I've recorded noise and musique concrète recordings for over fifteen years, working under ironic monikers such as "Extreme Volume Pop" and "Meat Glue." Yet, I actually know very little about the genre, the "scene," (such as it is), nor have I ever performed live or been to a "noise show." I know the various artists strictly through message forums and trading packages. Over the years, sending packages of cassettes (noise people often still use old-fashioned audio cassettes) to foreign locales has cost me a small fortune. But, these people give as good as they receive: I've gotten presents from people as far away as Serbian and Chile, Australia and England, and the Netherlands. In some cases, these were expensive gifts.
The first progenitor of "noise" was, quite clearly, a Futurist composer of the early Twentieth century named Luigi Russolo, whose crucial manifesto The Art of Noises (1916), laid out the new musical possibilities made available at the advent of the industrial revolution and sound recording. His own recordings still survive (at least a few of them), and one can quite hear why Russolo and his "noise making devices" such at the "Intonarumori" caused audiences at the time to react in riot and revolt.
Musique concrète (literally: music made from recorded sounds) and the avant garde would be shaped by the Pierre Schaeffers and Pierre Henrys; Stockhausen, Brian Eno, Iannis Xenakis, down through Lou Reed and his Metal Machine Music, and the industrial noise of Throbbing Gristle, Boyd Rice (a.k.a "Non"), Merzbow, Massona, Hijokaidan, The Haters, Japanoise... on and on.
With the advent of digital recording technology and computerized synthesizer software, making "noise music," being a "noise artist," is a sort of ready-made affair. ANYONE (and, brother I mean ANYONE with a freak bone and Fruity Loops) can declare himself as such; unfortunately, this leads to a tremendous glut of worthless recordings lacking real distinction; but, perhaps, that is Dada, no? (There are some that simply record the same bass rumble and static "harsh noise wall," which is often twenty, thirty minutes long, and adjudged by fans and listeners as if it were a fine, rare wine.)
Humanity drowns in its own absurd pretensions, often; you could make some people eat a shit sandwich if you told them it was filet mignon.
Great White Death
"Power Electronics" is not a fun genre.
Essentially, it's noise music with vocals. At best, it can be a terrifying yet thought-provoking assault on conventional moral reasoning, a mirror-image close-up of inhuman, bestial urges, hypocrisy and the random brutality of life and life's unexpected, tragic twists. Mostly, it's simply odious, boring, poorly-produced, repetitive, artless shit.
The pioneers of the genre were British "band" Whitehouse. Mostly this band consisted of a man named William Bennett. Over the years it included such notables as Philip Best and the transgressive writer Peter Sotos, who was featured in Jim Goad's early "murder zine," Answer Me!, as well as an infamous interviewee in the late Adam Parfrey's underground counter cultural anthology collection Apocalypse Culture (1987). Sotos was one of the first prosecutions in America for possession of child pornography. His plethora of small press, underground books carry the themes of child abuse, serial murder, and sexual assault and exploitation to horrifying extremes that would make the most ardent civil libertarian cringe. Enough said about that.
(It should be noted, also, that several Whitehouse albums were produced by Steve Albini, of Big Black fame. He also produced alternative rock super groups like Nirvana. So, Whitehouse are not without a certain cachet.)
Whitehouse seem to parody ape-like male fantasies, misogyny and the cult of "machismo" fostered by pornography. Two rather unappealing Englishmen with their shirts off, fist-pumping the air, while walls of chaotic synth-driven noise penetrate the consciousness; making for a masochistic and puzzling experience. Can it be taken seriously? Their sloganeering and verbal exhortations are rather obtuse examinations of lust and desire, modern dreams and bourgeois aspirations gone to seed. An examination of the weaknesses of the perceived listener, who must be coming to a Whitehouse recording in an act of psychological penance. The cold, lizard-like whine of feedback permeates an equally detached, merciless, razor-wire worldview; a schizoid entertainment expression.
I don't know much about the "history" of Whitehouse; nor do I particularly care. I find such musical history lessons to be as boring as hell. Wikipedia states that they began in 1980, and I suppose that's true; Bennett was in a post-punk band called Essential Logic, before joining other electronic musicians such as J.G. Thirwell and Daniel Miller and recording as Come. Whitehouse was conceived later, out of Bennett's admittedly sadistic desire to find an electronic form of sound that could "bludgeon" the audience. Out of this macabre dream, Whitehouse (a parody on the name of legendary British anti-porn crusader Mary Whitehouse) was given a squawling, rumbling, screeching, needling sonic birth.
