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Genre Is Obsolete: Noise, Industrial & Drone etc. Reviewed By Adam Lehrer
Adam Lehrer , May 18th, 2020 05:08

In the fluid chaos and genre bastardization of noise, industrial, drone, no wave, and numerous forms of warped electronic music, Adam Lehrer finds an appropriate artistic embodiment of the condition of liquid modernity

I recently wrote a feature on the iconic noise collective To Live and Shave in L.A.’s founder Tom Smith. Since then, Smith’s catchphrase, “genre is obsolete”, has been tattooed on my cerebral cortex. What is noise? It has little to do with music, or any specific genre thereof.

By definition, noise stands in opposition to music. What role does noise fulfil in cultural production then? Philosopher Ray Brassier, inspired by both Smith’s signature injunction and the sounds of To Live and Shave in L.A. and Swiss noise collective Runzilstern & Gurgelstock, published an essay likewise entitled Genre Is Obsolete that considers contemporary noise’s implicit “genrelessness” and what that means in society. “‘Noise' has become a generic label for anything deemed to subvert established genre,” writes Brassier. “It is at once a specific sub­genre of musical vanguardism and a name for what refuses to be subsumed by genre.”

The modern condition can be typified by a similar refusal “to be subsumed by genre.” Late capitalism is notable for its fluidity. Its amorphousness. In it, there is no graspable, objective truth. Information suffocates in subjectivity. Ideological indoctrinations and marketing schemes are veiled as deliverers of impartial information.

Everything feels like noise, doesn’t it? It’s all distraction: pandemics, wars, shortages. Where we should be terrified we are exhausted. Powerless. So much information, so much noise, and so little meaning; it’s worn us down. And we know from Brassier that noise is without genre. We live in a genreless society, deafened by excess noise. The distracting nature of noise then, its genrelessness and impenetrability, becomes a welcome respite from a culture defined by intrusions.

This column considers the “genrelessness” of contemporary iterations of noise: harsh noise, power electronics, industrial, no wave, techno, drone, and otherwise. I hope it will analyse noise music’s mimicry of late modernity’s discombobulating fluidity. A genreless music for a genreless society. “It is the noise that is not 'noise', the noise of the sui generis, that actualises the disorientating potencies long claimed for 'noise',” wrote Brassier.

Only noise can drown out all the noise.

Jason Crumer - Jason Crumer
(Breathing Problems Productions)

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Jason Crumer’s self-titled full-length is a triumphant return to the auditory lunacy that Crumer employed on his debut record Ottoman Black: schizophrenic loops, attentive field recordings, fragile drones, and pandemonic shards of noise immerse you within a hallucinatory atmosphere, both sensual and disquieting. The album’s cover, a nude woman seemingly facing off with a nightmare projection of herself, was painted by the New York-based artist Justine Neuberger. Neuberger’s paintings materialise a fever dream replete with emotional extremity: horniness, terror, disorientation and humiliation. Similarly, Crumer’s noise utilises an expansive psychological palette. Diverting from much of noise’s monolithic heaviness, Crumer drags his listeners across a labyrinth of psychic distortions.

Jason Crumer approximates the nebulous nature of dreams. The first track, ‘Vent,’ opens with discomposing drones slowly that rumble away; it's like waiting for test results from an oncologist. At about the four minute marker, an onslaught of sickly noise reminiscent of Atrax Morgue ushers in the holy terrors to come. Several song titles personify the most vulnerable of emotional states. ‘King Depression,’ for example, uses a high pitched drone with interjections of pyretic noise, illustrating melancholia as a dreadful banality. Few noise artists make sounds so rife with narrative implications as conceptually realised as Jason Crumer.

Vomir - Social Distancing
(self-released)

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What’s fascinating to consider about French wall noise artist Vomir’s work in relation to the Coronavirus is that his practice has long been built atop a philosophy of isolation and withdrawal. “The only free behaviour that remains resides in noise, withdrawal and a refusal to capitulate to manipulation, socialisation and entertainment,” writes Vomir, aka Romain Pierrot, in his Noise Wall Manifesto. As is often the case with wall noise, one doesn’t look towards Vomir for variation. It is noise as an obsessive compulsive disorder. Social Distancing is one 55-minute track. A densely pulverizing slab of static that opens and remains at peak intensity. Where we are now, frozen in place and cut off from our lives, slipping into the abyss is utterly appropriate.

