actually spend much energy at all analysing the noise I listen to or the shows I go to.
- Try to appreciate something in what you listen to. You don’t have to like it, and you may not be able to escape hating it, but that’s ok.
- Don’t merely judge the ‘music’ based on your perception of quality – noise operates in a different sphere and under different rules (or lack of rules).
- Remove expectations. Noise is not normal music, or even music at all (depending on who you ask). Whether noise is just another style of music, or whether it is somewhere on the sonic continuum far along from music, or whether it is anti-music / non-music / post-music… don’t judge a cat for not being a dog. Treat noise on its own terms.
- Remember that music needn’t be primarily for enjoyment. Music can instruct, warn, excite, terrify… or maybe even entertain! There is value in being stretched and challenged. Don’t be afraid of discomfort, it’s a valuable life skill!
- Respect the artist. A real person put effort into creating this ‘music’ (or maybe they deliberately put next to no effort in!), and it expresses a real human outlook and endeavour, however far removed it may be from your own position.
- Don’t assume to understand the artist’s intentions. For my summary of the many possible reasons that noise artists enjoy/make/engage in noisemaking, read my article Desire for Noise.
- Bear in mind that no track/artist is representative of all noise music. Noise / noise music is a staggeringly diverse umbrella term. Listening to one slab of noise doesn’t put you remotely in a position to assess all that noise has to offer.
So, you’re ready. Now, where to start? What to listen to? To check out some of my own noise, check out my series Listen Here! For an introduction to some amazing and very different noise albums, please wait for my forthcoming article A Noise Music Primer.