Early recordings and performances were heavy, pummeling bass notes punctuated by high piercing shrieks of static, walls of white and harsh noise and screamed sloganeering, often about violent and criminal acts; glorifying the beast within, laying bare the underbelly of naked male aggression and lust. This is the revealing mirror, transposing American, Western consumerist hopes and dreams of a "perfect life," with the sick and slick fuck-mag mentality, the subcutaneous boil festering, like an infestation of a particularly obscure vermin, beneath the surface; comparable to the living, beetling brains of so many psychopaths and sex maniacs, dysfunctional people and anorexic and even fat women, who throw up lunch before tossing down a valium.
(Or perhaps, as in the bated-breath whisper heard on one track on Cruise, a horrifically perverse observer of cultural norms, at what sounds to be, in the background, a particularly posh restaurant; he delivers a philosophical and confessional mental penetration of a victim tied up and force-fed in his basement, in a Buffalo Bill-like manner. THIS, perhaps, epitomizes the spirit of Whitehouse.)
Whitehouse is (or rather were, since they have been ended as of 2008, at least officially) narcissism; AND, also, a satire of narcissism, a comment and condemnation of same. Like a pointless, but perfect (because it exists), machine designed to test the limits of aural and psychological endurance, Whitehouse, on the opening track of Great White Death, intone: "Great White Death... The ultimate killing machine... Beyond good and evil." Over and over again, the huge, slow, dragging-rubber, giant-like voice, mantra-like, intones this mental command, as if exhorting the listener to line up for a blue light special, or the gas chamber (While, perhaps, canaries are being nailed to the wall in a weird, double=back, time loop.).
And, all the time, these blokes are admiring each other's muscles.
To call Whitehouse worthless, or even "artless," is to miss the point; nor, strictly speaking, is it correct. Their abusive tirades, aimed at a hypothetical internee, or victim of brainwashing techniques, are punctuated by poetic obliqueness, a sort of banal beauty; the aesthetic of transposing value or romanticizing the fetish commodities and conveniences of plastic, modern, televised culture. But, by exploring the psychic and psychological space of the listener, they are also exploring themselves, their own ideals of sexuality, masculinity, dominance, submission, and how these things are shaped by electronic culture and expectation, fantasy and weakness; the Bottom, as he or she relates to the Top.
And, like every modern sculpture, it is Dadaistic parody, laughing and pointing an inscrutable finger in the face of the viewer, who will be encouraged to eat his plate of dog shit because he's been assured it's actually filet mignon. We stand back, we fold our arms across our chest, we stare at a modern art nightmare that looks as if someone vomited on a canvas. "But," our tour guide assures us, "this is true art. This painting sold for twenty-five thousand dollars." (Or a million, perhaps.)
But Whitehouse is, or rather were, two Englishmen with their shirts off, screaming and fist-pumping the air, pretending to be sexual satyrs and powerful pimps, performing against a wall of electronic noise terror; screaming about being the "Rapemaster"; that "I'm coming up your ass!" And, furthermore, that "We've got the fucking power! Not afraid to use it!"
Furthermore, you, "don't have to say please! Get down on your knees! Suck my cock!" These lines are repeated, over and over again, affirmations of a dull, sub-moron-like machismo, given vent in the intersection between sound as torture; music that is the antithesis of pleasure. Punctuated, yet again, by recordings of the victims of rape and violent crime, taken from media sources and tabloid television news dramas. But, are they laughing at it? Are we expected, or dared even, to laugh at it? Is it a comment on degeneracy, or a celebration of same? Parody?
Is it merely a titillating farce?
I have no idea. Or to quote Whitehouse themselves, "I really have no idea, I have no idea, I have NO FUCKING IDEA!"
That quote, taken from the song "Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel," is one of my favorite pieces of lyric ever penned:
"You boy, what's it like to wet your feet in a cold swimming pool? What does your voice sound like, underwater, at night? Can you do the Chickenskin Swim? Can you do the Chlorine Gargoyle? Can you wriggle like an eel?"
I really DON'T know. I mean, I've been doing noise music for about a decade and a HALF now. And I still don't understand what it means, at all.