Filmmaker - Royal Dungeon EP
(Opal Tapes)

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Columbian producer Filmmaker, AKA Faunas Efes, subsists within the deepest abyss of rave culture’s downward spiral as outlined in Chapter 7 of Simon Reynolds’Energy Flash. Filmmaker makes dance music for ravers whose tolerance for MDMA has grown too high, the crashes intolerable. Royal Dungeon, Filmmaker’s Opal Tapes EP sounds like that sickly feeling that occurs when one lies awake in his room at 6 AM awaiting the Xanax to dull the come down and drift him off to sleep following a druggy night out. Thoughts deadened by serotonin depletion. Opening track ‘Mental Plants’ leaves its throbbing house beat intact while weaving in fluctuating spasms of screeching siren noise, emphasizing the mental and physical exhaustion that always follows the bliss. ‘Pit Of Souls’ introduces some disorienting crackle into the mix before erupting into a near perfect sub 100 bassline.

Prurient - Casablanca Flamethrower
(Tesco Tapes)

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Dominick Fernow’s best work is typically engendered by resolute devotion to one project. The Prurient double LP Frozen Niagra Falls, for instance, was perhaps the most sonically galvanized release of Prurient canon, with Fernow obsessively deterritorializing the entirety of the Prurient discography. Fernow’s recent Prurient releases feel a bit more haphazard. Casablanca Flamethrowers, despite some glorious moments, lacks Prurient albums like Frozen Niagra Falls or Pleasure Ground’s senses of totality and neurotic vision. Thematically, Casablanca Flamethrowers narrows on the surreal horrors of warfare. The disquieting atmosphere approximates something akin to that within Soviet filmmaker Elem Klimov’s hallucinatory hellscape of a war film Come And See. It doesn’t always meet its demands, however, and tracks like ‘D-Day Rape’ sacrifice much of the texture that made previous Prurient projects such a mystifying treat. And yet, he still produces some of noise’s most evil sounds, and Casablanca Flamethrowers is enjoyably tormenting.

Schimpfluch Commune Int. - Schimpfluch Commune Int.
(Nihilist)

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Active since 1987, Swiss noise musician and performance artist Rudolh Eb.Er and his group Schimpfluch-Gruppe make exorbitant demands on their audience, asking that they endure sonic punishment to truly understand the group’s enigmatic musicality. Performing as Schimpfluch-Commune Int. for Andy Ortmann’s Nihilist label, Eb.Er and cohorts Joke Lanz and Dave Phillips implement an assemblage of sounds ranging from the harrowing and nightmarish to the absurd and ludicrous. On ‘schmetter-linge (2 black butterflies),’ the sounds of a child screaming and wailing is layered over a wobbly, sci-fi sample. The psycho-acoustics of ‘rektum rotations ritual’ initiate a standard 4/4 beat while the group layers in field recordings of what sounds like the ghosts of dogs barking and ghosts moaning. Schimpfluch is the noise avant-garde’s sophisticated bogeyman. Noise like this doesn’t trend in and out. It just is… Noise. Or freedom, basically.

Cuntroaches/ Guttersnipe - Cuntroaches/ Guttersnipe Split
(Anxious Music)

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On the two Guttersnipe tracks featured on this split with Berlin-based band Cuntroaches, the duo have clearly escaped some of the traditional confines of a “rock band” setup. ‘Poppyseed Pudendum’ features both members shredding vocal chords like Yamatsuka Eye in his Naked City/Painkiller John Zorn collabs, while guitarist Urocerus Gigas fires off a frenzied set of riffs reminiscent of those on the first Dillinger Escape Plan record, out the back end of a meat grinder. The 11-minute ‘The Cyanobacterial Slime,’ on the other hand, is a slow and spacious surrealist work of auditory malfeasance. Gigas wordlessly pleads for mercy across its first four minutes, while simmering spectral noise yields a hallucinatory atmosphere similar to that heard in Sun City Girls’ more outré releases. The Cuntroaches tracks interrogate connections between the confrontational aspects of performance art, the sleazy art school dropout aesthetics of no wave, and the seldom acknowledged albeit inherent modernism of extreme metal icons such as Blasphemy and Beherit. Both Gutternsipe and Cuntroaches propose a rock adjacent sound allergic to genre classifications.

