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We called it noise when we started in the 80's; industrial noise, to be precise. But even then, what was called industrial noise was becoming restricted, reduced, and reterritorialized*. All these guys that were beating on metal together, I suppose it makes sense that, sooner or later, they grasped rhythm as the way to communicate. Or normalize, I would say. After a while it sounded like a hippie drum circle with tubes and sheet metal instead of hippie drums.
Punk rock came about when what was called "rock -n- roll" at the time became bloated and irrelevant. The Ramones (most visibly) stripped it down to three chords and a cloud of dust. But by the mid 80's, when we first showed up, punk rock had evolved (devolved?) into hardcore, there were rules to be followed, there was a club to join, there was a cannon to master. Punk rock was becoming daddy, and even if daddy had tattoos, leathers, and a funny haircut, he still wasn't essentially different from polyester cocaine dancer daddy, or long hair groovy judgmental-in-a-different-way daddy, or Mad Men daddy. Bands who wanted to be more creative, to move outside the strictures of punk rock, by and large moved back toward mainstream rock (creating "alternative" or "college rock"), which by that time began to look like a bastion of freedom compared to punk rock. And then there were the freaks.
So, noise was our punk rock. It was our way of breaking things down, similar to the way the Ramones broke things down . . . except instead of three chords and a cloud of dust, we just had the cloud of dust - no chords. First called industrial noise, the "industrial" faded away when the inherent rhythmic stupidity started heading ever closer to disco, and when it became more about lifestyle (which always seemed to me like clubbing with an attitude) than about breaking down music. "Noise" stripped of other connotations was much more elemental, much more primal. Historically, noise could collect non-industrial types like Einsturzende Neubauten, the Butthole Surfers, and even experiments by more rockish avant-garde bands like Pere Ubu ("The Book is On the Table"). It could reach back to the no wave of Mars, DNA, Red Transistor, and Lydia Lunch; back to the sixties free improvisation groups like AMM, to the free jazz of Coltrane, Coleman, Ayler, et. al., and to the non-idiomatic free players like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker who bridged that gap. It could reach back to Stockhausen, Xennakis, and Cage; it could reach back even to strictly regimented late 19th/early 20th Century composers who produced complex music that broke the rules of the time.
The elemental, primal aspect of noise also means it is irreducible. Like "music", "noise" is a subset of sound. These two subsets are generally thought to oppose each other, with music being a pleasing arrangement of sound, and noise being an anarchic and (to varying degrees) annoying occurrence of sound. They are not, however, totally exclusive of each other: the differences between music and noise have a strong cultural bias, and what is normally considered noise is often included in the arrangements of sound that make up music. But while music will stretch and change (which is, by the way, the beauty of music), noise remains outside, remains irreducible.
This whole rant came about because, recently, I've posted my band several different places online, and I've been asked to classify the band each time. I consider my band, Black Kaspar, a noise band. Now, you will see "noise" as a qualifier quite often when it comes to current music; I often had the choice of "noise pop", "noise rock", the old standby "industrial noise", and so on. I, for one, reject noise as a qualifier, because it's nothing more than an attempt to reterretorialize noise, to bring it back into the fold as a musical spice rather than the main course of sound.
Now, it's not the mainstream that is trying to reclaim noise, not by a longshot. It's the outsiders that crave acceptance, that crave recognition on some level no matter how small, that crave to cleave back to the hierarchy. It seems that an artist always wants to claim to be special, and there is nothing special about noise; one makes noise accidentally as soon as your feet hit the floor when you get out of bed in the morning. The artist always seems to need to claim a space for himself that is his own, so for him, "noise" is just too pedestrian, too normal, too . . . unmusical.
And that is why I choose "noise" for my tag. I certainly hold my music up against most of what gets made these days, but I don't claim any special expertise, I don't lay claim to any sort of cannon that needs mastery. I make NOISE, simply and irreducibly, and you can like it or not, but you can't tell me I'm doing it wrong, because there is no right way. I'll leave it to others to write clever songs; I'll continue to sculpt my sound. And when you ask me what makes my noise special, interesting, or worth listening too, I'll not bore you with conjured complexities: I'll just point at what I've done and say "there it is - you tell me". For me, the beauty of pure noise is that it is the anti-cult: join if you wish.
* Through no fault of the first industrial noise band, Throbbing Gristle, who showed up just a year or two after the Ramones. It was probably the Throbbing Gristle folk who coined the term "industrial noise".