Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Sound of Sound

Sound that stops the capacity for judgment. Sound that never decays. Sound that breaks free from every possible image. Sound that comes from both death and birth. Sound that dies. The sound around me. Sound like the symptoms of eternal cold turkey. Sound that resists private ownership. Sound that goes insane. Sound that spills over from the cosmos. The sound of sound.

- Kaoru Abe

If last Thursday’s edition of Now’s the Time had a goal, it was the approximate evocation of those words from the late saxophonist Abe. That, and keeping the needles pinned in the red. Happily, I think I did a decent job on both fronts.

Mark-O has an interesting story about Ascension, the 1965 Coltrane blow-out that I pinpointed as the baseline for the noise I played on the show. It goes something like this: One night he listened to Ascension really loud. Soon he fell asleep. The end.

See, the density of sound was so great that he began to hear it as a whole, not as disparate parts, and then it sounded to him like white noise, like a fan whirring in the dark, like ocean waves.

The point is this: reconsider what you think you know about noise. It’s uses and variations are myriad. Don’t try to impose conventional structure onto it, but instead celebrate it for what it is: the sound of sound.

I don’t expect to win over many with this line of argument; certainly for most, noise remains just that – an irritant, an aural eyesore, until organized into pleasing structures like melody and rhythm. I don’t mean to suggest that Abe’s improvisations, or Machine Gun, or Bells will make for nice dinner music. But if, having steeled your nerves, you want to engage this art on its own level (after all, real practitioners of noise aren’t about to meet you halfway), then I think you must view it in those terms. It is not tuneful. It is not easy. But it is vital. It expresses certain peculiarities of humanity that can’t otherwise be expressed with a musical instrument. It shrieks and careens and drops and exalts. Just as we do.

Anyway, that’s what I was trying to get across on the July 17 edition of NTT, an admittedly vague point illustrated by pieces from Coltrane, Abe, Albert Ayler, Peter Brotzmann, Frank Wright, the incomparable Last Exit, Ivo Pereman and Assif Tsahar. Feel free to download, listen and decide for yourself whether or not I was successful in doing so:

Now’s the Time – July 17, 2008: Free Radicals (or: The Sons of Ascension)

[PS - Hat tip to the amazing Destination: Out for that Abe quote.]