Better Than: Inviting strangers to your apartment, cranking the heat, and then cuing up a vintage Merzbow set on YouTube.
Noise music is a huge, ever-expanding tent that — unlike the GOP, who merely pay lip service to the tent metaphor — truly contains multiple perspectives. A number of these perspectives were in vociferous evidence for the 2014 Ende Tymes Festival of Noise and Experimental Liberation, staged in Brooklyn from Thursday, May 8th through Sunday, May 11th at the Silent Barn and Outpost Artists Resources. The scene included everything a noise fan could ask for: thrilling floor sets, impromptu mosh pits, fully stocked merch tables, affordable libations, non-scary bathrooms. Oh, and there was also the music itself, Bataranging from pulse-pounding power electronics to sampled-live loop soups to caustic dance rhythms to white dwarf drones to near-punk abandon served up in 10-, 20-, or 30-minute busts of inspiration that sent breathless revelers retreating to the bar or outside smokers’ area — until the next act struck up a blare.
We were only able to attend the first three nights of the festival, and what follows cherry-picks only the highlights. Honorable mentions are due to Worth’s avalanche of sawed-off violence, Shredded Nerve’s Richter-scale poltergeist, Work/Death’s majestic Phantom of the Opera atonality, Grasshopper’s bulldozing drones, Being’s five to seven minutes of total and utter death, Andrew Coltrane’s harsh wall jack-hammering, Sickness/Bastard Noise’s cosmically overwhelming tribute to the late Kelly Churko, Dromez‘s viciously orchestrated noise tangles, Developer’s extreme prejudice Etch-A-Sketch, and the Clang Quartet’s symbolism-heavy testifying. Really, everyone killed it, in their own ways; there are no losers here.
Day 1 – Thursday, May 8
This NYC-based duo opened the festival with very heavy gloomy tones that swirled, accelerated, then thundered into galloping rhythms and collisions, only to pull back. Everything grew louder and more immersive, until the audience was left with something impossibly intense: tons of heavy low end growl and hard chirping at the high end, with vocal intimations cutting in and out, pumping bass, and beat chopping. By set’s end, the sound suggested someone attempting, with great vigor and limited success, to get the engine of the Great Space Coaster to turn over.
Philip White & Chris Pitsiokos
It’s very difficult to do justice, using words, to how enervating and annihilating this set was: the spectacle of saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos flailing around in the throes of exorcism, unleashing beast blasts of raw tone, while Philip White danced around a table that appeared to be full of detonators, grabbing and yanking and jerking as though the equipment were swarming with angry, poisonous snakes. Both men seemed to be dancing in time with the resulting havoc of music that was very physical and visceral: wood-splitting electronic farts, virulent sax smears. There was the sense that terrorists had rigged the Silent Barn with complicated explosives and that these two — and only these two — comprised Brooklyn’s sole defense from total and utter devastation. You had to be there.
NYC’s Megan Moncrief — aka Lazurite — was the first performer of the festival to go in for what was to become my favorite trend of the weekend: the use of props. Using a mic’d bow, a ukelin, and other objects she stirred and shape-shifted into an elephantine effects blizzard that suggested, at its apex, the vivid perversion of bagpipes.
After the preceding pyrotechnics, Phill Niblock’s set acted as a sort of pure-phase palette cleanser: a very long, very deep sunspot drone that shook the room and was the first set to draw the attention of passersby outside of the venue. The sound drifted over time from warm and sunny to ominous. In droll contrast to most other festival performers, his set was largely free of action, as he worked calmly and methodically from a silver MacBook. Niblock later remarked to me that he’d intended to perform a second piece, but encountered some technical difficulties.
Something of a fake out, this set. Guitarist Andy Borsz lit a chunk of incense and walked through the crowd, waving it, then went in for some Eastern cross harmonies for guitar that were very gentle and thoughtful. Then he and drummer Sara Cavic detonated a punk-rock neutron bomb of snarled, bludgeoning chords, annihilating the venue, setting into motion the first serious most pit of the weekend, and effectively owning the first evening of performances. Anyone who caught this set who wasn’t a believer before certainly is now.
