“That’s not music. That’s noise!”
I bet you’ve heard that timeless kvetch at least once in your life, in response to sounds you were grooving to. If not, you’ve lived too sheltered an existence.
But noise has been a legitimate part of music for quite some time. I’m not taking here about the inadvertent, unwanted noises that can mar performances, such as coughs, shuffling feet and falling music stands. Those are bad noises.
I mean the myriad effects, from tone clusters to distortion to feedback that, when well modulated, add depth and texture to the music, at least for some listeners. I guess it’s like cilantro — some love it, others can’t bear the slightest amount. But in its defense, noise has been part of the aural landscape since forever. Who doesn’t thrill to a good crack of thunder, or find peace in the undulating white noise of waves rolling onto the shore? Little wonder that these sounds, or their simulation, should have become colors on the musicians’ palette.
And some musicians have gone even further, using noise as a primary element of their music, thus creating a whole family of musical genres and sub-genres. Ambient, Industrial, Glitch, Japanoise — where to start making sense of it all?
That’s where today’s album comes in. It’s the product of a 42-year old Austrian guitarist and composer named Christian Fennesz, who usually goes by just his family name. A past collaborator with, among others, the noted Japanese multi-instrumentalist/composer Ryuchi Sakamoto and the late American indie-rocker Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous), Fennesz has also produced solo albums that explore the confluence of noise and pop, some leaning toward one stream, some the other.
His latest, “Bécs” (Hungarian for “Vienna”) is an excellent example of how noise, used creatively, can enhance the music’s visceral and emotional impact. Consisting of seven compositions layering multiple guitar- and computer-generated textures, “Bécs” evokes influences as disparate as the Beach Boys, Aphex Twin and Philip Glass while creating its own musical world, complete with atmosphere, geology and, perhaps, the first sparks of life. The noise comes in all sorts of colors of flavors, but even at its most imposing, never completely halts the melodic and harmonic flow of the music.
Check out the title selection on the album page — really loud, if possible. And if someone within earshot kvetches “that’s not music, it’s noise,” you’ll have a ready response. “You bet it is! Isn’t it great?”