Controlled Death - Beautiful Decomposition
(Total Black)

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Japanese noise artist Maso Yamazaki’s best known moniker Masonna is associated with extreme noise in its most psychedelic, blissful, and dare-I-say life-affirming permutation, functioning as a noise project similar to the way that Hawkwind function as a heavy psych band. With the new project Controlled Death, however, that lust for life has been replaced with a tangible death drive. On Total Black-released EP Beautiful Decomposition, Maso’s noise is punishingly slow. At only about nine ½ minutes long, the music emits a sensation akin to that found in the pages of Madame Bovary after Flaubert’s iconic heroine has dosed herself with arsenic. A brief window appears to extend over a lifetime, with Yamazaki torturing listeners with sickening drones, black metal gurgles, and psychopathic synth abuses. It is the sound of holding on long after there’s any hope left.

Molasses - Parasomnia
(No Rent)

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Parasomnia is Richmond, VA-based artist and electronic instrument builder Will Mulany’s first physical release under the Molasses moniker. The artist begets a Frankenstein’s Monster of propulsive EBM beats, industrial hiss, tape abuse, and incomprehensible vocals almost entirely composed using electronic instruments and circuits built by the artist himself. Molasses is a beautiful mess that blends the ferocity of noise with the “failure aesthetics”of glitch, extrapolating textures from the hangovers of cyberpunk and the flattened affect of postmodernism. The opening section of ‘Having A Body’ has that angst-inducing, slow-building electronic tension often heard on tracks by early industrial noise pioneers like Hunting Lodge and Missing Foundation. As the distorted vocals loop over the harsh rhythms, smatterings of chaotic sound slice into the mix, the subject losing control of its own subjectivity. His vocals are pure abjection: the meaning slides beneath language. ‘Face Of God’ begins with a disorienting slab of science fiction meta-textuality before degenerating into one of the most ferocious pieces of untethered electronic noise I’ve heard all year.

Anal Drill - Honey Sitter
(uninvited records)

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Anal Drill is a long-running project by Houston, TX-based harsh noise pioneer Richard Ramirez, and a fluid cohort of collaborators. In slight opposition to the brutalising static cacophony and serial murder thematic content of Ramirez’s solo work, Anal Drill is textured and libidinal. The first three tracks on Honey Sitter were performed back in 2004 by Ramirez with collaborators Isabella K and Matthew Solondz. Track one begins with a tornado of static noise that over the course of its 37 minutes slovenly weaves in a covert rhythm. A buzzing drone drags along a hypnotic soundscape on track two, making way for the strangely ecstatic and metaphysical swathes of electronic skullduggery on track three. The final track was performed and recorded by Ramirez alone this past January, and shifts the release’s mood. It is bleak, muted, and claustrophobic, like being buried alive and attempting to scream loud enough to be heard by passersby.

Avola - When It Reigns It Poors Series - Vol. 11: Live At Tuxedo Palace
(uninvited records)

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Avola, aka Veronica Avola, makes electronic music that combines wall noise with a delirious, Amanita Muscaria-soaked sense of dynamics. Last year, in a series entitled When It Reigns It Poors, Avola began releasing recordings of her live performances as a hyper-diligent pseudo-diaristic practice. The first nine volumes of the series tend to be loud and noisy while evoking shades of Pete Swanson’s industrial death-disco and early Sun Araw’s opiated sleaze dubs. But the 10th and 11th volumes largely abdicate the ferocity of earlier releases for something more layered and freakish. Vol. 10 plays like a warped techno record before introducing all manner of lysergic influxes of electronics. Vol. 11 is beatless and uses the ectoplasmic sputters of nonsensical sounds that Alex Moskos uses on his Drainolith project. It is Kafka-esque in a sense, sound in metamorphosis.

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