Day 2 – Friday, May 9
Hudson, NY’s C. Lavender involved singing bowls of water, a mallet, and a small microphone she guided around the bowls in her set. Each bowl had a separate tuning, and, when struck, menacing reverberations sounded in a bell-like pattern. And while this pattern became the basis around which a circular, curling thunder swung, tolling and quaking, the introduction of an electric guitar would shift the trajectory and supplant what had been established previously. Lavender raked out chords that felt alien, swimming, and demonic, carving a separate realm into which the bell toll was re-introduced, connecting the narrative dots, sewing up the continuity. When the artist paused, late in the set, to drink some of the water in one bowl, an act of in-the-moment pragmatism somehow felt downright iconic, charged with meaning and transgression.
For some time now, friends and acquaintances alike have been singing the praises of Providence, Rhode Island’s Mincemeat or Tenspeed. I’d sampled a handful of tracks online and shrugged, but Friday’s set has forced me to re-evaluate my position. Davey Harms’ high-energy quizzical synth noise was infectious; he was easily the most dance-oriented act at that point in the weekend, very clearly invested motion-wise, with an array of lunges, whiplashes, and head bangs. Resolutely hard beats emanated from a variety of boxes, swinging animatedly through a ton of rhythmic and melodic shifts in a way that felt organic, like a zillion different tuned zippers being yanked hither and yon all at once. A wholly applicable phrase to describe the atmosphere surrounding this performance might be “turnt up.”
Albums are nifty, but sometimes, albums are totally irrelevant. I hadn’t heard much studio work from Maryland’s Jeff Carey before catching his live act, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had, because in concert, this guy is a breed apart. His Ende Tymes set wasn’t a just a noise performance; it was a commentary on and condemnation of information overload and the Interactive Industrial Complex. If Carey happens to set up his array of remote controls, seizure-inducing strobes, various boxes and switches, and massive/phallic arcade-style joystick anywhere near you, you more than owe it to yourself to put gas in your tank and buy a ticket.
When all of the above is locked in place, it seems like Carey is preparing to pilot a starship. The music instead suggests that he’s manning a heavy artillery weapon, as he jerks, flails, and convulses all around the stage, seemingly out of control; the effect is very concussive, like a virtual-reality video game in which the player might experience an orgasm, but might not actually survive to tell about it. The flashing, blinding lights react in time to the music; the rhythms become intriguingly inconsistent, strained, and staggered, switching back and forth from gunfire to tonal anarchy before turning curiously funky. Shock and awe.
Mesa Ritual, the New Mexico-based duo of Raven Chacon and William Fowler Collins, unleashed a sound like a blast furnace with a train whistle at the core that reverberated mightily; if you were present during this set, you received a free foot massage. Think of a a rumbling, crumbling, world-ending whorl – that was what happened, but it happened within a vortex that spun faster and faster and faster. Think of the most unrelenting roller coaster you’ve ever been on, and imagine it just accelerating beyond the limits of imagination. The pair eventually began to nuance and finesse the maelstrom, coming on like a flux capacitor on the brink of erupting, bouncing boisterous beats that got bigger and ever more steamrolling.
Day 3 – Saturday, May 10
New Hampshire’s Patrick Cole kicked off the third night by whipping up a whorl of galloping distortion. Recorder sounds were then fed into a whirling loop, with the recorder tones getting heavier and more prominent until they were a key part of the sound. The low end gradually came to suggest a string of detonations, with the high end feeling cubed, at which point garbled utterances were delivered into a microphone, and those utterances became part of the overall nightmare. At its gnarliest, this set was a cross between being very close to a fireworks display, the slash of helicopter blades, and television popcorn static. Near the end, when the low end aspect was at its most intense, scraping and heaving electronic bass beats swept in and the whole became more rhythmic and engaging, as if three or four distinct cataclysms were battling for supremacy.
