Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Noise Annoys

Noise annoys, no doubt about that – witness the current debate over the vuvuzelas being blown throughout World Cup matches. But obviously to the players it’s not annoying at all, the horn-players, that is, not footballers, some of whom have complained about not being able to concentrate or hear the ref’s whistle. Good excuse - I don’t know why Green didn’t use it for his monumental balls-up – ‘It was those damn vuvuzelas...they put me off.’
   I know all about the psychological damage inflicted by goalkeeping gaffs, having tried to put my foot on a ball that was rolling towards me at junior school, only to see it disappear into the net – you see, I’ve never forgotten it.
   The US government famously used sound as a weapon of annoyance to flush General Noriega out of the Vatican embassy in Panama. Apparently Van Halen’s ‘Panama’ was one track used. Well, I’d give myself up after 24 hours of that, but surely Americans missed a trick – playing Merzbow would have done the job in ten minutes.
   The latest rumour is that the vuvuzela has been exploited as a PYSOP weapon for two reasons. One, to stir up racial prejudice against Africans, thus helping to maintain the subjugation of a continent, the other being an experiment to gauge its effect upon millions of subjects. It looks like it’s been a success as far as creating mass psychological distress, so expect to see recordings taken from football stadiums used to flush out the next opponent of the US. Perhaps they’re about to use it in Afghanistan.
   Noise artists fascinate me – you know, the likes of Merzbow (real name Masami Akita), whose been at it since ’79, which is a long time to be making a Noise which, perhaps, about naught-point-one of the music-loving population actually like. Mind you, it’s not about loving music, is it? More about appreciating the art of noise, presumably. Amongst that crowd (do they constitute a crowd, or a small gathering?) he is no doubt king, a minnow in a puddle as opposed to the ocean of sound which constitutes music.
   I’ve been listening to Merzbow’s ‘Protean World Slide’ from ‘Protean World’ for all of five minutes, for which I think I should get a medal. Mind you, that is after having ‘listened’ to a good twenty minutes-worth of other sounds by him. Of course, I had it on almost the lowest volume possible, but still, my brain is ringing.
   I’ve long thought that enjoying Noise in music is held up as a badge of honour, as if to say ‘I’m more sophisticated in my listening than those who dismiss this as rubbish’. Which, to a degree, I can understand, having championed certain kinds of Jazz for years knowing that a Coltrane solo is, to many ears, just a bloody noise (and I don’t even mean his later works). Likewise electronic music which doesn’t adhere to the formulas of melody, harmony etc. At least straight Techno has a beat, although I’ve a feeling that despite fulfilling one basic requirement Jeff Mills has yet to filter down to that point of mass acceptance which, say, certain Punk bands have acquired.
   I recall Punk being branded as a Noise. I guess it was compared to Yes and Rod Stewart, even though retrospectively many of us recognise a lot of it as no more (or less) than The Stooges rewritten for a UK audience. At the time, being more ignorant of Rock music history, I also thought it was a Noise, but a good one.
   I’ve endured some sonic torture in my time; worse than the vuvuzela, believe me. I once worked at a place where Heart radio was played all day, every day, and you have not suffered until you’ve been forced to hear the same U2, All Saints and Robbie Williams tracks again, and again and again. My protests, needless to say, got me branded as weird and awkward. At least I can turn the TV down during the World Cup.

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