Sunday, February 19, 2006

An article pitch I just sent to a music magazine, and also what I did yesterday:

In about a week and a half I'll be in Beijing to speak with and see
performances by FM3, inventors of the Buddha Machine and China pioneers in
minimal techno and ambient. I realize the Buddha Machine is pretty huge now -
this little looping transistor radio-like device originally used to
automate Buddhist temple chants but then converted for ambient sound art by
working with Cantonese factories - but there's lots and lots going on in China
now if that would be too dated by publication, and Beijing as always is
the big center. Last night in Hong Kong I saw and spoke with
Dickson Dee and Zbigniew Karkowski at the launch of a tour that goes
into China tomorrow (Monday). Karkowski said this is something like his 7th tour
of China and that the crowds he's getting are big, sometimes up to 400. He says
he's performed with at least a couple increadible musicians, including one kid
from the frozen industrial city of Harbin (north of Beijing) who was making
"increadible noise, and when I asked him, 'have you ever heard of Merzbow, White
Room, people like this?' he just shook his head. It was amazing, this was
amazing real noise music, and he was just reacting to his environment!" I
will probably be touring 8-9 cities in China with a band, checking out music
scenes in various cities, and I will also spend time in Beijing talking to
leading music critic and experimental artist Yan Jun, FM3, the people
at Sanshui Records (who release CHinese breakcore, ambient, etc.) - they're
actually something of a clique. If you haven't had anything on China lately,
this would be an excellent time.

Crowd-wise, going to a noise show is kind of like riding the subway - everybody just sits through it and at the end they just kind of wander off in a stupor. The only difference is that after a noise show your ears are ringing. The typical questions that follow, are: so, what did you think of that? It's fishing for something to say about it, because nobody has any fucking idea how to describe 70minutes of modulated sine waves, feedback, and static but the big fear for all hipsters is to sound uncool. Sure, you gotta walk into noise shows with an open mind, but I wish people would sometimes just say, 'dude, what the fuck was that all about? that sucked.' I should bring a banker.

Karkowski didn't suck tho. In the world of loud-ass jet engines and generated noise, somehow he manages to be good while others are okay. Dickson was doing something interesting with a turntable - some scrub record that just generated noise, which he modulated realtime with controllers, etc., i.e. nothing canned - and it was good for 10-15 minutes but went on too long. I wonder where the hell is the structure, and by that I mean in big terms. Too much noise is random brain paths. Even though it's totally abstract, you can tell the brain is going: I think I'll do this, oh, and let me do this scratchy tone, let me speed up here, let me do the slowdown lowdown. It's too all-over-the-place; too many tangents. What's wrong is forgetting about the listener, because good stream of consciousness (think Faulkner) still has an overarching plan and tells a story, i.e. it's edited. Vs. bad stream of consciousness, which is what you usually get. Technological innovation's not enough. I think Karkowski knows all this and gets it right, even though he's also 100% live, and at the start of the show he is bobbing his head, like he's rocking it, like there's a beat even though it's just steady blasting white noise - and after a bit, I was feeling it too. I don't know exactly what he's got going, but he has something. What's intersting and analyzable is that in his loud-as-shit music he interlaces different timbres. 100 decibels of medium-low register droning won't hurt your ears like static with high pitched spikes will, and he interweavs these things giving you an experience. He was also not too long, 10-15 minutes or so, and maybe with noise and sound art, that's wise. In the entire history of music, I don't think anyone has produced an hour-long composition that counts as good music without weeks or months of work. Noise is no different.

For info on this China tour, check Dickson's blog.


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