Somehow, the twisting of dials on electronics boxes produced a sounds that was fractal and liquid while implying the collision of colorful blocks in a video game, marbles, or ice cubes: Ping-Pong, pinball, a lottery machine. Then once the audience grew accustomed to what was happening, White dealt in outliers – swathes of silence, streaks of static, throw up industrial clatter – going to work on a slightly different sound palette with the sonic equivalent of an X-Acto knife. By set’s end, he’d somehow locked into a disjointed groove. A key sonic prop in this set: a sheet of aluminum foil. In a festival full of welcome new discoveries, this numbered among my favorite finds.
Miami-based Sharlyn Evertsz made good with a mix of hard industrial techno and IDM that knocked hard. Head-ringing beats and acid tech squelches set a baseline that a noise bomb flattened, giving way to a new beat clambering up and out of the ruins that’s was more catchy and melodically pure than what came before; you could imagine some permutation of it blaring through the loudspeakers at a football game. Just when that strain had gained a foothold, Evertsz ground back down into total noise domination: waves and waves of scree beat bloody by stomping, digital drums, a huge, smothering, almost hallucinogenic sound. As the set wound down, the drums started to cluster and pop as if they were being hermetically sealed, with serrated slices of noise acting as accents.
Live and on various recordings – solo and otherwise -Cleveland/NYC duo Telecult Powers are given to cryptically calibrated declarations, and Saturday’s set was no different. The opening segue observed that “I notice that John Paul II is now a saint, but Sun Ra isn’t,” while the closing seque promised, come summer, a tour and a new album. In between Witchbeam and Mr. Matthews plied their sinister, spiritual trade mostly in earnest: distributing quantized, tingly bolts of modified synthesizer that thrum and tingle and quake the bones. On record, this is already a psychedelic experience. In concert, everything is taken to the next level: every time the duo switches frequencies you can sense it; every time the drone clips, you feel it in your groin; every cascade of white-hot high tone shoots down your spine and tickles your shoulder. There’s a very distinct shove to what Telecult does that’s immediately recognizable and irresistibly potent. At some point they interpolate 60 seconds or so of Duran Duran’s “Rio”; a fortunate few disciples close to the stage were anointed, Ash Wednesday style, by Witchbeam. Mostly, I just wanted more, more, more, longer. Side Note: Josh Millrod of Grasshopper spent the entire set under the band’s gear table.
With lit red voltive candles and roses surrounding her gear, and a black bandanna hanging from her neck, New Mexico’s Tahnee Udero massaged a shape-shifting cascade of blare that scrambled like eggs. Hers was a maelstrom with a furious core of electrical shorts at the center, yet over time the sound became gnarlier and dirtier, with the daisy chain of snarling, haunting effects trawling through the piece nudging the volume beyond 11. Pre-Mother’s Day bonus: her setup was laid out on the same rainbow shawl blanket my mom gave me when she came back from a trip to Mexico.
Smart phone use is a compulsion regardless of where a user happens to be or what’s happening; noise festivals, as it turns out, are no exception. For most of Ende Tymes, I felt some degree of guilt about being One Of Those People, but I rationalized that praying to the Glowing Handheld Idol was a necessary evil because I had to be able to take notes and snap pictures for the live festival review you just skimmed through. But, really, none of us should have had phones anywhere near our hands for Hiroshi Hasegawa’s set; we should all be deeply ashamed of ourselves.
As a solo musician and a member of C.C.C.C., Astro, and other projects, Hasegawa has been steeped in noise music for longer for most of those in his audience Saturday have been alive – and the set he shared might best be described as a macro, a harsh Berlin Wall of power electronics that shook me to my core. Immense, take-no-prisoners, balls-out, tunneling to the center of the Earth through steel and gold and everything else that inspired a small pit. A set that changes you fundamentally.
This was an internal organ liquefying set, a set that could unbraid your hair, a set that could untie your shoe or garrote you with the laces. And it was long, and never let up, and grabbed you with eight hands and shook you. It sounded like the incessant scrambling of a very large dial. A set like this poses serious questions, for the person experiencing it, as to whether they are really and truly living life to the fullest extent possible – but is also considerate enough to provide some of the tools required to begin to answer some of those questions.